The music video for Rihanna's "Work," is actually a duo of clips. In each, she and Drake dance to the dancehall-inspired single, just in different settings.
Music video visionary Director X directed the first version, which has Rihanna and Drake packed into a sweaty dancehall party in Toronto, in a seeming nod to X's earlier work with Sean Paul. Tim Erem, a Swedish born director who is now based in Los Angeles, directed the second version, where the pair dance for and with each other in a room bathed in hypnotic shades of lilac. What the second part loses in environment, it makes up for in coziness.
Shortly after the video’s release on Monday, Erem told The FADER that his section of the video was part of a bigger, original concept that has since been repurposed for another video project with Rihanna. He also spoke about Drake and Rihanna's natural chemistry, and why those blues and pinks look so good on camera.
I've seen your work with Major Lazer, Mø, and Diplo—all of your biggest videos have been working with the same sort of crew. How did you end up working with Rihanna?
Rihanna's team got in touch with my agents last year, but nothing happened. I don't know what happened—they changed the track or whatever. They got back to me two days after Christmas and said, "hey, we have this track and we want to work with you" and that's where it all started. We shot this whole video two weeks after that and then we decided not to do this for work. Director X came in two months after. We basically changed the track for the original treatment for "Work." That video will hopefully come out in a month or something.
We shot "Work" and then we decided, let's change the track for it and we'll do the pink room—my video for "Work" is one of the setups from the whole video, but Rihanna liked it so much, she decided to use it as a second video for this.
So this was not part of the original plan?
"Work" was a completely different idea than it came out with today—in a good way! Because we wanted to make the best out of it, me and Rih—we loved the concept I had for the original "Work" treatment. We decided to change the track and make it to something that fits it better. We just used the pink room because everyone seemed to like the pink room so much. The pink room came up from me and Rihanna sitting in the studio, the night before. At 3 a.m. we were sitting in the studio and Drake wanted more of a tropical feel to it. We decided to add this to the original treatment. I sent an email out to my team at 3 or 4 a.m. the day before the shoot saying, by the way, can we get all of this stuff so we can build a room for another setup.
So that's how a video came together for "Work." The original treatment is a completely different track right now. We just used this pink room that we hadn't even talked about until 4 a.m. the day before the shoot. It's an interesting thing, but I guess that's the way we have to handle two A-list celebrities at this level; we just wanted to add to it.
Can you tell me about the original plan and other video?
You can just Google it [laughs].
Ah like the Louis Vuitton horse Rihanna was seen riding?
The horse is still alive. We didn't kill any horses. Who knows? You might see her on a horse at some later point. You never know [laughs]. I'm not going to get into that, I'm going to keep it as a surprise. Whatever we've done with that, according to me, is the best—that's my baby. That's something that will come out pretty soon.
Can you talk about the colors in the room? They reminded me of the colors in the "Hotline Bling" video?
I know, it's funny. It has nothing to do with it, nothing to do with it. We changed the colors like five times before we started shooting. It was yellow and blue first and then we have orange and blue, then orange and red, and then we decided that it should be those colors. It is interesting because after we shot it and I started looking at the footage, I said, it looks like the "Hotline Bling" video. They just loved those colors.
What about the furniture?
This is the funniest thing. I never thought of that really. There is nothing to talk about really—we shot this whole video in the mall. It was all empty. There was like an old Foot Locker store. Okay, fuck it, let's use this as a studio. We just turned that small shop into something that was more like a basement or a basement party. That was the whole visual idea behind pink room, that it was like a Toronto basement party. That was the vibe we were going for. The funny thing is, the pattern on the wall is a carpet. I said just use this wall and put it in the back so we get something that's not a white wall with holes in it. We had a turnaround of like six hours.
And was this video shot in Toronto?
No, it was shot in Los Angeles. They shot their version in Toronto. I haven't even seen the other video. I'm trying not to watch it, especially for these interviews. I don't want to talk to someone else's work that's so close to mine.
We were watching in the office here and were all shocked when it turned into a two parter. Can you talk about that at all?
We all liked the pink room from the beginning but we didn't feel like it was good enough to be a video on its own. Then we did an edit for it—actually it could carry a video. [But] they just wanted to do another video. It seems like they just did a 2.0 of the pink room, with another style to it, in another way. I haven't seen it [so] I can't say that much of it. They called me and said let's just use this as a part two for the video. We shot this in the beginning of the year so it's been a really long process.
They're dancing so intimately, can you speak to what direction you gave them for those shots? What was it like?
Interesting [laughs]. It just felt like—they're really close to each other and they're friends. They're really good friends and everything felt so natural. It felt really good. I don't think this would have been as good with someone else. I'm not going to name names, but this is a perfect match. The track, the video, and everything. It was really intimate and that's what I think makes the video so good: their whole chemistry, which is just so authentic. They're two really close friends who are really fucking good performers.
Was there use of a choreographer on set?
It wasn't that much choreographing, it was mostly the chemistry between them but we did have someone on set.
The FADER interviewed Tanisha Scott last year who choreographed Drake and explained that most of it was just Drake on his own.
Everything that has to do with Drake is his own thing. That's why the dances are so similar, that's his thing. I wouldn't say anything is choreographed, but I'd say that the choreographer made it better. We focused on doing everything on freestyle. The choreographer was standing next to her and hyping her. But we definitely worked together, there's nothing planned.
Any moment from making this video stand out to you in a significant way?
The whole process was pretty special. The original idea is my baby, I like it so much. Hopefully it ends up being something that people will see sometime soon or this year at least. I don't have that much to say about the pink room because it turned into something great in a day. I think we had five takes. It took 40 minutes maybe. We did the whole video around this. You can't forget about the plan. The schedule was to make something different and this was just one small part of it.