Richy Jackson — Lady Gaga's Visual-Designer & Choreographer — Breaks Down "Stupid Love" & More
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Richy Jackson, Lady Gaga's visual designer and choreographer.
Richy Jackson, the world-class visual-designer and choreographer who just created his latest video, "Stupid Love", with pop-icon, Lady Gaga — almost didn’t have a career in dance.
“I went to Tuskegee University in Alabama, and I was like ‘I wanna be a lawyer’,” Jackson told me last week in an interview for the Pod De Deux Podcast. “I was all about pre-law, I was like, ‘I want to be a lawyer and fight for justice.’ That was my thing.”
But, Jackson — who for over a decade now has been pushing the envelope and propelling himself into one of popular music’s most sought after dance and creative talents — ultimately changed course one day during his first year at school.
“One day I clicked on MTV, and I looked at an Aaliyah video — the video was called, “Are You That Somebody?” — and I saw one of my old group members dancing with her. And, once I saw that I literally called my mom and I said, ‘I’m outta here.’”
“And, I left,” Jackson said.
Jackson, who at the time was on a full-ride scholarship as a Poli-Sci and English major, told his mother who’d asked why, said: “if he can do it, I can do it.”
“That might’ve been on a Thursday when I saw that music video — I left on Monday.”
The Big Change
After he returned to his hometown near San Francisco, Jackson prepared to pull the trigger on the first real phase of his professional dance career — the move to Los Angeles.
“When I got to LA, I didn’t know anybody,” Jackson said. “I was living in Hollywood, and I used to ride busses all over the city, and one bus took me to this place called the valley, and I was like where am I going? What bus did I get on? And, then I saw this place called Moro Landis Millennium [Dance Complex] and I saw dancers coming out of there — and they were sweating, they were hot, they were dancing! I remember that bus pulling up and I was like, ‘THIS IS IT!’… I found heaven.”
From there, Jackson’s career began to take off. Shortly after the move, he booked his first gig, dancing with Will Smith on the 2000 Grammy Award telecast. Not long after came gigs dancing for *NSYNC, Jessica Simpson, and early versions of the iPod commercials.
“I was dancing like crazy,” Jackson said. “Everywhere and for everybody.”
Haus Of Gaga
The creator and choreographer, who’s now not only associated with nearly two dozen of Gaga’s hit videos like “Just Dance”, Bad Romance”, “Telephone”, “Born This Way”, “Applause”, and more, is also responsible for a multitude of her tours, award show performances, television specials, her 2017 Coachella performance, and even her epic Super Bowl LI Pepsi Half-Time performance.
The widely respected choreographer and dancer — known to his legions of Twitter and Instagram followers as @RichySquirrel — isn’t just recognized for his work with Lady Gaga. Jackson has danced with and choreographed for some of the biggest names in contemporary music. His star-studded resume includes work with the likes of Usher, Brandy, Missy Elliott, Katy Perry, Nicky Minaj, JoJo Siwa, and so many more.
Most recently, however, Jackson’s focus has been on the release of the video associated with Gaga’s latest single, “Stupid Love”, off of her upcoming ‘Chromatica’ album.
The concept for the video, Jackson said, was brought to him by Gaga one day during a private rehearsal between the two.
She wanted it to be “about where we’re at today” as a society, Jackson explained.
"Everyone has their groups, or crews, or tribes, or the people that they [agree] with — yet at the same time, we’re at a point where, because of those differences … if someone has a different opinion, a different way of seeing things, or a different belief system — all of a sudden, we can’t hang out, we can’t be together, we can’t celebrate together, we can’t be around each other.”
“So,” he went on, “when she brought [this concept] to me, I thought this idea of art-imitating-life — was genius.”
One of the most notable aspects of Jackson’s “Stupid Love” visual design, is the glorious diversity among the video’s cast of crews and tribes.
“Each crew needed to feel different, each crew needed to dance different. They needed to approach the video in a different way, but then all come together through [Gaga], and through music.”
So, “diversity, inclusiveness of all race, gender, age, style, height, weight, sexual identity — all of it, was number one,” Jackson went on, “it was key.”
With more than 700 dancers attending the audition call, Jackson had a large pool of talent from which to cast. He ultimately came down to a company of 49.
“I’m gonna end up keeping a lot of you,” Jackson said he told the dancers at the audition, “because I’m literally looking for everything. Just give me who you really are, that’s what I need to see.”
A Quick Turn Around
"Stupid Love" was shot exclusively on the iPhone 11 Pro.
The "Stupid Love” video itself — which was shot completely on cameras equipped to the latest iPhone 11 Pro series phone — went into production fairly quickly. With only a limited amount of time dedicated to the rehearsal process and a very quick shoot schedule, Jackson said he tried to group the cast up into the best arrangements of tribes before the shoot date arrived.
“It was just me with the dancers and putting everyone with their crews and just really trying to figure out what would be best for each crew.”
And after the groups were decided and the steps taught and learned, after the sweat and dedication of full eight-hour rehearsals — the crew and production team had to get the video in the can quickly.
“We had two days!” Jackson said. “Two days of five AM to basically sundown.”
A Mega International Hit On His Hands
Though the process came together very quickly, both the song and video have already become international hits. The already worldwide trending song debuted at #5 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and the official release of the video already has close to 62 million views.
Even Amid A Pandemic, The Work Carries On — At Home
Even with massive success and a seemingly never-ending (and star-studded) to-do list, Jackson isn’t immune from the work stoppages as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m usually in studios, or on a set, or getting ready for something pretty much every week, and I’ve become accustomed to that — and I love what I do,” Jackson said, “but when it all came to a screeching halt — it made me appreciate [the work] all over again, and to love it all over again.”
Lady Gaga and company perform "Born This Way" at Super Bowl LI.
Prepared To Return
Though he hasn’t been on set or in the studio, Jackson said he’s ready to go when it’s safe.
“I’ve been here and I’ve been getting my mind ready for when we can get back to work — when society can safely get back to doing what it does — I have ideas ready."
The message from the shutdown Jackson wants dancers to remember? Simple.
“When they allow us all to get back to work, please love what you do and fall in love with it all over again.”
Click Here To Listen: Richy Jackson's full interview via the Pod De Deux Podcast — Subscribe thru iTunes
Michael Mahany serves as NYC Dance News & Culture’s founder and Editor-At-Large. Additionally, he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of 'Rock Of Ages' in New York City. He's also a co-host of the 'Pod De Deux' dance podcast. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or visit www.michaelmahany.com for more. Story tips? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photo credit/courtesy: 1) Richy Jackson/Twitter 2) Vevo/YouTube 3) VOA