Exclusive: Co-Director Ivan Dixon of Childish Gambino’s ‘Feels Like Summer’ Music Video Breaks Down Concept
Childish Gambino has returned with yet another game of Blue’s Clues, sending fans on a wild goose chase to unpack the hidden symbolism in the 34-year-old’s most recent depiction of what it means to be “Black in America.” The scarily-talented artist released his latest visual for hit record, Feels Like Summer, on Sunday. Ironically, marking the unofficial end to the season.
The animated video is loaded with over 50 hip-hop cameos from both the old and the new school, forcing you to hit the replay button in order to catch them all. From Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott — who were recently involved in a controversy over the Billboard No. 1 calculations seen playing with blocks, to Future jacking Drake’s bicycle, and A$AP Rocky playing tug of war with The Weeknd, there’s a lot of questions left unanswered. It’s safe to say the suspense is killing everyone.
NDLYSS reached out to the Co-Directer of the video,Ivan Dixon to gain some insight on the creative direction with hopes of putting the rumor mill to rest. The Australian CEO of Rubber House Animation gave us the inside scoop on his experience helming the project alongside Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) Greg Sharp and illustrator Justin Richburg.
Have you noticed any systemic flaws or issues creeping back into music videos? There appears to be a lack of creative direction.
I think you’re right. There’s also a lot less money and focus put [into] them. Back in the day, MTV and other music channels were the biggest way for artists to get attention so they put a lot [more] resources into doing something that really stood out.
When I initially reached out, you were landing at LAX from Australia, not realizing the pandemonium surrounding the video release. What was your initial reaction when you discovered the video hit over a million views before you touched the ground?
Donald had such a huge success with [“This is America”] so I anticipated strong viewership, but not necessarily a receptive audience. I didn’t realize it was going to come out while I was on the plane [hysterical laughter]. I landed and it already had a million views. I’m happy that people like it. I knew that his fans would like it but it seems like it reached a bit further than that.
How did your business relationship form with Childish Gambino?
Donald contacted my directing partner (Greg Sharp) and I about 2 years ago when he came out to Australia to tour. He wanted to chat about future collaborations. He seems like a big fan of animation from having spoken to him. It just took a couple years before he had a project in mind that he felt we’d be good for. It’s really flattering!
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of how the concept was brought to life.
Donald had written the brief, which was a series of vignettes and little moments that outlined what he wanted to see. We didn’t necessarily follow that order in the end. Donald had already attached Justin Richburg as the character designer. Donald was a fan of one of Justin’s pieces that blew up online, featuring a host of African-American celebrities, artists, and politicians playing dice. We got Justin to deliver character designs for all 60-plus people who made [cameos] in the video.
Walk me through the collaboration with Justin Richburg. Did you draw your own pieces and send them back and forth or were you working together in the same room?
We storyboarded the video of that one-point perspective of Donald walking towards the camera as he glances back and forth. That was our input to resolve this idea of so many different things being crammed into the clip.
In terms of the lighting, was there a specific visual reference point? It has a very “Daria-esque” vibe.
The aesthetic of Justin’s characters are [inspired] by ’90s comic books with thick black outlines – that’s the Daria vibe. Donald also wanted to see a hazy, polluted look to the world even though it’s quite pleasant what we’re seeing. This is why we introduced the orange palette and the deep shadows caused by the sun.
“I think there’s definitely a ’90s-vintage aesthetic that gives it an old VHS vibe for the maximum nostalgia.”
Are there any artists that were originally in the video that didn’t make the final cut?
No, I think we included everyone that Donald wanted. We didn’t want to cut out anybody or impose anyone. Getting the likeness from some of the cameos was trickier than other people. Obviously, you can put a MAGA hat on Kanye and you know it’s him. There are things that don’t translate really well with animation. They might have to go through a few passes of design for it to really resemble them.
Did you guys have any jitters on receiving backlash from artists when taking into consideration some of the controversial moments?
I think with some of the symbolism people will read into that what they want but from our point of view, it’s a harmonious clip. No one is represented in a critical light. There are little moments such as Nicki Minaj playing with the building blocks with Travis Scott and that’s a moment that a lot of the internet is reading into. Really, that was just something we had them do. It wasn’t a comment on any issue.
