“There’s a pressure to outdo oneself with every music video,” admits the director Jonas Akerlund.
He’s most well known for his longtime working relationship with Madonna. But lately, his music videos for Lady Gaga have been earning the most attention. There’s Paparazzi, which features Alexander Skarsgård pushing the diva off a balcony. And let’s not forget Telephone, the controversial but wildly good 10-minute blockbuster that has Beyoncé and Gaga raising hell as pop music’s answer to Thelma and Louise. Akerlund — who will chair the global jury for the Metro Video Challenge — opens up about his body of work.
Would you say that the music video has made a comeback of sorts?
It’s funny because I kind of lost interest in them for a while because it seemed like the market didn’t need music videos. We were making them and they were never shown. Young artists like Gaga, and the Internet, helped change the life of music videos. She brought it back to the ‘90s when it was fun and people watched them and actually talked about them. But it’s not only Gaga, it’s other videos that I’ve done too. Maroon 5, Rammstein, Mika, these have all been very successful videos.
Many media outlets claimed that your music video Telephone was based on the movie Kill Bill. Would you agree with that?
Kill Bill was never an inspiration. The only reason why people say that is because we had the car that was used in the movie. We were meant to have a different car. But just a few days before the shoot, Quentin Tarantino offered to let us use the one from Kill Bill. The whole comparison was kind of a compliment, but there’s a lot more to say about that video than just the car.
Were you surprised when the video ended up being as controversial as it was?
You never expect that. What we knew was that we didn’t care about the rules — meaning, the format and how people are going to see it and the MTV rules and the censorship rules. The fans will go online and find the video. It’s funny because it has been shown all over the world. The only place where it has not been shown because of the rules is MTV America. Luckily, Gaga’s management was strong enough to say "F-ck it." And creatively that gave us more flexibility.
MTV later denied banning the video. But many viewers complained about their being too much girl-on-girl violence. Do you think that audiences are more conservative now than when you first started out?
I didn’t know MTV finally aired the video. Good for them. There is no violence against women in the video really. Especially compared to other stuff on TV. The video is provocative. And any bit of attention is good in my book. The video is a made-up, crazy world. I could never think being too sexual is a bad thing … I think it’s up to the audience to check out what they want to see. I’m not a fan of anyone telling me what I can or cannot do.