They don't give out Oscars for music videos -- that's what the MTV Video Music Awards are for! -- but maybe there can be a special dispensation made at next year's ceremony for "Masterpiece." The video, which features fictional pop stars Noni and Kid Culprit, appears during a transitional moment in Gina Prince-Bythewood's "Beyond the Lights." At once a send-up of modern hip-hop culture, an embrace of its tropes and a repudiation of the music industry's sexual exploitation, "Masterpiece" is what the kids might call a banger.
"I love music videos. I love the genre of it. I love telling the story of a song. So this was exciting to put together," Prince-Bythewood said of the video, which appears in the film and was released to YouTube by Relativity Media last month. "We knew it needed to match the hyper-sexuality of what was out there."
"Masterpiece" does: At one point, Noni (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) seductively sucks chocolate sauce off her finger while having vigorous eye sex with Kid Culprit (played by Machine Gun Kelly).
But while Prince-Bythewood admitted shooting the video was the source of many laughs on the set, she told HuffPost Entertainment that it also made her "uncomfortable" to imagine the clip being seen outside of the film's context. "Which is why it was important to have the bookends for the music video in it," she said. Those sequences show the toll being a pop star takes on Noni, as layers of her self are stripped away.
That theme is complemented throughout the film by Noni's wardrobe choices. For the video, Prince-Bythewood dressed Noni in black leather outfit that they found at a dominatrix shop. It's one of many revealing ensembles Noni wears, all of which created a cumulative symbolic effect for the director and her star.
"For Gugu and I, the template of the character was that the less Noni wears, the less you see of her," Prince-Bythewood said. "It was important that every time we see Noni, her outfit makes a statement. The whole motif for Noni's outfits were a bondage thing: chains. The 'Masterpiece' outfit spoke to that, with the collar around her neck and the chains connecting the halter together. It's the kind of outfit that, like Gugu says, you have to wear it; you can't let it wear you."
The video, of course, is nothing without its song. Prince-Bythewood commissioned The-Dream, who has written songs for Beyonce and Britney Spears, to produce "Masterpiece," knowing full well it had to be a believable radio hit. (Her inspiration was Rihanna's "Cake.") It worked: "I've heard 'Masterpiece,' honestly, about a thousand times, but it still gets my head to nod," she said with a laugh. "That's definitely what you need."
And while the video won't make it to the Dolby Theatre for the 87th annual Academy Awards -- unless some intrepid Academy member wants to take us up on that special Oscar offer mentioned earlier -- Prince-Bythewood hopes the song does. Both "Masterpiece" and "Grateful," a track by Rita Ora that plays over the closing credits, have been discussed as possible Oscar contenders for Best Original Song.
"'Masterpiece' is kind of like 'Hard Out Here For A Pimp,' that song from 'Hustle and Flow,'" she said. "'Masterpiece' sets the tone and it is a great song. I'd love for that to get noticed." As long as the Oscar campaign includes the video, it shouldn't be a problem.
All GIFs via YouTube