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Rosalia

Creative director Willo Perron on making Rosalía’s stunning VMAs set design

Willo Perron, the creative director who created Drake’s floating Ferrari, tells us how he updated traditional Catalan iconography for the performance

Rosalía’s striking and varied set at the 2019 MTV VMAs on Monday (August 26) was quintessentially Spanish. Spanning three songs, “A Ningun Hombre”, “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”, and “Aute Cuture”, the show transitioned from a soulful cante jondo with a single white spotlight, to a lively, digital spectacle with bright red flower projections for the Barcelona singer’s “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” (presumably, a nod to her Richard Quinn-style music video), and a campy Feria de Abril festival-inspired building encrusted in bright yellow light bulbs for “Aute Cuture”.

The visionary behind the performance is Willo Perron, an LA-based creative director who has previously worked with Kanye West, Jay Z, Rihanna, and Kendrick Lamar – the list goes on – on such memorable setpieces as the oversized architectural forms in Jay-Z’s 4:44 tour, and quite literally propelling a flash-yellow Ferrari over the audience for Drake’s Aubrey & the Three Migos tour.

“It’s how you straddle the kitsch and the beauty at the same time,” Perron tells us on his varied and striking sets for Rosalía, who along with J Balvin won the award for Best Latin award (despite not actually being Latin herself, but that’s a whole other conversation) earlier that night. 

Below, we speak to Perron about designing the sets, his inspirations and finding the balance between kitschiness and beauty.

What visual cues were you inspired by when creating Rosalía’s sets?

Willo Perron: The three songs all had a different energy. They showed different stuff of her range to broadcast her different strengths. The opening song is kind of sincere and dramatic – we wanted to strip everything away and sit there to showcase her voice. She’s got an incredible voice. 

Yeah, the white spotlight in “A Ningun Hombre” was really powerful.

Willo Perron: In think in that environment, everybody wants to go maximum on everything – as many dancers as possible, and so on. It’s kind of a competition, more than anything. It’s nice to be, like, ‘nothing’, so you can sing really well. It’s also a good palate cleanser for the entire event.

Was the floor made up of digital panels that had some sort of pre-programmed visuals? 

Willo Perron: Yeah, all the floor and up the wall make up the video. So going into “Aute Cuture”, we wanted to do a conventional set, which I think again relies so much on these big video moments. For the final song, we built this modern version of the Spanish Feria de Abril, a festival in Seville, with this building covered in lightbulbs. So it’s a sort of nod to this festival where they map all the bulbs around different buildings.

Why did you choose that?

Willo Perron: We went back and forth and I sent her a bunch of different ideas, and she really liked that. A lot of the iconography and music that she deals with is traditional. She takes a lot of images and updates them. If you look at the music videos, you see there are always references, like bullfighting with motorcycles – it’s just making a traditional thing more contemporary. I thought that she would really like something that was a nod to Spain.

And going back to “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”, you know all the projections of flowers, it had a very pinkish-red colour scheme. Was there a particular reason for that?

Willo Perron: We went through a bunch of different ideas, and she was just like, “Red is a very flamenco colour, a very Spanish colour.” Again, it’s a take on things. It’s how you straddle the kitsch and the beauty at the same time. The floor could be your grandma’s couch, or drapes, or something like that, but flowers are always going to beautiful at the same time – so how do you straddle both of those things? There is beauty and irony in the same breath.

How many weeks did it take to make the visuals before the actual night?

Willo Perron: Probably a few weeks, not that far out. The “Aute Cuture” set was built maybe a little bit more in advance, but not that far out. It was probably a month end-to-end, from conversation and creative and design to construction.

And the shape of the stage – was it a diamond?

Willo Perron: Yeah, they’re two diamonds – but that’s MTV’s set, so we weren’t a part of that.

How did you adapt Rosalía’s set to the stage?

Willo Perron: We do a lot of these types of things, so you always reverse engineer the ideas on what you have. There are tonnes of constraints going into things like this, like timing and rigging and positioning and all these things, so I’m pretty acclimated to going into these things and knowing how to handle them. 

The idea was to show a bit more range and talent in a short period of time. I’m sure you know her and are familiar with her – I just assume that everybody knows her already – but I was just reading articles this morning that said, like, “Who is this person?” So it’s nice to introduce her with that whole range.