The best music videos evoke a time, place and emotion – just hearing the words "this is a story about a girl named Lucky" is enough to plunge you in an early 2000s, bubblegum-scented MTV fantasy, right? Niko the Ikon and Tierney Finster remember those days well: their heady excursions into videoland began with a reinterpretation of 90s R&B crooner Tevin Campbell's "Can We Talk", which they plan to spin off into a trilogy of narrative videos that will prioritise heavy-lidded glances, kisses at the camera and #feels over today's soul-crushingly pedestrian and oversexualised music videos.
Fresh off the stage after being awarded the €15,000 DIScrit 89plus grant for Can We Talk at last weekend's 89plus marathon, the pair talk Britney, staging playfights in LA malls and the influence of Total Request Live on their work.
Niko the Ikon: We met in middle school in sixth grade. I think we bonded mostly over humor. We both knew we each, like, got it.
Tierney Finster: We picked up on the same things and we didn’t even spend much time together but it was that nutrition glance; that look over lunch time. He always had nice coats, as well.
Niko the Ikon: We started making art together and collaborating like, immediately, right? We’d love to fuck around with people in public.
Tierney Finster: We’d go into the mall and pretend that there was paparazzi following us. Or he would be the paparazzi, or we’d have another friend be the paparazzi for us.
Niko the Ikon: Or we’d stage fights.
A lot of videos nowadays are just so musicians can push a single out, have something on YouTube for views
Tierney Finster: Nobody cares, is the thing. When we’re violent, I wait for someone to intervene like a good Samaritan, and no… So it’s taught us about the world.
Niko the Ikon: That’s how we started, and then we eventually started filming stuff on our little digital cameras. At the time, Youtube was a brand new frontier. It was so exciting to upload things. It was still new for us to like meet all kinds of people from all around the world and like see how they react to our stuff.
Tierney Finster: We were always performing anyways, so to be able to be in our own movie when we were like thirteen or fourteen was really cool. What was the first video we uploaded?
Niko the Ikon: Um, was that Hearts Diner? We pretended Tierney was an English television personality – Hearts Diner is a really cute little heart-themed American diner in LA.
Tierney Finster: We went there with no intention to make the video but I guess because I had the camera I decided to be British and review it, Travel Channel style. It had a sexy twist at the end and went into a music video moment, and that was really cool. So that was like kind of how I even then learned what editing could do.
Niko the Ikon: We were raised on music videos like Total Request Life on MTV and Making the Video.
Tierney Finster: I probably spent more time watching that then I did the actually videos that were made.
Niko the Ikon: I still remember watching Britney Spear’s Making the Videos and some of her quotes. She would be watching the feedback monitor and she’d be like, “Oh! I’m such a dork.” You see behind it all, and it’s just Britney being a dork.
Tierney Finster: Do you think the music video’s changed since then?
We keep getting back to intimacy but it’s power and vulnerability that is the real story here
Niko the Ikon: Definitely; it’s not as good as conveying that intimacy we fell in love with to begin with. A lot of videos nowadays are just so musicians can push a single out, have something on YouTube for views.
Tierney Finster: A lot of people who release music videos have shown us practically the whole video via social media before it’s out. I get previewing, but it isn’t the same kind of discovery and trip that it could be. We keep getting back to intimacy but it’s power and vulnerability that is the real story here.
Niko the Ikon: Moving forward, we hope to really take the second Can We Talk video to the next level, production-wise. We want to use a full crew, because the first two were done on my VHS camera, which was handed to me by my father. We also want to make an original song for it to, so it will be an all around experience this time.
Tierney Finster: We’ve gotten to know these characters a little bit, or people who have watched the videos have, but in the third it’ll be a deeper exploration of their most raw moments.
Niko the Ikon: Can We Talk came to me I was in the mountains in Southern California at a ski resort. I was just staying in this log cabin, and at the time, I’d been listening to the Tevin Campbell album a lot. And I was just sitting in the cabin and this character came to me. It was inspired by the surroundings.
Tierney Finster: I think my character is very much in love with herself, without being so insanely narcissistic. She has her own fire, her own bathtub, her own champagne, her own beautiful cabin. And just treating yourself well is the first step to treating anyone well right.
Niko the Ikon: We’re all about self-love before we find real love.
Tierney Finster: I mean it’s all we got, right?
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Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing