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.
Daniella Mason has found a lot of success in her career writing songs for her friends in her hometown of Dallas; namely Nick Jonas, who worked with her his 2014 self-titled album and featured her on 2016's Last Year Was Complicated. Joe Jonas did good by his old pal when he had her open for DNCE on tour and she's toured with former Dallasite Demi Lovato as well. An accomplished songwriter and performer, Mason found viral fame in 2017 with her single "Cruel Summer."
Now, Mason is stepping away from her pop roots and expanding her songwriting into something more intimate. "Human" is the lead single from the first of four EPs she plans to release into 2019, in which she explores her emotions and the vulnerabilities she's felt like she had to hide for the sake of writing hits in the pop genre.
Refinery29 spoke to Mason about her stunning video for "Human" (directed by Motke Dapp), how the song came to be, and her intense love for all things mid century modern.
Refinery29: What was the spark of an idea that got this song started?
Daniella Mason: “Last year I was in a workaholic mode for a few months and was working like 90-hour weeks. I was basically functioning like a machine, and I have a tendency to do that. My husband, during that time, would peek his head in every so often or bring me salt and vinegar chips. He kept me tethered to the human world. I remember saying out loud to him, ‘You remind me I’m not a machine. You remind me that I’m human.’ I wrote that down that night because I loved that idea. I kept it in my back pocket and tried to write the song a couple of times but it just wasn’t happening. [But] this year I’ve been trying to actively open myself up. So I went into the songwriting session in the perfect headspace — it was the producer, my husband, and myself. At the end of the session, I asked for a keyboard and sang the first verse of ‘Human.’ We all knew we needed to write it. It came out so quickly and it really was the story of me coming into my own as an emotional, vulnerable being.”
What drew you to the concept for this video?
“I got the idea for the video when we were starting to write the song. This little picture came into my head of a love story about a sweet little robot who just wants to be human. She’s watching all these humans and trying to figure out how to calculate and make it happen. She watches their social interactions and tries to mimic them with the hopes that it will make her human. Of course, she doesn’t find out that she can become human until she has a natural connection with someone — you can’t just copy and paste a connection. I loved the idea of two robots finding their humanity together and their love for each other.”
The aesthetic, that ‘60s look, made me wonder if the idea was inspired by any particular sci-fi stories from that era?
“Not any particular piece, but we drew influence from that time. I wanted it to be retro-futuristic as opposed to futuristic. I just love the look of that whole era and the way they foresaw the future.”
I can see some of the design elements, there’s a lot of mid century modern furniture in the video. The design of the robot helmet is also kind of steampunk-ish. And those boat neck dresses from the early ‘60 with the colored pieces and jewelry pairings to make it look more futuristic! Tell me about how you came up with the design?
“I made a mood board where I tried to combine the metal elements and the futuristic robot elements with the midcentury ‘60s elements. From there, the art director and I tried to decide which elements to take from which era. She made those helmets. I sent her pictures of old movies and old things I liked, then I didn’t hear from her awhile. But she showed up at my house the day before the shoot with the helmets and I was beside myself. We wanted to see what elements we could get our hands on. We went to these shops in Nashville to see what was there and took inspiration from a lovely coffee shop in town whose whole vibe is midcentury. They let us borrow a bunch of stuff. It evolved based on what we could get. A lot of the clothes are actually mine; I went through my closet to find stuff that worked and had a wonderful wardrobe person to track down all kinds of things. When we all came together, it magically worked.”
How did the helmet feel?
“It wasn’t heavy, but I did have to keep my head really straight so it wouldn’t fall off. That was the biggest challenge. They were made of this hard plastic — they weren’t metal but they looked super heavy so everyone was worried about it. The body paint was probably the most difficult thing. We couldn’t move much so it wouldn’t crack.”
I bet that helped you get into character tho, to be preternaturally still like a robot.
“Exactly, I thought this will help me tell the tale [laughs]."
Why set the video in an office?
“I was thinking of a space where there would be a lot of people she could watch and try to emulate. I like the mundaneness of an office. And, I was thinking of where a robot would be hired and consistently interact with people. If she’s the receptionist, she would see people come and go. We wanted it to feel vibrant, and we wanted to see the humanity of the extras and juxtapose it with her desire to be like them. There’s one part towards the beginning where the robot is walking down in slow motion and, if you look in the background, there’s a girl who is laughing so hard. I loved that, because you see me, as the robot, so stoic and her living life so fully.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.