By Noah Yoo. Photo: Kanye West.
Last night at the MTV VMAs, Kanye West premiered the video for his Life of Pablo song “Fade,” starring singer and G.O.O.D. Music signee Teyana Taylor. The video, which is currently a TIDAL exclusive, features Taylor doing a sweaty, Flashdance-esque dance routine in a gym, and culminates in a shot of Taylor transformed into a lioness, posing alongside fiancé (and Cleveland Cavaliers player) Iman Shumpert and an infant. (Taylor and Shumpert have an eight-month-old daughter.) Pitchfork spoke to veteran choreographer and artistic director Jae Blaze—who has worked with Rihanna, Will Smith, Jennifer Hudson, and more—about her work on the “Fade” video, and how she believes Taylor is a “superwoman.”
Teyana Taylor: Meet the Woman Who Upstaged Everyone at the VMAs
One of the most talked-about moments of Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards didn’t even take place on the Madison Square Garden stage. While everyone was eagerly anticipating the performances by Video Vanguard recipient Rihanna or the triumphant returning Britney Spears, out of nowhere came Teyana Taylor — starring in Kanye West’s “Fade” music video — and she completely stole the show. Even more unexpected? Her cardio-jam performance looked like it could have taken place at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. Clad in a teeny-tiny, Jamie Lee Curtis-in-Perfect Jazzercise leotard seemingly held together with sweat and prayers, the incredibly lithe and limber, taut and toned Taylor totally got her Flashdance on. She took her passion and made it happen. She was a maniac, maniac on the floor — and then, for the video’s bizarre finale, she was a catwoman, reclining on a bed composed of live sheep.
Of course, many people out there are probably already familiar with singer/dancer Taylor. But for those who just discovered her via the VMAs this week, here’s a primer on the phenomenal “Fade” bombshell: –She’s engaged to NBA player Iman Shumpert. And that was him, making out with her naked in the shower stall and lying next to her on the above-mentioned sheep-bed in “Fade.” –She had a baby this past December. Yes, just eight months ago. And if that isn’t motivation to enroll in some Jazzercise classes, we don’t know what is. –She was a judge on the most recent season of the MTV talent competition America’s Best Dance Crew. Clearly, she was very qualified for the job. –Her debut album, VII, came out on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music record label in 2014. It featured guest appearances from Chris Brown, Fabolous, Pusha T, and Yo Gotti. –Taylor’s new single is the Adina Howard-sampling “Freak On,” featuring Chris Brown. Her sophomore album comes out later this year. We can’t wait to see its music video.
Pitchfork: What was Kanye’s role in the making of the video?
JB: Kanye, I can’t stop saying it, he’s just a creative genius. When he came in, he told us, “I like this particular move, but I want to take it to the next level. Show me what you can do on top of this move.” He has something specific on his mind, as a visionary. And we have to translate that onto Teyana’s body. Teyana’s a beast, so it really made our job easy as far as, “Hey Teyana, give him what he wants. Let’s do it this way. Let’s try it this way.” That’s basically how the day went down.
Pitchfork: Can you remember any specific things Kanye was pushing for?
JB: There is this particular movement called “bruk back.” It’s a Jamaican dancehall dance, created by the dancers Outshine Crew. It’s basically very gritty, a very earthy movement where you pound your back. He gave us a vision on how to incorporate some other locking and popping movement into that particular dance move, and you see Teyana doing it there in the video.
Pitchfork: What was the dynamic between you and the other choreographers (musician/actor Fonzworth Bentley and Guapo) when shooting the video?
Jae Blaze: Teyana came in basically with a set of choreography that her and Guapo had been working out prior to the actual shoot. I was called in the day of, saying, “Hey Jae, we want to use some elements of your dancehall choreography to put into Teyana’s performance.” Between Fonzworth, Guapo, and I, we basically just came together as creative minds and just smoothed out the edges, watched what looked great on camera, and gave Teyana artistic direction. She takes direction so well, and it made our job really really easy. It was just the coming of three minds putting stuff together that looked good on camera and made it what it was.
Pitchfork: Where did the Flashdance inspiration come from originally?
JB: You know what the funny thing is? Everyone is just referencing Flashdance, and that is a great conversation to be in because the movie was epic. I mean, she just tookFlashdance to 2016, if you want to put it like that. She brought it to a generation of some people who many not have even seen the movie before! She made it relevant and current right now. Her body is amazing. Her dancing was amazing. She’s just a beast. All in all, it just came together really well.
Pitchfork: How long did the video take to make? What was that process?
JB: The one word I can use for Teyana Taylor right now is “superwoman.” We had her dancing over and over again, and then if we saw something that she did on camera that was really cool and we wanted it her to repeat it, she would do that. Gave her direction and she made changes quickly. She was just phenomenal to work with, and she knows her stuff. She used so many different elements in her choreography to bring back from the old school to the new school. She has waacking in there. She has popping in there. She has dancehall in there. She has locking in there. She has hip-hop dance movement. She really is well-rounded and well-versed in dancing. I’m just so happy for her that this breakthrough has come and everyone is recognizing how talented she is. Because on top of that, the girl can sing! She’s more than a triple-threat. She’s a superwoman. For her to be taking care of her daughter and working at the same time… I loved it. I loved watching it. It was absolute black magic.**
Pitchfork: Can you give us any insight into that final shot in the video, where Teyana turns into a cat woman?
JB: I think the vision behind that was how amazing Teyana is, and how she’s been on the rise, and how she’s working, and you are now seeing her blossom into this fierce lioness, this fierce cat. She has worked her way into that, and she’s in a great position right now in her life. She has her family. She’s being held down by her amazing husband. She has a beautiful daughter. You know, the lioness always protects her baby. I think it really is about her coming into her fierceness. And that’s where she is in her life right now. She is blossoming.**
This story originally appeared on Pitchfork.