"What I live by is take your time and make sure it's done right before you put it out. You don't know what can happen along the way. Don't ever rush it. Make sure it's done right."
Richy Jackson has choreographed routines for Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Usher and Missy Elliott throughout his incomparable career, but none could hold a candle to one of our generation's most influential recording artists, Lady Gaga. The larger-than-life dance champ helped mold Gaga into a formidable pop star with dance routines for "Just Dance," "Poker Face," "Bad Romance,” “Telephone,” “Born This Way” and “G.U.Y.,” to name a few. Several years into their professional relationship, Gaga named Jackson her visual director & lead choreographer, and his invaluable experience is about to be put to the test; Gaga tasked him to co-create arguably the single most important performance she's ever embarked on:
The 51st Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Jackson took a moment out of his hectic rehearsal schedule to chat with BreatheHeavy.com. He reveled in his master plan to get Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth to make out at the 2015 AMAs, touched on forthcoming artist development projects (what's up, Zack Zilla), offered his take on the state of pop music 2017 #LostItsBalls and preps for the Super Bowl Halftime Show at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Sunday (Feb. 5).
“I got called at the last minute for that job. We were kind of the underdogs of the entire night cause we didn’t have some of the big names, and all the big pyro, and 150 dancers and XYZ. We had kind of minimal everything. I remember telling them, ‘Do you guys want to be the most talked about artists of the night?’ They were like, ‘Yea, how do we do it?’"
That’s when they...
"Yea! That’s what happened. I was like, everyone knows what a kiss looks like, feels like or wondered about it no matter if you’re black, red, gay, straight, bi. A kiss is gonna touch more than any of those other things will. We talked about it. [They] rehearsed that kiss. They kissed for 30-seconds like I told them to. We held it until the camera cut. I was like, 'you cannot pull away! They have to literally cut the camera…' That’s the way it needs to end. They cannot see you guys pull away. That for me was a great moment because they trusted me. That was a fantastical moment."
Are these defining moments planned? Or do they happen more organically?
"I think it's both. When I like to work with artists, and especially at different venues (like award shows, or videos, or tours), it's kind of one of those things where I say to myself, 'where are we at right now in their career and how do we play chess? What are they not doing?' And in that, something organic may happen, or something strategically planned could happen."
Then he said it:
"Pop music has lost its balls."
"I feel like pop music... it used to be entertainment. Because of social media, it's a great aspect but at the same time it's a negative aspect because now it allows people to feel like each other. There was a time where entertainers, whether they were singers, dancers, actresses or actors, they were an escape for us as a consumer. And now, it's like pop music has become like each other. We're all like each other."
So pop music has become overexposed?
"When you go see a movie, you escape from your world for that two hours. I feel like pop music used to be that as a whole. You could live through them or your problems can go away for that concert or that video or that show. And now because everyone's trying to be so like each other... It's about creating moments."
What advice would you give an emerging artist to create moments like these?
"Be true to who you really are. The reason why I say who you really are is because in this business... as you make more relationships. As you get more exposed as to how this business may work, you can start to lose sight of who you really are... whether it's your look, whether it's your music, whether it's how you walk or how you dance. Now what happens to everyone that comes to you [is ask] what to do and how to be, and as soon as you give into that you are not going to be separated from the rest. Some of the biggest artists in the world were probably told no a bunch of times. They didn't look like each other, they didn't look like the rest, they didn't behave like the rest, they didn't approach their artistry like the rest. The difference is that community didn't have the Internet or social media where people could directly tell you, 'you suck.'"
"Michael Jackson... he was such a great artist. Can you imagine him listening to everything people had to say along the way? But when that concert came they were there. Or when that video came on, everyone was watching. Artists nowadays have to block out the world... Everyone's not gonna like what you do, but it's not about that. It's about sticking to the plan and becoming this great artist. And you know what? Maybe you'll create change."
You mention artists needing to be unique. What sets you apart?
"I think for me personally... there's a few things. One, I love to dance. I've been dancing since I was five-years-old. I've watched every pop show that ever happened on television. But also, I play music. When you play music, you understand it with different aspects. I played music as a percussionist, the drum line, I was a band geek... Then when I got to L.A., I took time to study my craft. I've danced for a lot of different artists just as a dancer: Missy Elliott, Usher, Jessica Simpson, *NSYNC. Then I assisted for a long time – to learn my craft so that I could understand when it's my time to become a choreographer... it's not about the steps. It's about the steps you can't prepare for. In training, you become a master at how to make things happen under pressure. How to create on the spot. How to assess every situation and make sure that the artist (and yourself) can still look flawless and come out on top."
What's your mindset going into the Super Bowl Halftime Show?
"Super Bowl is huge, and it's 12 minutes. I think any artist... their life is on the line for 12 minutes. It feels like you're putting on a mini-tour. How do we create something great on this venue, on this platform, on this stage? What can we do to plug our spin on this performance? Even though they have the Super Bowl at different stadiums and locations... the venue and the essence and the energy is still the same for me ever since I watched it as a kid. There's two teams competing for a trophy, but at halftime everything stops and it's about this moment... these 12 minutes. How do we create a Gaga 12 minutes? How do we stay with her branding but open it up enough if you didn't know who she was and you're watching that you can accept and appreciate and be entertained by someone you may or may not know. And how do you stick to the plan? What we've done in the past for her and for us has been great. We've had some pretty great performances. We only compete with ourselves. We don't worry about anyone else. We just want to entertain and come out jumping up and down when we're done."
Close your eyes and imagine it's seconds before Gaga takes the stage. What would you say to her?
"I would probably tell her what I tell her every performance. I always tell these words to her and the tour dancers, or if we're doing a video or a stage show... I say:"
"Battle for cattle."
"Battle for cattle is like, 'listen: we have to go out there and show the world what we have.' And we're competing against ourselves, but we're also competing to have a great show and really entertain people. It means you're at a hundred percent. Nothing else matters but the show in this moment. Lose yourself and give it your all, because you can't get this moment back."
"Get ready to dance and sing. Get ready for a GREAT pop show."