November 10, 2014
When OK Go were dreaming up the eye-popping, retro-futuristic video for “I Won’t Let You Down” off their fourth LP, Hungry Ghosts (out Oct. 14 via OK Go’s own label), the inventive alt-pop foursome visited Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant, a 12-floor underground theater with robots roller-skating to heavy metal music.
“It was the best hour of my life,” bassist Tim Norwind tells Billboard, laughing.
The innovative clip, released recently on NBC News’ Today show, raises this humans vs. machines theme literally sky-high. Filmed by a camera on a drone, the band members ride motorized scooter chairs made by Honda, which paid for the film. Accompanied by dozens of elaborately choreographed dancers in perfect synch, “I Won’t Let You Down” takes OK Go’s history of innovative videos — starting with their groundbreaking treadmill hi-jinks in 2006’s “Here It Goes Again” — to the next level.
For what may be OK Go’s best video yet, frontman Damian Kulash, 39, enlisted film director Morihiro Harano. He linked the band with Honda’s ad agency and eccentric Japanese choreographer Airman, who distinguishes himself with an “enormous hat that makes him look like he’s in Mars Attacks,” says Kulash. Check out our breakdown of the video below.
As the jubilant opening bars kick in, OK Go splays limbs a la Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain while spinning in a circle atop the seated Segways that feel, like Tokyo, very “2075,” Nordwind says. “A lot of times in our videos, we play with using pieces of technology in ways that feel warm and human,” he adds.
After the song’s first chorus, OK Go leaves the building and the camera shoots up into the sky to give a bird’s-eye view of the umbrellas twirled by the band and a troupe of dancers in knee-high socks and pleated skirts. How does the camera do that? Why, on a drone, naturally (called an octocopter, according to Harano).
In this shot assembled into a precise sunburst shape, Kulash says the dancers “were like automatons. One of [Airman’s] deputies would shout something to this whole battalion of Japanese schoolgirls, and they’d run like they were in military school, and nail it every time. It was a real treat to behold.”
This sequence — the video was done in one continuous shoot taking approximately 50 to 60 tries to get it right — opens with abandoned warehouse in the city of Chiba, about 45 minutes outside of Tokyo. The video was then filmed in double-time to evoke Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley‘s signature manic style.
To coordinate everyone moving in synchrony to the parking lot for the final setup, Harano set up enormous speakers and played “I Won’t Let You Down” at half-speed, which “allowed for more precise movements even with the complicated choreography,” he says.
To capture all those Japanese schoolgirls flashing colored umbrellas in the shapes of lyrics and OK Go members’ faces in perfect synchronicity, Harano used a specialized drone camera controlled both by GPS and by hand from an altitude of nearly half a mile.
The video hazily pans out over the city of Tokyo for an extra 30 seconds of silence, which the director says was inspired by the Beatles’ outros. “You know how, in some of their albums, a bonus track starts to play,” he says. “I wanted something that packed a bit more entertainment even after the main part was over.”