Speaking of moments, there’s an interesting clip of Florida politician Andrew Gillum sitting next to a two-toned ice cream sundae. Critics are speculating the ice cream melting is symbolic of Florida rapper XXXtentacion who was recently murdered. The shades of the flavors match the exact shades of his hair. It sounds far-fetched, but is there any truth to that observation?
I don’t want to ruin anyone’s interpretation of anyone in the clip. Explaining it is not going to do it justice. I prefer to leave those questions unanswered. I see the clip as a celebration of African-American culture. It was a fun opportunity to be asked to do that as a white man from Australia.
Why were some artists like Chris Brown and Rihanna placed in front of a black backdrop as opposed to being in the main neighborhood shot?
It was in the brief from Donald. We wanted to do it in an interesting way with the light passing over them. I think it gives a sense of importance to those particular people, but I couldn’t tell you exactly the meaning.
What are the chances of the music video being adapted as a cartoon TV series?
Donald was in the works of making an animated “Deadpool” series until recently. I don’t know what the status is on that but I think they canceled it. If this video looks like a strong pitch by Donald and us, I’m on board for that.
What was your experience shooting such a prolific music video depicting African-American culture as a white, Australian man?
The U.S. does an incredible job at exporting its culture to the rest of the world. As an Australian, you consume American culture every day in the form of movies, TV, and politics. There’s a certain level of familiarity there, but within the sub-cultures, African-American culture is incredibly popular in other parts of the world, especially through music and sports. To be honest, having a really strong brief from Donald and designs from Justin gave us a certain level of assurance that the message would be authentic. We really tried to focus on doing a good technical job at what we felt confident in, which is the animated storytelling. I’m glad people are receiving it well and it doesn’t look like an outsider looking in on a culture.
If you’re still playing guessing games, here’s a list of the of all the features in the video.
• Lil Pump and Trippie Redd (00:46)
• 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’ (00:48)
• Kodak Black (00:57)
• Migos (1:00)
• Chance the Rapper, Jaden Smith, Birdman (1:20)
• Will Smith (1:25)
• Azealia Banks (1:28)
• Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott (1:29)
• The Weeknd, Ty Dolla $ign, and Frank Ocean (1:35)
• A$AP Rocky, Solange, and Willow Smith (1:39)
• Soulja Boy (1:41)
• Drake and Future (1:46)
• Kid Cudi (1:59)
• Kanye West and Michelle Obama (2:06)
• Beyoncé and reference to Fredo Santana (2:15)
• Florida governor Andrew Gillium with a reference to XXXTENTACION (2:25)
• Lil Uzi Vert, Oprah Winfrey, Kehlani, and Tiffany Haddish(2:42)
• Lil Yachty and Charlamagne (2:45)
• Gucci Mane (2:49)
• Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Diddy, Wiz Khalifa and JAY-Z (2:51)
• Ball Brothers and Young Thug (2:58)
• Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Pusha T, and Lil Wayne (3:01)
• Rae Sremmurd and J. Cole (3:03)
• Janelle Monaé and Tessa Thompson (3:11)
• Chris Brown (3:29)
• Outkast (Big Boi and Andre 3000) (3:39)
• Rihanna (3:47)
• Whitney Houston (3:54)
• Michael Jackson (4:04)
Cori Maass: The Human Experience through the Eye of a Minimalist
How often do we pay attention to the human experience? An aspect of life so utterly important yet overlooked time and time again. But there are a rare few who get the picture, much like American artist, Cori Maass.
The LA-based illustrator uses her canvas to explore and depict the emotions and interconnectivity of people. Noting she’s deeply inspired by “lessons the Earth holds that mirror our internal experiences,” her minimalist style portrays the messages through intricate lines, shapes, and text.
Maass believes art is destined to intersect with life, which she conveys through murals, printed works, brand collaborations, fashion, and tattoos.
Does anyone of the work here engage with any particular social issues?
I like to focus on social issues first as human issues, both interpersonal and intrapersonal. I think sometimes it is easier to talk about issues from the standpoint of universal human experiences (like empathy, or shame, or sadness) rather than using the language of “politics”, where words can sometimes lose their meaning. Not that political conversation isn’t important, it is easier for me, however, to convey my feelings from a different place. I wrote a poem [attached] after the Cavanaugh trials brought up conversations surrounding the abuse that many women have experienced. My goal was to cut out the chatter and try to communicate from a place of power and identity for women.
Do you think art has the power to affect any kind of social change?
