Outkast are partly to thank for Christina Aguilera’s Video of the Year nomination.
She borrowed more than just the look of the duo’s new movie “Idlewild” for the “Ain’t No Other Man” clip — she also borrowed their director, Bryan Barber; their production designer, Charles Breen; and some of their props.
“I had seen a trailer of the movie,” Aguilera said, “and it intrigued me that this man, Bryan Barber, had been very locked into and had surrounded himself with this whole world of the ’20s and ’30s era, and it made me think that he could understand what I’m trying to do conceptually. I needed to get the right director who shared my vision.”
“And what Christina wants, Christina gets,” Barber said. “I had just finished the film, she had just finished her album, so it was a perfect match. The stars were definitely aligned.”
Though Aguilera had a whole team aboard, she was very involved in carrying out her vision. She met with Barber as well as choreographer Jeri Slaughter to explain her ideas, using her fireplace as a makeshift stage.
“She did a whole one-woman show at her house,” Slaughter said. “She was like, ‘OK, so I was thinking of having a vanity set up here while we’re getting dressed. I just came off tour, and now I’m back at a juke joint and back onstage with the people who used to jam with me, then we’ll switch to backstage when I’m about to perform again.’ I’m like, ‘OK,’ trying to write it all down.”
Aguilera had researched some of the dance moves she wanted to emulate, showing Slaughter steps from old black-and-white movies. “She had a few moves, a hip here, a head roll there,” Slaughter said. “For the breakdown, she wanted to drop down. And we mapped it out lyrically: ‘OK, second verse, hip, breakdown, drop.’ But these were little steps, and not fully done.”
So Slaughter did his own research and put together a routine for Aguilera and her backup dancers, including a few strategic flips off the pool tables. Then Slaughter, inspired by “Idlewild” as well, took an extra step typically reserved for larger productions. Instead of having the singer and dancers working in a bare-bones rehearsal space, the choreographer got the set dimensions and props from Barber and Breen so Aguilera and her dancers could get into the whole vibe and feel like they were doing a movie instead of a music video.
“I made up a vanity scene, a table with the light bulbs,” Slaughter said. “And I brought in the props, the hairbrushes, the lipstick, the boas for them to play with, the shoes, the mirror. For the pool table, I just brought in a long table, and for the hallway, I set up two ballet bars next to each other to create the space. It just sets everything up.”
When Barber came to dance rehearsal to see what was going on, he came up with one more idea to help everyone get into character: He gave the dancers roles to play and names to go by. Barber e-mailed a list of names to Slaughter on his Sidekick, and the choreographer assigned accordingly.
Monique, who was more curvy, became the sexy Gigi. Kiki, who had an apple bottom, became Apples. Curly haired Tiana, who was always cracking jokes, became life of the party Dirty Diana. Stephanie, who was more laid-back, became Misty. Nicki, who was fast on her feet, became Susi Hotstep. As for Christina, she already had her nickname — Baby Jane, a nickname Nelly once gave her (and she won’t reveal why).
“Bryan’s original idea for the names was because it made it easier to remember who was who, but we then incorporated it into the choreography,” Slaughter said. “For instance, I would tell Gigi to be sultry — because every guy wants her in the club — to give them a wink or a kiss or whatever. It gave each of them their own identity, and if you notice, every girl is doing something slightly different than the other. It made it easier to come into this world we created.”
Those assumed identities continue through the end of the video, when Aguilera performs “Trouble” while lying on top of a baby grand. “I put everyone on acting mode,” Slaughter said. “So one guy and one girl had to be the drunken couple, Dirty Diana’s pushing away her man, Gigi’s taking a guy’s hat off and putting it on her. We just thought it fit with the vibe — that after the club is done, everyone’s lounging around, like a last-call kind of feel.”
“Ain’t No Other Man” was a risk for Aguilera, who will perform at the VMAs on August 31 (see “Christina, All-American Rejects, Pharrell To Perform At VMAs” and “Shakira, Chili Peppers, Madonna, Panic! Lead List Of Nominees For MTV Video Music Awards” ). Besides the aspect of emulating a bygone era, Aguilera was determined not to overshoot her scenes. Usually for a music video, the singer performs the whole song straight through for each setup, so there’s more to work with when editing. Not Christina. Since she already knew which lyrics she wanted in which scenes, she was economical with her performance, only doing the parts she wanted for each setup and no more. “I look at every shot and do my own bit of directing,” Aguilera said.
“That’s very unique,” Slaughter said. “It was very scripted and shot lyrically, and it could have backfired. We didn’t have any backups for a lot of shots. But I got to give it to her — it worked.”
So much so that Barber predicts big things — other than a Moonman — for Aguilera’s future: “I’m sure she will be directing her own video in the near future.”