Why did Britney Spears choose Jonas Åkerlund — a director whose subject matter has included drugs, strippers and trippy violence — to shoot her "Hold it Against Me" video? The answer is simple: Madonna.
"It's a good question," Britney Spears manager Larry Rudolph told MTV News during an exclusive interview, via Skype, shortly after the video's premiere. Rudolph guided Britney's career from about 1999 to 2004 and for a brief period in 2007 before they reunited again nearly three years ago. "Jonas is someone we've always wanted to work with," Rudolph said. "She's always wanted to work with him. You know, Jonas did 'Ray of Light' for Madonna, and that's when she became a fan of his."
Åkerlund directed Lady Gaga's "Telephone" as well as several iconic and cinematic videos for heavyweights like U2, Metallica, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez and Robbie Williams. But the Swedish director's most enduring and well-known relationship is with Madonna, with whom he made "Ray of Light," "Music," "American Life" and "Celebration," among other noteworthy clips.
The director started as a musician himself in the 1980s, cutting his teeth with a stint as drummer for Bathory, the dark and primitive heavy-metal band whose influence looms over the entire black-metal scene, particularly in Scandinavia. Even AFI guitarist Jade Puget can be seen wearing a Bathory backpatch in the video for "Silver and Cold," from the band's platinum Sing the Sorrow album.
Åkerlund's first video was, unsurprisingly, also in the metal genre. It's a low-budget affair beloved for its campiness (coffins, trances, moshing in the snow) for his fellow Swedes in the band Candlemass, from their 1987 album Nightfall, which was recently inducted into Decibel magazine's Hall of Fame.
His first big commercial break was with Roxette, and from there, he became one of the most sought-after video directors working. His video for Metallica's cover of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" is practically a mini-movie, telling the story of a down-on-her-luck stripper and single mom. His incredible visuals and dark sensibilities ripped the bubblegum right off the Cardigans and Pink.
"Spun" marked »kerlund's foray into feature films in 2002. Centered on a group of methamphetamine addicts and dealers, it garnered little commercial or critical success (it has a 36 percent critical average on Rotten Tomatoes) but is known in filmmaker circles for the fast-cutting in the edit room done to emulate the look and feel of being on speed. Reportedly, there were over 5,300 cuts.
The movie starred Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy, Patrick Fugit, Mena Suvari and Mickey Rourke. Obvious nods to Åkerlund's musical background included music by Smashing Pumpkins mastermind Billy Corgan and cameos from Judas Priest's Rob Halford and Blondie's Debbie Harry.
"I didn't really care for the material and there was no money," a pre-comeback Rourke told MTV News at the movie's Hollywood premiere. "[My agent] suggested several times that I make the movie because he's very fond of Jonas Åkerlund. I looked at Jonas' reels and I really liked his commercials and his [music] videos a lot more than I liked the material."
Despite the lumps taken from critics, Åkerlund said the process of making "Spun" wasn't too different from making a music video. "It's pretty much the same thing, but it just takes a bit longer," he noted.
"Ray of Light," the video that first made Britney want to work with Åkerlund, earned five Moonmen for Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards: Video of the Year, Best Female Video, Best Direction, Best Editing and Best Choreography.
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