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Interview: Inside OK Go’s latest music video, which isn’t really a music video at all

OK Go Video

OK Go’s newest music video, filmed in Shanghai, is as much fun to watch as any of the band’s previous video projects. That’s because, no surprise, the alt-pop quartet has once again produced a trippy spectacle built around the elaborate choreography, bursts of color, camera trickery and optical illusions that have become a staple of its memorable, often viral releases.

Except this one, though, isn’t really a music video at all in the traditional sense. It’s actually a commercial the band filmed for Red Star Macalline, which OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash told BGR is basically “the Chinese version of IKEA.”

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While the band in the past has collaborated with brands like Chevrolet and State Farm for its music videos, Kulash said this time around the talk soon turned to the possibility of the band shooting its first-ever commercial after the Chinese furniture company approached them about making a video. The result features a remixed version of the band’s tune “I Won’t Let You Down,” which itself was the centerpiece of the band’s previous video that got plenty of attention for being shot entirely via drone.

The choice of using a remixed OK Go song was purposeful on the band’s part. Using a song that hadn’t been given a video treatment before would have made it tough to present this new video as something other than “the next OK Go video,” the singer explains.

“We actually get this a lot from brands,” Kulash told BGR by phone, while on a tour stop in Minneapolis. “If you ask us to do versions of things we’ve done before, that’s generally uninteresting to us. So rather than trying to shoehorn this into something to try to make it work, we told them, we can’t make you a rock video – but we can make you a commercial.”

The benefits were immediately obvious. Among them, it would give the band something it didn’t have before – a way to break through in China, a market that Kulash said the music industry generally has trouble figuring out how to navigate.

OK Go’s videos haven’t had much of a chance to flourish there, with YouTube among the Internet sites banned in China.

“It’s pretty hard for a rock band to get much exposure in China, so this seemed like an awesome opportunity for us,” said Kulash, who’s directed or co-directed most of the band’s videos.

The latest clocks in at just under two minutes and kicks off with an image of the band sitting on a couch, or appearing to. The camera then turns slightly to reveal, wait, it’s actually just one of them sitting on a chair, and the rest of the band is actually just a static image, stretched to make it seem like they’re all together if you look at it a certain way.

The synthesizers and drums kick in, and the video takes off.

“I like it, I think it straddles the same weird cultural territory for us,” Kulash said, adding that people sometimes have a mistaken impression about the motivations behind the work the band puts into its videos.

As if the music and the videos are two different things, Kulash laments.

Some people might see OK Go as a group of performers who care mostly about YouTube and who also happen to be part of a rock band. Kulash says the videos, though, are a part of a cohesive creative whole, elevating the songs, carrying them to different audiences – but not any more or less important than the tunes.

“We like chasing our creative ideas in whatever direction they go,” he says. “Technically, this is a commercial but it functions in different ways.”

It’s also helped lay groundwork for the band to extend itself among a fresh set of fans. The video comes a few months before OK Go is set to play dates in China for the first time, in the fall.

Andy Meek profile photo

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.