Definitely. Art is a reflection of what is going on at the time but also creates a narrative that affects society. Art shapes the social conversation whether that be through music, design, or any other medium.
With social media, artists are able to spread social change and images that give us something to visualize a better future rather than just talking about it.
Which themes and subjects do you like to illustrate and explore?
I am very interested in exploring the human experience. The human experience includes complex emotions, duality, moral dilemmas, and relationships. I like to explore visual (or written) metaphors to provide meaning for what I am experiencing.
Are you driven by creative interests or commercial interests?
My biggest interest is how art intersects and affects life. I like my art to be purposeful and engaging with people so that can lend itself to commercial interests because it allows people to be part of the story. However, I became an artist full time because I was frustrated by just creating things for the purpose of selling.
At the end of the day, I am fulfilled when I create from a pure place of honesty and it connects with someone else.
Do you find that this notion of place has a very strong impact on your work?
I think place definitely strongly impacts me personally. That will naturally translate to my work! I have to go to new places or different places to be able to stay centered within myself and continue to expand my perspective. Places are mostly made special to me by the people in them and the different parts of myself that come out when I am in those settings. Each place I have lived or traveled has taught me both about other people and about myself. I think of places as mirrors that show you pieces who you are.
Quite a lot of your work originates from human experience and the emotions and connections, please expand.
The best art advice I was ever given was in a photo class, where the instructor was talking about developing your photographic eye. He explained that good photos originate with seeing. This idea is something that I use for art and life as a whole now. I begin with seeing. Taking an honest look inside myself and taking the role of an observer in the world around me. I look for nuances and details and how they connect to form a bigger picture. Life as a human is messy and complex, much like nature.
Art is a way for me to process and wade through it all and reflect on the fact that it is ultimately beautiful.
Where do you create most of your pieces?
I work in coffee shops a lot!! The base of many of my pieces is digital or on paper so I can take my art and work wherever I go. These pieces then get translated into murals, apparel, prints, tattoos, and anything really. I am very interested in how art intersects life and adds to the fabric of our stories.
You talk about the “aesthetics of minimalism”. What does this mean and why is it important to you?
Minimalism is knowing how much is too much or too little; it’s a fine balance. I think it is important to me because I think it gives me the ability to say a lot simply while leaving space for someone else’s interpretation. This allows me to be honest and give people the opportunity to connect within their own life’s story.
In the minimalist space, I think it is important to apply new ideas to visual themes that may have been done, and in that, to add your personal perspective.
For example, artists have drawn faces minimally for years, but I ask myself to create from a perspective that is unique or (at least) honest.
Tell me about your current series.
Currently, I am exploring moral and emotional concepts through shapes and abstract lines. I hope to compile them into a book by the end of the year! The concepts I have been exploring so far are grief (the concept of death vs. rebirth, and acceptance of death), compartmentalization of emotions/actions, shame, and self-preservation. (I promise I am fun at parties hahaha).
What is one of the most challenging works you have made recently?
Lately, just in general, it has been a struggle to present myself honestly without feeling too seen. It is a hard balance of being vulnerable through art but allowing myself time to process when I know others are seeing my work. I always appreciate it though because I am creating through the confusion, I just sometimes get overwhelmed when I know I am being honest but it feels scary.
Progressive loungewear line ‘DAYO’ designed with sustainability and sex appeal
Yolanda White is releasing a sexy, fun loungewear line just in time for the holidays.
White has teamed up with NY-based designer, Jenni, to create the modest, 6-piece collection, entitled DAYO. Veteran singer Chilli serves as the face of the line, which represents self-love and confidence translated through sultry champagne and red, silk fabrics.
NDLYSS spoke with the DAYO visionaries recently to discuss the brand’s creative direction, the importance of working with environmentally conscious fibers, and expansion for the new year.
What did you think was missing in the market that you wanted to add with the DAYO clothing line?
Yolanda: What I see today in terms of loungewear and sleepwear is basically [all] the same. The reality is [that] there’s no innovation that happening in the segment. What women are looking for today is something that’s more comfortable that allows them to serve the many hats that they [wear] at home in the evening.
We started envisioning an opportunity to create more functional loungewear with built-in breast support [with] more coverage around their butts, hips, and stomach. All the stuff that we don’t want to show is basically the answer that DAYO is providing in the marketplace today.
What’s the idea behind DAYO and where did the name come from?
