I found parts of the song a little reminiscent of Daveed Diggs’ “Fresh From the Hood,” another amazing “Here I Am” tune rooted in the hip hop tradition but with a strong nod to musical theatre. Smack, I believe you were actually in Diggs’ program at the Public. Tell me a little about that experience and how it influenced your growth as an individual artist.
Smack: Yes! I got to do the #BARS Workshop with Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs in 2016. It was life-changing, there’s really no blunter way of saying it. Those guys, along with the rest of my peers in the workshop, challenged me to write at a level of quality that I had never been challenged to do before. It kicked my butt, it made me better, and I came out with a ton more hunger and confidence to keep creating original work. Daveed and Rafa are these force-of-nature storytellers and masters of language, what they are doing right now is really pushing the art forward, with a sense of urgency and gravity and importance that I very much respect.
Let’s talk more about this video! It is so much fun, and there’s a lot going on! Tell me about your concept for the video and how it all came together.
Catherine: We knew we needed to tell a story, first and foremost.
Smack: But for this particular story we needed lots of locations. And since locations are expensive, we had to come up with something else. So we thought of cartoons- another interest we have in common.
Catherine: We figured if could get a palette of dynamic animations, along with theatrics and choreographed movement in physical space, then we could solve the puzzle of moving through space and time, and just ride the narrative waves that are already present in the text of the song.
Smack: And then on top of all that, it’s always been my dream to do a hip-hop dance with Nintendo characters. So that’s where the cosplay came in!
I love all of the references ranging from Chorus Line to Nintendo. Aside from being a lot of fun, they really add a lot to the portrait you’re creating. Any more you can say about that aspect of the video/song, and any Easter Eggs the first-time viewer might have missed?
Smack: In the third verse of the song, when I’m rapping about following my sister’s footsteps for musical theatre, we snuck in some sound effects from the Kirby videogame series. Kirby is one of the classic Nintendo characters, and his signature move is that he can copy the superpowers of others. We thought it was pretty fitting to work this into the sound and the choreography as well.
Catherine: That whole sequence was so fun, and it’s packed with references. We have a Bob Fosse-style dance, which adapts steps from the famous Chorus Line opening (a callback to “I Can Do That”) which then morphs into a “Fame”-inspired dance audition room. That moment when we magically transport scenes is when we use the exact sound effect from Kirby.
Are you purely a Nintendo person, or do you play other systems? What is your fave video game of ALL TIME?
Smack: Nintendo all the way! There are a few exceptions- particularly Final Fantasy and (of course) Dance Dance Revolution on Playstation. I was raised on Nintendo, though, and what they are doing right now with the Switch, I think it’s honestly some of their most innovative and best work. My favorite games of all time are Super Mario RPG, Zelda: Breathe of the Wild, Celeste, and Super Smash Brothers.