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Director Hiro Murai On Making Art For (And Of) St. Vincent

In her new music video, “Cheerleader,” St. Vincent’s Annie Clark becomes the most vulnerable King Kong the art world has ever seen.

The music Annie Clark records as St. Vincent is otherworldly, enigmatic, and oddly accessible, so it’s only natural that for her latest video, she would be cast as a gallery piece in a museum.

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“Cheerleader,” directed by LA-based director Hiro Murai, begins with languid panning shots of the singer laying flat on the ground in an austere environment, her thousand-yard stare aimed off in the distance as she absently sings. A moment later comes the first reveal–St. Vincent is a Gulliver-like giantess, her size dwarfing all the museum-goers gazing upon her with fascination. She is an art exhibition unto herself, although it’s unclear how she feels about that.

A music video and commercial director with production company, Partizan, Murai already scored one of 2012’s buzz videos, last month’s “Shady Love” by Scissor Sisters and Azealia Banks. With “Cheerleader,” however, he had the experience of directing the video for a song he was already a fan of, and knew very well.

“My goal was pretty simple–I just wanted to nail the tone of the song,” says Murai. “There’s kind of a subdued, melancholy vibe to it, but it also has these big spikes, and a chorus that feels really epic. I wanted to frame the video in a way that both of those things could exist at the same time.”

This duality is achieved by emphasizing St. Vincent’s captivity in the museum during the more fragile and subdued parts of the song, and then focusing on her immensity and scale when the big moments hit. The song has several shifts in tone, and each of these is echoed by the progression of the video’s concept, which is teased out bit by bit.

One of these movements occurs when the gargantuan Annie is raised from the ground by a rope and pulley attached to the museum’s ceiling. In the video, there’s a certain grandiosity as the singer slowly ascends. However, that was not the case during filming. “It was a funny shoot because we couldn’t see the effects, obviously, until we put them in later. So these two muscular guys were pulling up Annie with a rope while she’s wearing a harness, and it just looked really awkward with no context.”

Almost everything was shot in one day, with a lot of different elements requiring green screen work that would be composited later. The video’s dénouement in particular, which should be seen rather than described here, involved a lot of visual wizardry. It didn’t hurt that Murai is co-owner of Bonnie Brae , a visual effects house.

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“It was a real technical shoot, so we had to be more precise than usual with the way we shot it and how we sequenced it,” the director says. “It was kind of like shooting puzzle pieces. It was a little confusing, because you could never tell what we were shooting until we put it all together.”