Yolanda: The name DAYO means “happiness has arrived.” It’s [about] way more than fashion and offers the opportunity to get women to a place where we love ourselves with all that we have going on.
How would you describe the design aesthetic and the consumer that the line speaks to?
Jenni: We try to stay simple and luxurious with sophisticated fabrics imported from Japan. We also try to build structure inside by designing breast and hip support even though [the line] is very flowy and comfortable.
Yolanda: [Jenny] did a fabulous job putting the product development work at the forefront so we could add in the functionality and still keep it simple. It’s hidden so you can’t see all of that detail but it provides women with a lot more.
Sustainability is an important topic right now, how do you feel your brand measures up to this eco-friendly trend?
Yolanda: Sustainability is a way we have to live so as a business leader it is always at the forefront. A lot of what you see in DAYO is made with 100 percent natural fibers. In terms of packaging and the way we put the brand together is very simple. Everything is recyclable to our consumers. We’re being very conscious about delivering an experience and still being purposeful about how we want to live.
Why did you choose primarily neutral colors and reds for the collection?
Yolanda: We want women to be able to pick up the items and wear them every day. It’s something you can wear 7 days a week, ensuring that it’s something they will not get tired of. It’s easy to throw on and have as a core staple in their wardrobe. Red is the cover of love, and, of course, we want to have that for the holidays.
What prompted you to select Chilli as the face of DAYO?
Yolanda: I had the opportunity to work with Chilli for another campaign. By far, she is a woman that has achieved it all and part of it is that she stands for something that is rooted in what the brand represents. When I think of the epitome of the brand it’s someone who is beautiful and committed to themselves. She was the first person that came to mind for me.
How was the experience wearing the clothes for the first time?
Chilli: The fabric is so soft. It has this sheen to it and when you actually touch it, it’s even softer than it looks. If you fall asleep and the next day you need to wake up and run out you can do that. I like the versatility in the line.
Are the majority of the pieces transitional?
Yolanda: I think they are but I’m trying to make sure that I market them as loungewear, first and foremost. And allow consumers the flexibility to tell their own story about how they want to use [the pieces].
What are your future plans for brand expansion?
Yolanda: We are launching DAYO Essentials in March, which will be our mainstream line that will be listed at a more affordable price point. We also have additional holiday surprises that you’ll see within the signature line.
To purchase items from the DAYO collection, click here.
Megan Davies breaks glass ceiling with poignant, vulnerable, pop records on ‘Bad Poetry’ EP
Introduced to the world via YouTube in the summer of 2013, Megan Davies has garnered a massive fanbase–accumulating nearly 200 million views and 1.3 million subscribers. The Nashville-based singer, widely recognized for her intoxicating alt-pop voice, has since then released an impressive discography of acoustic covers leading up to her forthcoming debut EP “Bad Poetry.”
Touching on introspective topics such as bullying, alienation, digital addiction, the polished guitar player’s musical abilities fluidly transcend through her conscious songwriting. NDLYSS spoke with Davies recently to discuss her upcoming tour, the power online promotion, and new projects for the upcoming year.
What specific moment in your life sparked your interest in pursuing a music career?
I don’t think there was one specific moment; I kind of always just did it. I always liked doing it. I spent all my sweet time growing up and eventually when it came time to choose what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it made sense to choose music. I started playing guitar when I was 12, and that was my first instrument I was properly introduced to. I played a little piano and violin but I was terrible at it cause I didn’t practice at all. I didn’t start singing until high school – age 15, 16 – but, you know, when you’re playing guitar, you’re always singing along a little bit. For the most part when I was little, I was really shy. If people asked me to sing, I would say no. So, it definitely took a while to gain up the confidence.
YouTube was a huge part of your life. Why do you think social media is so important in this day and age to propel success?
Yeah! It’s super powerful the amount of people you can reach. You know, I’m based in Nashville, Tennessee but if you look at where people are listening to my music, it’s from all around the world. It’s amazing. And that’s the power of the internet and social media. It’s really important to find your audience and be able to communicate directly with them.
For sure. Your new single, “Gimme” centers around social media addiction. What are the dangers while you’re using it to create a name for yourself?
I think we all know there can be this dark side to social media where you’re constantly looking at this curated version of people’s lives. And you’re even curating your own life! In a sense, we’re communicating with people but there’s also a fake sort of aspect of it. We’re not connecting in a real way. It can cause a lot of isolation or low self esteem. There’s a lot of negative things – sometimes could outweigh the positive – that can come out of using social media.
