Director Anthony Mandler has left his mark on music icons such as Eminem, Beyoncé, and The Killers, but his most notable and frequent collaborator is Rihanna. The two have worked on a dozen videos together throughout her career, starting with “Unfaithful” in 2006 and most recently “Russian Roulette.”
Rap-Up.com spoke to the music video visionary about taking the loyal pop star, who he calls his muse, from good girl to bad. Find out how Nelly Furtado indirectly brought them together, which video people believed would ruin her career, the concept that came to him in a dream, and what he thought of the Melina-directed clips for “Hard” and “Rude Boy.”
How did your relationship with Rihanna start?
I was working with Def Jam on some projects and she was kind of the big up-and-coming artist. They loved some stuff I had done with Nelly Furtado at the time, which was “Maneater,” and they wanted to try and take her image and give her a little more edge and still keep it beautiful. We just really connected. From that point on, it was “Unfaithful.” She saw me as someone who could support and drive her artistry and personality, eventually in a more sexual and womanly way. I saw it as an opportunity to work with somebody in the capacity of a muse. I really look at her like that. I feel like we’ve grown through each other, around each other, and because of each other, and will never take back the quality of work or the freedom that she’s given me to communicate. You kill for stuff like that in an artist, especially in this medium, which is filled with disloyalty and criticism. I can’t tell you how many number one videos I’ve had where the artist went somewhere else after. She’s the ultimate in loyalty.
Out of all the videos you’ve directed for Rihanna, which is your favorite?
Either “Russian Roulette” or “Disturbia.” Just because those were the ones that thematically had the most weight to them. “Disturbia” was the one that everybody said would ruin her career from the inside out. People were not supportive of that video and it took myself, Rihanna, and my partner Ciarra Pardo to defend it and push it forward, move the needle as far as what was OK and not OK with a girl like her. It really broadened and opened her brand. “Russian Roulette” because it’s obviously a piece of the pie of what happened and it was the way to tell an intense story that obviously had a lot behind it. She really gave me free reign. I had a dream about her being under water and these people shooting at her and bullets whipping by her and grazing her. I woke up and called her and said, “I got this idea. You gotta tell me what the song is.” At that point, I don’t even think the song had been made yet. To be able to have a moment like that, and be able to call one of the biggest stars in the world and pitch that to them, and then them saying, “Let’s do it,” it’s such a blessing. Every artist dreams of having that kind of outlet.
What’s it been like watching her rise to superstardom?
It’s like watching your sister become a woman. It’s been really interesting and I’m really proud of her. I really admire her strength and her willingess to take chances and go against the grain, and allow her emotions and feelings to live on screen and on the records. I look forward to the next album she makes and hope she continues to push the meter. She’s an incredible woman with an incredible soul, and more importantly a beautiful vision for expressing herself. We should all have that much talent.
Any plans to shoot more videos from the Rated R album?
It caught up to me. I’ve been really excited for her to work with some other directors. I think that Melina and her have done some really cool imagery in the last two videos, and I know [Rihanna’s] planning on doing more videos and we’ve spoken some. But at the end of the day, it’s up to her. I’ve never taken any assumption that she was gonna hire me. I did my research and treatments and she just picked them as the ones she liked best. I can’t make any assumptions until she says, “Hey, let’s do something great.”
What did you think of the “Hard” and “Rude Boy” videos directed by Melina?
I was really happy to see her work with some other people. I wanted to see how other people could capture her. Since she’s grown into this woman, I’ve been the only one to put my lens on her and let her live through my world. It’s nice to see how somebody else sees her. I thought “Rude Boy” was really creative and really matched the song and I thought “Hard” had a beautiful tone and texture to it. I was proud of them. I really like Melina and her work a lot.