If you never get past the first verse, Kehlani's "Alive" sounds like your classic '90s R&B tearjerker -- there are the ad-libbed "yeah, yeahs," an ex that's so far gone and, since the soul songwriting handbook dictates only one forecast for heartbreak, it also happens to be raining. But the 20-year-old's 2015 mixtape-closer is actually one of the more uplifting tracks to drop this year.
The companion video, released earlier this month, latches on to that buoyant vibe and leaves you positively floating. Because I couldn't shake the visuals, I caught up with 22-year-old Bay Area director David Camarena, who gave MTV News a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of the video. From how the Oakland singer ended up shooting "Alive" in Hawaii to finding inspiration on Tumblr and why one scene, in particular, will look very familiar to the Tsunami Mob.
How Do You Spell Fan Army?
Tsunami Mob, as Kehlani's fans affectionately call themselves, get a sweet nod in one of the opening scenes. Camarena, who got his start doing camera work for HBK Gang (think Iamsu!, Sage the Gemini), said this of capturing Lani's arm candy: "That was me capturing b-roll and little footage -- makes it more fun when you can see all these little details."
Riding Through The 808 With My Woes
There wasn't much discussion of scouting locations when talk turned to where to shoot Kehlani's "Alive" video. As Camarena explained, it was all about grabbing an opportunity. And the Honolulu stop would come just in time.
"The Hawaii [date] was toward the end of the tour ... and we just figured we're going to be out there for four days, we might as well take advantage of it and shoot something that would be really dope and kind of close out the whole You Should Be Here Tour -- the whole movement, her mixtape, all that, you know what I mean? We said, 'Let's shoot something that's fun and we can have the whole team in it.'"
Life Imitates (Cover) ArtAtlantic Records
"As soon as she sat down and I set the camera up, it was like, 'Yo, this is damn near perfect,'" Camarena recalled when I asked about the scenes reminiscent of the animated cover of Kehlani's acclaimed You Should Be Here tape.
"We woke up at like 5 a.m. because we didn't want to shoot when it was so hot out and the sun was so hot, so we were walking and we found this little pool, and the sky was perfect, and we just knew if she sat there -- it was just an in-the-moment thing, like, 'Yeah, it's gonna look like your mixtape cover.' It was kind of just something we stumbled upon and it worked out perfectly."
Touch The Sky With MeAtlantic Records
Camarena's first big gig was behind the lens for Wiz Khalifa's Under the Influence Tour when he was just 20 and coming off a baseball injury that led him to give up college and the sport for good. Talent and preparation collided with contacts, and he joined Kehlani on the road this year.
"By the time we shot the video, I had been with them [filming] for a month and a half," Camarena explained, "so everyone was kind of comfortable with each other. I knew what not to film. That made the [music video] process so much easier."
Wish You Were HereAtlantic Records
The "Alive" video highlights footage Camarena happened to shoot of Kehlani and her crew while they were just hanging out.
"We thought that would be something to do in Hawaii because it's legal to sit in the back of your truck," the director told me. "That was something Kehlani already wanted to do. Me having my camera, we were just like, 'F-ck it, this looks super cool out here. Let's do it.'"
The Mob Going Up...
These are your 'mob' goals: Kehlani's dancers, DJ, stylist, and even manager and producer make cameos in the video.
How That Taste?
While Camarena acknowledged the lyrics may conjure a failed relationship, the song is truly about getting over it. "We felt that just being out there and having fun and really celebrating with the team would be a cool thing to show."
On finding inspiration for the look and feel of the visuals: "It was more just colors," Camarena revealed. "Debbie, Kehlani's stylist, [and I] got on Tumblr and just saved [images of] a color tone because we've never been in Hawaii and we filmed [the video] on the move so we couldn't really map out any locations.
"We ended up just walking around by out hotel in Hawaii and found some cool spots. ... Just capturing a fun-ass day basically."
Turn This Song Up If You Feel Alive
Camarena teased that he and Kehlani have already shot another visual together. While there's no release date for that one, you can watch the full "Alive" video here.