Interview: Jerome LOL

Photographer Jasmine Safaeian
November 15, 2012

Last Saturday, Rihanna performed her single "Diamonds" on SNL in front of a green screen, backed by an animated video full of purposefully gaudy web 1.0 graphics. Buzzfeed wrote that the CGI'd visuals were "clearly based" on a video made by Jerome LOL, the LA-based producer, and had infuriated a community of internet artists who felt their style had been impolitely co-opted. Jerome LOL talked to us about his reaction to the performance, where web art comes from and how it should be shared. Read the interview and check out his coincidental, great "Diamonds" remix below. Watch all of Jerome LOL's videos here.

When did you see Rihanna’s performance and how did you react? I’m on tour. Last Saturday we played in Tijuana and got back really late, like six, and I saw a few tweets at me like, “Holy shit Rihanna blah, blah blah stolen visuals.” So I checked it out. My first reaction, on a superficial, aesthetic level, was like, This is awesome. This kind of style is getting exposed to thousands and thousands of people, to Rihanna, to SNL. And now the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s maybe not the correct vehicle to be showing that kind of stuff. If you’re watching music videos that have that style, you’re seeking out those YouTube pages and choosing them as a viewer. But in this case, SNL is presenting something to you as opposed to you searching for it. That’s what the internet is, you choose your own content. On TV the producer’s giving content to you. The flow of information is different. But at the same time, what if it wasn’t Rihanna? What if it was Grimes that did that? Would it be cool then? Would there be any controversy? I don’t want to sound whiny or preachy though. Because on a basic level, I think that performance was cool. I’d rather SNL look like that. If everyone had crazy dolphins and 3D GIF animations everywhere all the time, that’d be a cool place.

Were Rihanna’s visuals a direct reference to your work? Would that flatter you or piss you off? It’s cool that people took note of the correlation. While I don’t think it’s necessarily a rip-off of my stuff, it’s definitely borrowing from this whole scene. Everybody's been mentioning that "123" video, but there's another video for "Blockz" that I would say is more similar to Rihanna's graphics. I think I've moved past the style of those videos, but I still like it. What am I going to do next? An all black video? I'm not going to dismiss that aesthetic because Rihanna took it. I've never ever been associated with seapunk until this week, which is funny. Blogs that seem very out of touch are talking about seapunk as if it’s like a saying, but not contacting any of us.

Why would Rihanna want to jack the style of the Tumblr scene? Rihanna has this badass, punk aesthetic going on right now, talking about weed and stuff. But I doubt she really had any input. I mean I’m sure she okayed it, but mostly, those visuals are just trendy. What do those Greek columns mean to her? Those pink dolphins? On TV, it just looks cool. There’s no substance behind it. That’s the look they went for and someone got hired to do that. SNL is an iconic stage, and she clearly switched the stage. That will definitely stick out in people’s minds. That’s what pop music, big record companies, big capitalists want to do. They find something that is cool and underground and just take it. She is late, but if the mainstream is going to steal something, it’s going to take them awhile. People still identify with those visuals, even a watered-down form of that style that’s like, reduced to hashtags and big iconic signifiers. Greek columns, water and trees, a 3D peace sign that’s rotating. Nothing connected, just the basic stuff. The artist who did the SNL thing for Rihanna was a really good artist I think, but the visual was also very safe. Like what you’d expect.

What’s so significant about this aesthetic? What meaning gets lost when it’s used on TV? There’s this whole generation of adults now, we were kids when the internet was really evolving, at the same time as we were evolving. We saw the internet develop from the early Windows days, with all its crazy GIFs and MIDI music. That stuff's a part of our youth and a part of the internet that has to be archived for people who were born later, when the internet always existed. This visual style’s an homage to the early days of CGI and early days of the internet in general. It’s for the internet, by the internet, from the internet. People say "seapunk" and buzzwords to make it easier to write about, but there’s really no name for it.

Art that’s for, by and on the internet requires a lot of sharing. Should people still get upset when their work is imitated or duplicated? People have said to me like, “That’s whack, people didn’t consult with you, or give you any credit.” Well why would they? Do we do that ourselves? The internet’s a free base to do whatever you want with it. It’s a democratic place. All those images I'm using are like, referencing things and stolen. These underground videos are on the same platform as a mainstream video. Everything’s on YouTube, on Tumblr. It’s not like there’s this secret part of the internet where all this art is happening or this style. It’s out there. Anyone can steal from it.

If stealing is fair game on the internet, where can DIY art communities thrive? It’s always funny when an article about a band says, This band got big on the internet. How else are they going to get big? Sure there are still punk scenes and tiny metal scenes, but in general everything really has to start on the internet these days. I don’t think there’s a better place in real life. I think it’s good though. It puts everyone on the same plane. To get your work out there, you don’t really need the same outlets you used to.

Interview: Jerome LOL