The animated band found an ingenious workaround to bring Elton John and 6LACK together, despite travel restrictions – although they also had to deal with the unexpected aftermath
Here’s what happened: the legendary Elton John and Atlanta R&B/rap star 6LACK were both due to join Gorillaz in London earlier this year for the latest episode of Song Machine, the series of collaborations and music videos that the animated band launched back in January. Unfortunately, the band had to put paid to that idea when travel restrictions kicked in amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. Stuck oceans apart, Gorillaz guitarist Noodle devised a clever solution. Elton and 6LACK could just travel down to the band’s Kong Studios using the portal that they’d previously used to go to Lake Como.
Of course, with the portal being as unstable as it is, the artists emerged out of it somewhat… different. Miraculously, Elton didn’t turn out like some kind of Brundlefly monstrosity, but he did find himself in animated form. 6LACK, meanwhile, had been transformed into some kind of semi-holographic state. They were good sports about it, and still agreed to shoot the new music video for “The Pink Phantom” despite their distinct lack of corporeal being, but the question remained – why was this happening?
Well, a clue on Elton John’s tie might tell you something. The Pink Phantom – whoever, or whatever this entity might be – seems to be the source of all the malevolent mischief going on at Kong Studios recently. As you can see in the music video, bassist Murdoc went about trying to catch the Phantom once and for all, while 2D, seemingly oblivious to the whole thing, just got on with his duet with Elton.
We caught up with the band to learn more about the video, working with Elton John and 6LACK, and the tasty Danishes that Elton brought to the shoot.
What was the experience like of shooting “The Pink Phantom” video?
Murdoc: Very nearly a logistical nightmare, what with international travel all naffed up. Luckily, our esteemed artists very sportingly agreed to use Kong’s cosmic portal to get to the studio. Obvs we didn’t expect it would mess with their physiology so much, but I think you’ll agree the end result was well worth the existential peril they put themselves through.
2D: It was a proud day for my family – especially my dad, who calls him ‘His Maj the Supreme Elt’. Each year on his birthday he makes me play “Tiny Dancer” on the piano while he sings, and my nan plays the spoons.
How does this video relate to the song?
Russel: You see what you see. For me, it’s a Busby Berkeley kaleidoscope of someone haunted by something. Unrequited love? Regret? It’s like 2D’s darkest, deepest feelings exploding up in the dark old sky, then crashing down to settle on love’s shores. Maybe. Whatever it is, it’s some trip.
So, just who or what is the Pink Phantom?
Murdoc: With this kind of malarkey, you can’t think in terms of ‘who’ or ‘what’. It’s the ‘how’ and ‘why’ that are paramount here. Unfortunately, I don’t know that either. But what I do know is, something has been haunting Kong for bloody ages, some spurned cloud of spite, messing with our melons and spewing out more bad vibes than Talk Radio. What, who, how, and why-ever this thing is, it’s finally shown its ugly mug. BIG MISTAKE. Niccals has your number, mate…
What did you learn from your attempts to hunt him down? It doesn’t look like you caught him in the end.
Murdoc: Matter of fact, you’re dead wrong. The hunt is going to plan. Stage one – make the muppet think he’s smarter than us so he lets his guard down. That’s why I was coming at him with a fishing net, clearly an ineffective tool for catching intangible spirits. What that mug doesn’t know is that I’m constructing a more permanent containment solution down in the Kong basement. Boshed it together from an electric pump (for inflatables), tin foil, and one of those cages you use to take cats to the vet. Once we’ve got PP trapped, I know just the place for him…
“Two undisputed greats going toe-to-toe on the ivories, the glorious Elton John, and our very own gormless figurehead, duetting together on the same record, with 6LACK the romantic glue holding it all together. What’s not to love?” – Murdoc, Gorillaz
And what do you think about “The Pink Phantom” – the song, not the phantom?
Murdoc: Sonic pearl, squire. A ballad for these times. Two undisputed greats going toe-to-toe on the ivories, the glorious Elton John, and our very own gormless figurehead, duetting together on the same record, with 6LACK the romantic glue holding it all together. What’s not to love?
Now that you’ve got a collaboration with Elton down, who are your top three dream collabs?
Russel: I’ll give you four... OK, five. Teddy Pendergrass, Wendy Carlos, The Little Prince, Franklin Armstrong from Peanuts, Mephistopheles. And Dolly Parton. OK, six.
Russel, where were you when the video was being shot?
Russel: Atlanta. I went out there to pick up 6LACK and mail him back through the portal to Kong for the recording. I was about to follow him through but got side-tracked. Went to my favourite Georgia barbecue joint. Bought some kicks and vinyl. Did a little ghost-hunting. Had myself a socially distanced minibreak, Stateside.
And 2D, what was it like duetting with Elton? What did he bring to the song that you couldn’t?
2D: He brought himself, which was something I couldn’t do because only you can bring yourself. He also brought some Danish pastries, them swirly ones.
I like the matching white and pink pianos that you and Elton play. But how did you get them in for the video shoot?
2D: The pianos were so big we had to take the Kong roof off to get them in. We had to take the roof off last year too, when Russ had an allergy and inflated to 14 times his size. That was a tiring week, he took ages to wash, but in the music business it’s good to lift the roof.
What’s the story behind the hand on your piano?
2D: It was a bit dark in there and I couldn’t see the piano, and I’ve always thought that light is the best way to take the dark away. So I had a rummage around for some candles. I found that in Murdoc’s room in a box with some other scary stuff. Murdoc has problems.
Gorillaz’s Song Machine Season 1 is out October 23