Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

5 minute read

Master Class

"We Don't Try To Top Ourselves": OK Go's High-Wire Act Of Creative Control & Commerce

The band explains how their new video was a mathematical mind-fuck, why videos trump touring, and why they'd never start a creative agency.

"We Don't Try To Top Ourselves": OK Go's High-Wire Act Of Creative Control & Commerce

[Photo: Zen Sekizawa]

Waiting for the premiere of a new OK Go video has become something of an event—and for very good reason.

For the past 10 years, the indie rock band has been consistently reshaping the music video landscape with their highly elaborate and physically intricate concepts. In 2005, their backyard dance video for "A Million Ways" was the opening act of sorts to 2006’s viral phenomenon "Here It Goes Again," a.k.a, that treadmill dance song. It may have not been that clear to the band back then, but the success of their video for "Here It Goes Again" happened at just the right time when YouTube was still a baby (the company had just launched the previous year) and the general state of music videos was in peril (MTV as the gatekeeper for new videos was rapidly turning toward more reality-based shows).

Since then, OK Go has been anything but one-hit viral wonders, constructing visual masterpieces using a Rube Goldberg machine ("This Too Shall Pass"), trippy forced perspective art ("The Writing’s On the Wall), and a musically kinetic driving course ("Needing/Getting"). And now for their latest video, the band is relying on the slowest of slow-motion to stretch 4.2 seconds of chaotic and colorful explosions into four minutes of strangely cathartic art.

Earlier this year, the band released their video for "Upside Down & Inside Out," which undoubtedly became one of their most popular. The zero gravity acrobatics took the band’s creative vision to a new logistical level, putting whatever video that would come after it—i.e., "The One Moment"—under serious pressure to live up to the mic drop of "Upside Down & Inside Out."

"It’s the first time when everybody asks, ‘how are you going to top yourselves?’ that giving our stock answer, which is, ‘we don't try to top ourselves’ felt like a little bit of a lie," says lead singer Damian Kulash. "We don't try to top ourselves, but we do try to keep ourselves challenged and interested and doing the same thing twice is rarely that interesting."

As it turns out, the video for "The One Moment" was more of a mathematical mind-fuck than dealing with zero-Gs.

"The math for the ‘Upside Down & Inside Out’ video was complicated but you had to do it once and then repeat it for each section. There was a lot of trial and error back and forth but for [‘The One Moment’] the entire choreography is math—we had no perception of anything that happened around us."

There are 318 synchronized events within those 4.2 seconds that were captured by seven cameras and slowed down at varying frames per second, e.g. lip syncing moments (90 fps) vs. the exploding guitars (6,000 fps)—all of which was planned out on an eye-crossing spreadsheet, 25 columns wide and nearly 400 rows long.

OK Go's approach to bringing their creative process for both their videos and music leans heavily on being flexible.

"If there's one thing we've managed to kind of systematize across the process of making all the videos is that first we think of a sandbox that seems promising, but then we have to play in it for a long time before we figure out a vocabulary of 10 to 30 cool ideas—and those are almost never things we could fully imagine sitting at a desk," Kulash says.

"We definitely prefer to sit down kind of with a blank slate even though it's intimidating to do that," bass guitarist and vocalist Tim Nordwind adds. "But it allows you in that moment to be like, 'What am I doing right now?' And you go hunt for that magical thing that when you hear it you're like, 'That's how I feel."

OK Go has positioned themselves in a unique space of their own design by reclaiming the concept of what a music video is and what it's used for.

"I realize how much I don't think about music videos as the music industry tool that they were invented as," Kulash says. "For us, it's a creative bucket and sometimes a business engine. It sometimes makes a lot more sense, financially, to stay at home and make a video than it does to go on tour."

That business engine comes from OK Go aligning itself with a range of companies that help fund their more expensive concepts. Range Rover took the band on an eight-mile parade/art installation/concert to promote its Pulse of the City app. Samsung, Chevrolet, and Google have collaborated/sponsored videos for "Last Leaf," "Needing/Getting," and "All Is Not Lost," respectively. Now with "The One Moment," Morton Salt is throwing its umbrella in the ring to help promote its campaign for Walk Her Walk, an initiative to highlight and support the efforts of men and women enacting social change around the world.

"I think interruption advertising is really tough to get right. Not that it doesn't work sometimes, but what [Morton Salt's] message is right now is about a social responsibility," Kulash says. "They want to inspire people to feel like, ‘get the fuck in the game and step up.’ It's a brave thing to be saying in a very difficult time. If Coca-Cola sells joy, I think [Morton Salt wants] to sell a more refined type of responsible joy. This song was perfect for that."

What makes these corporate collaborations work and not feel gross is the fact that OK Go has built a respected reputation for innovation, so they’re able to maintain their required level of creative control which, oftentimes, actually gets a major boost because of increased funds to play with.

"We get a lot of calls and they're sort of like, ‘You know that thing you did in Japan with those umbrellas? Can you do that again holding our cereal?’ Nope," Kulash says. "When the brand gets it, they offer us the opportunity to do things we definitely could not do without them. The video we did for ‘Needing/Getting,’ we would not have sat around thinking about those ideas unless somebody offered us a car."

Because OK Go has created a stellar portfolio of inventive videos that consistently get millions upon millions of views, it would make sense to funnel their efforts into a creative agency, right?

"We thought about it for a little while but there's a very thin line in the sand where it just flips over the edge to where the client is always right. And so when somebody comes and says, ‘We love this idea! We just want to do this one really shitty thing all over it,’ it's like, no this is my life, this is my livelihood, this is everything," Kulash says. "Everybody who runs a creative agency at some point just has to pay the bills. Basically you're always the intermediary between a brand and someone. What that means is that we would wind up being managers. We'd wind up having to find other people with creative ideas and then be good at being bosses—and we’re terrible at being bosses."

loading