Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
Ella Mai wants people everywhere to love themselves, and those around them, "naked" — though it doesn't have to be quite so literal. The artist, who joined Kehlani for her SweetSexySavage World Tour, and is celebrating the two-year anniversary of her EP Time, has crafted the ultimate track for an authentic life with "Naked." Now, the song has an equally powerful music video ready to spread her message.
For Mai, who has released three EPs over the last two years and has her debut studio album on its way, the video for 2017's "Naked" was very much about human connection — hence the dozen or so "characters" shedding their pretenses (but not necessarily their clothes) on camera. The video also connects to the larger social movements of the last year: At one point in the video, several characters hold up signs with different hashtags on them, from #MeToo to #PrayForPuertoRico.
Refinery29 spoke to Mai about her new video, the social issues dear to her heart, and what it means to truly go naked.
How did you come up with the concept for the video?
"The song is a story in itself, so I didn't want anything too complicated, or have a bunch of stuff going on. I wanted it to be really simple and to the point, which I think we executed quite well. The hashtag part came in a bit down the line... As time was going on, we saw more [hashtags] in the media, like #MeToo, and I thought it would be perfect to incorporate in the video... I feel like we put it in the video perfectly, as to not take away everything else that was happening within it. [As for the cast,] there were people from different walks of life, different races... I wanted to make it [clear] that people were still thinking about these hashtags."
How did you decide which hashtags to use?
"As we were coming up with the treatment for the video, [that] was when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico. At first we were thinking about people from different walks of life... so we thought we could show a family who maybe lost their homes [in the hurricane.] That ended up being a bit too detailed to show within the video, because you [only have so much time.] We came up with this idea, me and a lady at my label, for the hashtags.
"The crazy part about it is there is a different hashtag every week, which is really sad but it's just how the world works. I picked which ones meant the most to me, and what I thought was most important to portray in the video. We picked about five or six. The one that is most important to me, personally, is the one that I'm holding, which says #Justice4Grenfell, which is a fire that happened in London in an apartment building. It was public housing, for people who don't have a lot of money. The government knew it was an unsafe place to live, and it caught on fire. [Editor's note: According to a report published by The Guardian in November of 2017, 71 people reportedly died in the Grenfell fire.] A lot of the real facts have been hidden from the media. That one is [close to my heart] because it's close to home, but I think all the hashtags are important in their own right.
"The #MeToo and Time's Up movement is also extremely important. Puerto Rico. #DefendDACA, because I think it's crazy that Trump wants to send people back to somewhere that some people have [barely even] been to."
Do you have a favorite moment in the video?
"I love the scene where all of us are laughing and smiling together, because the video is very serious... There's a moment in the video where we are all laughing, talking to each other, and I just thought that there's a real feeling of love, even though we are all so different in the video, even though we don't know each other."
How did you find people to appear in the video?
"There was a casting agency that was used, but I got to go through all the options and see who fit. There were loads of options, which made it quite easy for me. I wasn't looking for somebody in particular, really, and capture people from all walks of life and different races... I really wanted to make sure that every walk of life was represented as best as it could be... There really wasn't a profile, like 'Oh, we need this person, and this person.'"
What advice would you give a young woman seeking a career in the music industry?
"Just to be yourself. I think the industry has changed quite a lot from when I was very young... But I think, with social media... I think there's a lot more room to be yourself. You don't have to put on this image of 'Oh, I have to be this perfect being. I have to always look happy.' I think there's a lot more room to express yourself, rather than just do what your label wants you to do, or what you're 'supposed' to portray as a woman. I think that boundary has been broken already, so you can now be true to yourself and do what you believe in and what you really want to do."
Do you think that #MeToo has come to the music industry yet?
"I don't know if it's come to the music industry, at least in the media as much as in the film industry. I definitely do think that it's something that happens in music, as it does in every industry and everyday life. It's something that women, and also men, have to deal with, and it's definitely not fair... I hope that if someone has been in that situation, that they can have their moment and build up the courage to tell their story, because it can help someone else."
What does it mean to be "naked" to you? In the video, no one is completely without clothes.
"To me, it's not really about being physically naked. I didn't want to have to take off my clothes in order to tell this story. It's somebody accepting you for who you are. It can be without clothes, it can be with all the clothes you have on if that's what makes you feel comfortable. It can be bareface or with a full face of makeup if that's what makes you feel comfortable. It's also about accepting yourself, and taking somebody as they are, whatever that as they are is."
Check out the video below: