Having a creative director can really help shape and mold artistic visions for young artists. A director also helps with packaging an artist whether it be song choices, fashion, logo and overall brand identity. However much is going too far? By not editing creative ideas, it can automatically backfire on the artist, brand and potentially affect brand loyalty.
In this article of Rolling Stone, it interviews creative director and choreographer Laurieann Gibson who has choreographed some of the most visually stimulating stage shows in the pop world. Gibson has gained notoriety as the creative engine behind Minaj’s controversial Grammy performance.
Minaj performed the new track “Roman Holiday” as her nihilistic alter-ego Roman Zolanski, executing the first-ever mock exorcism on the Grammy stage. The performance was not well liked as audience members in Staples Center politely clapped in puzzlement and were displeased. Harsh criticism immediately was being discussed on Twitter such as, “Nicki Minaj really wants to be Lady Gaga and/or Madonna, but she’s trying way too hard. Nicki Minaj = black Lady Gaga. Take notes from Adele, McCartney and just fucking sing. Nicki Minaj is a disgrace to black women.”
Critics were quick to pan the performance for its over-the-top religious overtones and similarities to other church-baiting performances in the name of pop music, among them Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and Lady Gaga’s “Judas” video, which Gibson co-directed.
The Catholic League blasted Minaj’s performance on their website for its “vulgar” choreography, taking special exception to “a scantily clad female dancer stretching backwards while an altar boy knelt between her legs in prayer.”“To be honest, no, we didn’t do anything for controversy,” Gibson claims. “We never had that conversation at all.
For her part, Gibson was tasked with marrying Minaj’s idea of the exorcism and the Hype Williams-directed video that accompanied the performance. Titled ‘The Exorcism of Roman,’ the video borrowed imagery from the 1973 classic The Exorcist and more recent horror flicks like The Devil Inside.
To adapt Minaj’s ideas for the stage, she looked to the House of Borghese and the Vatican for inspiration. “I love the inspiration of those colors and that architectural world,” Gibson says. “I personally chose to stay away from any religious moves. There were no crosses. There were no religious symbols. We made sure we were very respectable. The bishop was a symbolic figurehead. He was not [intended] in a negative light, but in a position of authority.” Even though Gibson somewhat tried to not affiliate the performance with religion with symbols, her inspiration of Vatican colors, stained glass windows and wardrobe showed that association clearly.
Gibson assumes the reason Minaj’s performance drew so much attention is simply because Catholic imagery alongside pop music just does. “You don’t get press on the other stuff,” she says. “As far as the theatrical and dramatic performance, it’s entertainment.” But if people didn’t enjoy it then its not entertaining, right? It seems like she makes a lot of excuses to defend herself but the way the performance was staged did not sit well with the audience which was a live telecast to the entire world and that can affect how people perceive the artist and affect consumer loyalty.
This isn’t the first time Gibson has been attacked by the Catholic League for her choreography. It happened with her work on Lady Gaga’s “Judas” video. On YouTube the video, which begins with Gaga riding with a biker gang made up of Jesus’ apostles, has more than 127 million hits.
“I loved the idea of Jesus being on a motorcycle bringing them from Damascus to face a situation that might not be so favorable,” Gibson says. She doesn’t see similarities between the Gaga video and Minaj’s Grammy performance. “They are two completely different stories. As far as what I do and the execution of it, that’s great that it is at that level where people recognize the similarities and how I execute for an artist. But ‘Judas’ was a completely different experience. Nicki is extremely unique – it’s a different genre of music. What people are feeling is the similarity in what I do and how I’m capable of breaking a new artist into a competitive field.
“People can’t wrap their head around the fact that Gaga did not do that on her own. She didn’t. There was a Laurieann Gibson. There was someone to execute at a high level in a short period of time. There are a lot of great artists, and the fact that we did that in such a short period of time was a huge blessing.” Gibson makes a point at this part of the interview. A lot of people do think that Gaga does everything herself. The original idea is hers but a creative director is the one that channels those ideas in a way to make them both creative and marketable.
Before choreographing for Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj she choreographed dance moves for Missy Elliott, Diddy, Alicia Keys and the Jonas Brothers before becoming a creative director. “A choreographer deals with the movement that you create,” Gibson explains, “and with a creative director it’s about the story, the stage, the lighting, the costuming, executing someone’s idea, choosing how far to go or how little to go, and blending it so that you feel it, you’re emotionally effected.”
Asked if she feels she is molding the pop stars she works with, Gibson says, “Molding them from a place of love and wanting to see their dreams come true. With Lady Gaga I really stretched myself as a creative director, and because I was with this artist from before she got signed I was able to really take control of the opportunity and execute as a creative director.” Being able to channel what the artist want to say and making it creative yet marketable is one of the key elements in branding an artist. Laurieann has done this well with her roster of artists but was Minaj’s Grammy debacle a wrong move?
In a moral sense, yes. Also was it appropriate for that award show? MTV, yes. The Grammys, no. However, the negative publicity has paid off, boosting anticipation for Minaj’s next single, “Starship”. After all, a little controversy never hurt fellow rappers like Eminem or Kanye West. As for Zolanski, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of that character. Minaj is currently writing a story and movie about her alter-ego, and Gibson confirms that they have other projects lined up together.
A lot of people do not realize that these artists have creative teams. The ideas or inspiration may come from the artist but how it is produced is through a creative director. The director has to be on point with the latest trends, think of ways to reinvent what has been already done, know what is the next upcoming trend and most importantly edit. If the artist and the creative director are not up to par they can automatically become a market cliché or lesser quality star. The creative director can make or break careers if they make one small mistake or create controversy for promotion.
Tagged as: music marketing. music. nicki minaj. rolling stone. laurieann gibson.