When it comes to highlighting diversity and bringing people together, few have the power to inspire and mobilize that popstars do. Artists like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Katy Perry have sought to do just that via their social media accounts and in interviews throughout their careers, but with videos and in their elaborate stage shows, they can conjure beautiful Utopian worlds where acceptance and love reigns in a bigger way. Choreographer Richy Jackson has been helping Stefani Germanotta (a.k.a. Gaga) do this and more since the start of her career, working on dance performances and interpretations of her music, both on stage and in her unforgettable music videos. L.A. Weekly spoke with the L.A. based dance collaborator about the star’s acclaimed new release Chromatica, his work on videos for her first two singles currently breaking records- “Stupid Love” (95+ million views) and “Rain On Me” (107+ million views) and more.
L.A. WEEKLY: So I assume you’ve been quarantining like everyone else the past couple of months?
RICHY JACKSON: Yes, I’ve stayed inside and have been social distancing. It’s definitely a different life these days.
How are you doing? You’re somebody who’s always out there being creative and doing a lot. Have you found this time challenging? Are you using it to hone your ideas or create?
Yes this has been challenging! I want to be back at work. Back to creating choreography for music videos, commercials and live shows. I want the rehearsals, the mirrors, the sweat and the long days. I’ve definitely used this time to craft out more ideas for projects that I have in the works. Ultimately, making sure I have everything ready to present, so that when it’s time for us to go out and work again, I’ll be ready.
As a dancer and choreographer, how do bring your artistic vision to the people? What are you doing right now that people can follow? Are you doing dance videos or workouts like others and sharing on your social media?
Yes, I am doing that now. I’m teaching classes thru my social media. Putting up videos showing how to dance various routines that I’ve choreographed on current and past projects.
And I’ve also been seeing the reactions from the recent Lady Gaga “Stupid Love” and “Rain On Me” music videos that I’ve choreographed. So many young kids, older people, families, domestically and internationally have shared their videos to me; I’ve been reacting and re-posting their videos on my socials.
Tell us about “Stupid Love” with Gaga and specifically your input and collaboration with her on that?
She created a pop smash and we went to the dance studio to talk about her ideas and vibe out to the music. I loved the record. I loved it because it was a feel-good song and the world needed it at the time. I think that pop music had gotten a little dark over the years and “Stupid Love” was light. The song’s energy was colorful and I loved how it made me want to move. From there, we spoke about her concept of the video, bringing different kinds of people together under music and dance. Immediately, ideas of how each of the groups should move took over my mind. I thought to myself, the dance vibes should be different between each group of people yet impact the the world equally. I wanted to create choreography where we would see abstract dancing, modern, jazz, vogue, hip hop all together as one with Gaga.
I know that inclusivity is part of the message. Did you have input?
Yes. I held an audition in Los Angeles. I probably saw about 1,000 dancers. And for that video Gaga and I really wanted all shapes, sizes, vibes, ethnicities, heights and weights. It was all about hiring the best, diverse cast of dancers. Gaga wanted 49 dancers that represented her idea of Chromatica.
You’ve been working with her for a long time, right? And you’re her main choreographer on all her videos?
Yes. I’ve been with her for 13 years now. So, from the beginning. Since “Just Dance.”
How did you connect with her initially?
So I was called by Interscope Records who said they had a new female pop artist they wanted me to check out. I met Gaga at a dance studio in Hollywood and from that day our journey began. And pop music changed!
You have been along for Gaga’s whole journey to super stardom. Do you want to say anything about that? Just having that relationship for so long and seeing her grow into such a big star?
I would say that she still wants to make art, be great, work hard and show kindness to the world. She continues to not just entertain but give people hope.
Who else have you worked with?
I’ve worked with Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor, Charlie Puth, Nick Jonas and JoJo Siwa to name a few.
I did “California Girls” with Katy Perry. I did a few live performances with her of “California Girls” and “Teenage Dream.”
What did you do with JoJo Siwa?
I’ve been working with Jojo Siwa as her choreographer for a year and a half and I also creative directed and choreographed her D.R.E.A.M. Tour. She’s fantastical. I choreographed “D.R.E.A.M.” “Time To Celebrate,” “Bop,” and “Number 1 U.” They are all up-beat with positive messages.
Are you from L.A. originally or did you move here?
I’m originally from the Bay Area, San Francisco area. A city called Fairfield. But I’ve been in LA now since 2000.
Do you have any plans once things open up or anything you can reveal coming up?
Jojo Siwa’s going go back on tour when arenas open up again and I have a new male artist coming soon… Shhhhh.
The videos that you’ve worked on are so joyful. People are stuck at home and watching them more. Videos are a form of entertainment that makes people happy and I think we need that right now. Do you want to say anything about that?
Yes 1000 percent! From a choreographical standpoint, that’s also why I choreographed “Stupid Love” and “Rain On Me” in that fashion. I really wanted to create a mood with the dance that was uplifting to those watching. I wanted people to be able to learn the dances, perform them and celebrate themselves, provoking an uplifting energy.
Tell us about “Rain On Me.”
“Rain On Me” is the latest single and music video of Gaga’s with Ariana Grande. I loved creating choreography for this song because I was able to work with both Gaga and Ariana and design their dances based on their individual artistic personalities, unique likenesses and differences and also how they each sang their lyrics parts. I love that video! We shot the “Rain On Me” music video previous to COVID-19 shut downs and social distancing rules. So those restrictions that were put into place came after we completed filming the video.
June is Pride month. What does Pride mean to you?
Pride month gives the LGBTQ+ a moment to celebrate one another as an event instead of a global idea. Bringing actual people together. Face to face. Body to body. With music, speeches, fashion, art and cultural togetherness. Its reminds us to continue to love ourselves as individuals and as a community.