Gone were the Rastafari-inspired walls of a boisterous dancehall. Gone was the muted pink glow of a stripped-down living room. When Rihanna performed earlier this week at the Brit Awards, she abandoned the Caribbean settings from the just-released dual videos for her number one hit “Work”, and instead emerged onstage in her own alternate universe. Using her all-white ensemble of a crop top and fringed harem pants as a projection screen, splashes of fluorescent patterns fell across her body. As she sang “Consideration” with SZA and “Work” with Drake, she practically morphed into an avatar. For almost everyone watching, it was an unexpected and, well, electrifying interpretation of the island jam, but for Philippa Price, the director and multimedia artist behind the digitized settings, it’s hardly New Wave.
Price, who uses technology and sci-fi references in her hyper-surreal video work for the likes of Lion Babe and Brooke Candy, tells us how the unconscious ’80s vibe of “Work” took her straight back to the future, and why she believes in the power of performance over video.
How did this collaboration come about?
Her team had seen some of my work and originally approached me about doing a video for her. That turned into creating this performance, which I’m really happy about. I much prefer creating performances. Videos now are so accessible and, in a way, disposable. With a performance you are creating an experience, a special moment in time.
What were some of the influences behind the set design?
Sci-fi and technology have always been and always will be major influences of mine. I’m a science nerd at heart and that always finds its way into my work. Salvador Dalí is also a major influence, too. His surreal and vast landscapes were something I looked to when creating the world of this set.
What technology did you use to produce this alternate universe for Rihanna?
I can’t give away all my secrets, but it did involve a shit-ton of projectors!
For the song “Work,” it’s so natural to place the song within a context of a dancehall, but you’ve uprooted it and placed it within a whole other sphere. How did you start to think about “Work” in more futuristic terms?
I love contradiction. Placing things together that you would never imagine working is what creates the most interesting outcomes for me. Yes, putting “Work” in the context of dancehall would be natural, but I never want to create anything that is expected. Actually, when I first heard the “Work” track, it took me more to the ’80s than Jamaica. I think the repetitive “work, work, work” made me think of ’80s corporate style—plus the beginning of the track has a sort of Talking Heads sound to me. I wanted to combine that vibe with a dancehall influence but not use any of the typical visual language you would expect. Dancehall and Jamaica hold a very special place in my heart; I have family there and spend a lot of time there. So I thought about stripping the vibe of dancehall down to the most basic elements: dreamy bright colors, ethereal lighting, bold graphic shapes. Adding in my sci-fi touch, that I can’t avoid, and you get the future dancehall land I created. The Land of Dutty Wine, 2084!
Were there certain details about her costume you had to keep in mind when designing the set?
Mel Ottenberg styled and designed the costumes for the performance and he did an incredible job. We decided that keeping her in white would be best for the projections. The pants he chose for the piece were so perfect: the fringe on them created really interesting effects when they picked up the projection. Putting the dancers in black also looked incredible because they became silhouettes within the set.
What’s it like working with Rihanna?
She is amazing to work with. We vibed right off the bat, and I think she really trusted my ideas. She loved everything I showed her from day one, and I was actually surprised by how much she trusted me!