Your other single, “Doesn’t Matter” is also definitely another powerfully driven song. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying sits at the forefront of our social and political climate, what does this song mean to you? And what do you think it will mean to the listeners?
Right! “Doesn’t Matter” was actually specifically written about my own experiences growing up. I felt isolated and disconnected from everything, really. You know, there was a bit of social media in high school but nothing like I’m sure kids today experience. I can only imagine the anxiety and stress they feel in high school and then on top of that, social media. That’s got to be pretty intense. There are similarities, though; the emotion is still there and I think more than ever, it makes more sense today. The story still applies to people who are in high school today or even any age. You can place so much weight on little things that you experience at a certain time. And then, as you grow and get older, you recognize those things don’t really matter or as terrible as you thought they were at one point. That’s kind of what I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older.
What is your songwriting process like?
That’s a good question. For me, it always starts on the guitar. Both of these singles are pretty built up but when I’m writing, I always have my guitar in my hand. I imagine playing them with just my guitar. And musically, things come to me pretty quickly and then it’s about putting the right story and the right emotion on top of that. So, a lot of the times, I come up with like a chord progression or a guitar part or some little melody. Then, that melody will sound sad to me or it’ll remind me of something I saw or something I felt. It goes from there. I find when I try really hard to craft it or tell the story exactly how I want to, it never ends up that way. I’ve found subconsciously it always goes in the way it wants to go.
Where do you pull inspiration from? Is there anyone who sort of helped craft your sound to what it is today?
Oh yeah, there’s a lot! It’s funny because I look back on all the phases I went through musically and I listened to a lot of punk music in high school. I really wanted to be Hayley Williams from Paramore at one point. I look back on it now and laugh because there’s no way I’d have a voice exactly like Hayley Williams. It was a thread, though, and there’s all these little threads that become who I am today. I really love this band called Metric from Canada and Radiohead; they’re both still a huge inspiration. I also went through a big phase of playing a lot of fingerstyle instrumental music…that was interest. So, there’s definitely been many phases over the years but they’ve all culminated in what I do today like I do a lot of fingerstyle folk playing with my acoustic guitar so it all carries through to the present.
What has been your favorite part of your musical journey?
My favorite part of what I do is touring so I guess that’s been my favorite part of everything so far. I didn’t travel a lot growing up and even my first time driving out West, I was blown away just by the landscape and scenery change. It literally took my breath away. I felt like I was on a different planet! But being able to go out there and then play my music and talk to people who listen to my music and hear about their lives and what they do; it’s kind of a magical thing. There’s a collection of little moments within that but touring, for me, is really special.
Speaking of touring, are there any fun rituals you do when you’re performing?
Post show, I always have a glass of wine. I never drink before I play because I find that I lose all my musical abilities and it’s not good for anybody. I’m not that kind of person where I can have a drink on stage or something but it’s one of my favorite things to do now. I come off the stage, sit for like ten minutes and have a glass of wine just by myself.
Wine is definitely the best way to wind down!
Yeah, it’s my go to. The combination of the wine and the adrenaline going down…it’s one of my favorite moments. And then I go out and talk to people and typically hang out at the venue. I meet people and have conversations and yeah. That’s usually my routine.
If you could tell anything to your younger self anything now, what would you tell her?
I would tell myself to slow down honestly. I think when my YouTube channel started getting bigger numbers and it was growing, I was so afraid if I stopped working at any point that it would just collapse. It would be over and I would be spending the rest of my life wondering why I didn’t capitalize on something that was going so well for me. I had that fear so I worked and I worked and I worked. Eventually, I just burned out. I would work insane hours to the point where I couldn’t anymore. I would just be so tired. It wasn’t the healthiest way to cope with what I do, obviously. And that’s something I’m still trying to figure out – that balance. Taking moments to breathe and experience life around me and live…it’s so important.
What can we expect from you as 2018 closes and we enter 2019?
In 2019, I’ll be going on tour so I have a bunch of dates on my calendar. I’ll be going back to Europe and playing in a bunch of countries I’ve never been to. And mostly just, releasing music. The nice thing about being independent is I can put things out as I make them and you know, it shows a journey of growth musically and people keep following along with me. That’s the plan for right now!
Congratulations! Sounds exciting.
Thank you!! I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be a good year!
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