Right, and YouTube obviously changed everything in terms of the overall accessibility of music videos.
(…) What I’m getting at, and this is true of all artists, from Rihanna and Jay Z on down, they’re willing to put more money [into their videos], leverage the relationship with the label, put their own money behind [them], to put more on the screen, to make a bigger statement. (…) Rihanna has built her career on being a visual artist.(…)
Having worked with Rihanna on 17 videos, how would you say she’s evolved since “Unfaithful”?
The way I look at it, she was a complete form—an undeveloped complete form, if that makes sense—when I first worked with her on “Unfaithful.” There was this incredible power and emotion, this kind of dark side, and duality. At that point, she was kind of a Bajan island singer. I didn’t know what to do with her. Was she R&B? Pop? Reggae? I think on “Unfaithful” she found the beginning of a lane and a voice. If you look at the songs before that, “Pon de Replay,” stuff like that, they would kind of fit her into a marketable box, more like a female Sean Paul . . . That was what seemed like made sense. But the truth is that anybody who knew her at the time, anybody who worked with her, saw there was this other thing, this incredible fire, this incredible wise-beyond-years thing. It was just about her outgrowing the youth, outgrowing the constraints of the label, having enough hits, making your own decisions enough times. If you knew every single step along the way, you would say, “This could never happen; this never happens.” And it doesn’t. She’s the once in a generation. She’s the biggest star in the world.
She just had her 13th Number One single, and she’s still only 25.
There is nothing she can’t do, in a way. There have been some incidents in her life that we all know about, and a lot of incidents people don’t know about, that have given her fuel to the fire to grow further into her character. Because, hey, they all have a character, whether it’s Robyn playing Rihanna, or whether it’s Shawn Carter playing Jay Z, or Marshall Mathers playing Eminem. And in that character, there’s sort of a safe zone. You can ask her [and she’ll say] “Robyn wouldn’t do that, but Rihanna would.” And that’s a very interesting mentality. If you can get under their skin and see who they are at a deeper level—and that comes from working with them direct—you can push them in different ways. You can hopefully create work that lives at a different level.
Do you have a favorite Rihanna video?
I love “Russian Roulette”; there’s something about “Russian Roulette” I just love. It was so brave of her, and bold. It was a very dark time and she was harnessing an incredible power. “Disturbia” was probably the biggest moment because that was the first time she let the world see what was inside her. [“Disturbia”] was the 5th or 6th single off the album. I think she probably paid for a lot of it herself. And she said “We’re doing whatever I want. You can’t tell me anything.” And I said “No problem.” When I saw it together, I knew it was something special. It scared the shit out of the label. I think there was a conversation at one point about shelving it. It was one of those moments when she was kind of smarter than everyone else.