We speak to the director who created an AI doppelgänger for M.I.A’s single Popular

Arnaud Bresson – the creative behind the wonderfully confusing casting tape-style video – tells us about the work which had us all seeing double last month.

Date
1 September 2022

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2022 is the year of asking: who is that? What is that? What am I? Will a robot replace me? And one more again: What is that? In other words, we are in the year of AI merging with creativity. While August brought us many things this year, including an excruciating heatwave, the project it left implanted in our head has to be M.I.A’s Popular music video. Released to the world on 12 August, the British rapper’s latest release was directed by French director Arnaud Bresson, who recently worked with Kanye West and The Weeknd on the dystopian Hurricane music video. With Popular, Arnaud once more stares into the (perhaps not-too distant) future, introducing M.I.A’s animatronic-looking clone: M.A.I.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Popular takes us into a casting call where a stiff M.A.I auditions for the real M.I.A, the camera and ultimately society at large. Exploring the performance and transformation people in the public eye (which, increasingly, is all of us) have to undergo to be “popular”, the music video “provides a timely commentary” on social media culture, a press release explains. Despite this serious undercurrent, Popular has a lighthearted spirit, leaning into the awkward and jittery bodily distortions of the M.A.I robot in line with the video’s message.

For Arnaud, the decision to orchestrate the collision of stripped back analogue aesthetics and digital details emerged from one core concept. “The choice on cinematography of a film always comes from the idea for me. Here, the idea features a robot during a casting call,” he tells It's Nice That. To repeat a casting situation that feels rooted in reality, the director turned to “the traditional camera used during these type of interviews, the only thing we did was to multiply the angles, so we had three cameras shooting simultaneously".

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Arnaud Bresson / M.I.A / Division: Popular (Copyright © M.I.A / Island, 2022)

With a no-fuss set up, Arnaud states: “The challenge with this film was to make it good and entertaining while shooting only fixed frames, in only one location, with only one character, and manage to build a narrative and tension strong enough to hold the viewer for three minutes.” Popular manages to do all this and more, taking us through a choreographer-student dance scene set up, only to conclude with a darkly comedic end (which we won’t spoil here).

Popular is the latest step in the unstoppable rise of AI-inspired, humanoid features in the creative field right now. In the past few months alone, we’ve seen Kendrick Lamar embrace uncanny deep fake doubles on The Heart Part 5 – a creative collaboration between Dave Free, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and PgLang / Project3. Humanoid creativity can also be seen in the recent film Kaguya by Gucci, which saw composer Keiichiro Shibuya’s robot and creative partner Alter4 lensed by filmmaker Makoto Nagahisa.

With this new piece, audiences can catch a glimpse into M.I.A’s perspective on the space. Arnaud recalls: “My collaboration with M.I.A. went very well, she is a complete artist who knows the work of a director very well [...] She likes conceptual art and she is ready to push each idea to the end.”

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Arnaud Bresson / M.I.A / Division: Popular (Copyright © M.I.A / Island, 2022)

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Arnaud Bresson / M.I.A / Division: Popular (Copyright © M.I.A / Island, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

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