How do you solve a problem like Shia LaBeouf?
You don’t; at least that is the argument Rob Cantor appears to make in the music video he released last week for “Shia LaBeouf,” an absurd, hyperbolic song about a cannibal named Shia LaBeouf.
The music video, which features a menagerie of dancers, aerialists, choirs and instrumentalists, basks in a farcicality and extravagance that eventually culminates with a delightful cameo by LaBeouf at the end.
Although LaBeouf is the main reason the media picked up on the video and helped push it viral, he is not the enigma in this case.
At Indiewire, we were curious about Cantor. The mind behind the music and the video. Cantor agreed to speak with us over email about the process of making the music video and below, you can find a transcript of what was said.
You released “Shia LaBeouf” as a single back in 2012 and it garnered a lot of interest from pop culture aficionados who produced their own videos around the song. So why release an official music video two years later?
The original version of the song was really just a demo. I’d always wanted to give it a richer, fuller sound, and this year, for some reason, the timing felt right!
What inspired you to conceive of the official music video as a live performance?
I’d seen a lot of unofficial music videos for the song on Youtube, and they all followed a similar pattern: they were literal depictions of the narrator’s words. I always felt the absurdity of the imagery is funnier in the mind’s eye, so I wanted to do something more interpretive and less literal. I came up with the idea of a grand musical performance; it seemed funny to take such an absurd song so seriously.
How did you connect with the real Shia Labeouf? Don’t try and get coy with your answer to this question just because this interview is over email. :)
I wrote an email to Shia. I explained that I was a big fan, I pitched the video concept, and I invited him to participate. I found his manager’s email address online, and I sent my message off, never expecting to hear back. Three days later, much to my delight, a reply! And more exciting still, it was a yes! I had pitched a few different ideas as to how Shia might appear in the video, and “sole audience member revealed at the end” was one of them. It was his idea to turn it into a Citizen Kane nod.
You already had a following before the official music video for “Shia LaBeouf,” but now that the video and song have exploded into the larger public conscience do you think your success will impact the way you engage with popular culture throughout your work moving forward?
I don’t think [it will]. I don’t really think of the song as a critique of pop culture. To me, it’s [about the] absurdity.
What other pop culture icons are you interested in writing songs about?
Who made the masks that the dancers wear? What are they made of and how long did they take to make?
I commissioned the design from a 3D artist named Eric Testroete. He designed something similar as a Halloween costume a couple years ago, and I’d seen it on Reddit. I thought it would make a striking costume for the dancers, if he could design it with Shia’s likeness. He did, and he sent me a packet of digital files. Four friends and I printed the pieces and assembled the heads at my apartment. It was a surprisingly big job — took five of us 16 hours to build five heads. Long day, but very satisfying [because that] stack of card stock gradually turned into Shia.
The official music video for “Shia LaBeouf” draws from many different disciplines — music, performance art, dance, sculpture, the list goes on. Are these disciplines that you have dabbled in at some point or another; or does your experience with them stem from your relationship with other artists?
I wanted the video to be entertaining from beginning to end, and one way to achieve that was to keep upping the ante. There’s a nice build in the action of the story, and it seemed like the staging needed to echo it. With each section of the song, a new production element is revealed. We begin with the string quartet and the rhythm section. At the first refrain, we add the men’s chorus and the dancers. Then the children’s choir and the harp, along with more dancers. Then the larger men’s chorus, more musicians, and even more dancers. Confetti, flashing lights, martial artists. And then the ultimate: Shia himself. I got really lucky that so many talented people were willing to give up a full day of their life to be a part of this ridiculous spectacle — it allowed us to create that build.
What are you working on right now and what can we look forward next?
There’s always more to come…
Rob Cantor’s debut album, Not a Trampoline, came out earlier this year and is available for purchase and download.
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