Stage designer Es Devlin has revealed how she worked with Katy Perry to create the backdrop to the singer’s politically charged performance at the Grammy Awards last night.
Perry performed her new song, Chained to the Rhythm, which was written in response to the recent US presidential election.
The set featured a typically American home surrounded by a picket fence that grew into a wall, referencing President Donald Trump‘s plans to build a wall between the USA and Mexico.
“She had the idea,” the London-based designer told Dezeen. “She wanted to make a perfect little, normal Americana world, a perfect little picket-fenced house, and wanted to grow it so it becomes this divisive wall.”
The performance ended with the house exploding while the American constitution was projected onto the stage.
Released on Friday, Perry’s new song contains the lines “So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble/So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble”.
Devlin said: “The song was definitely in response to the election results. She has made a pop song with a Trojan Horse stacked away inside it. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear her take on it is how we didn’t know how half the country felt – and now we know.”
London-based Devlin worked intensively with Perry and her team of producers and choreographers over a three-week period before the show, emailing and phoning ideas and sketches back and forth.
Devlin worked by interpreting Perry’s lyrics, sketching ideas directly onto the lyric sheets, which she’d scan and send back to Perry in the USA.
“It’s mechanics, it’s picket fences which have to grow, little perfect American houses that have to explode and whole ceiling elements have to revolve,” said Devlin, who usually designs theatre and concert sets rather than made-for-TV extravaganzas like the Grammy Awards.
“It’s the kind of a thing that in a theatre might take three or four months, or could take a year,” she said, speaking to Dezeen two weeks before the performance, the nature of which was a closely guarded secret.
“But in this case I’m responding to lyrics to a song that hasn’t even come out yet; nobody has heard the song,” she added. “I heard it down the phone; I heard it on a link that exploded after I listened to it 10 times.”
Devlin also created sets for Adele, Daft Punk and The Weeknd at this year’s Grammy Awards, despite the fact that TV shows are not her favourite medium.
“[Katy Perry] sort of steered me back and forth with what the song is about,” she said. “And then really all the effort is about not letting it get diluted, because a TV performance is a treacherous medium to step into. It’s eminently susceptible and vulnerable to dilution, to homogenisation, into ugly TV, into ugly horrible music TV, which is mainly ugly and horrible.”
The performance marks a return to music for Perry, who has not released an album since 2013’s Prism.
More recently she has become active politically, supporting Trump’s presidential campaign rival Hillary Clinton, taking part in marches, producing a public service announcement opposing Trump’s calls for a Muslim registry and openly supporting Planned Parenthood, a sexual health non-profit organisation whose state funding Trump has threatened to cut.
“She wants to use the role she’s got to say stuff,” said Devlin, who agreed that musicians today had lost the political edge of previous generations. “We’ve had twenty years of people getting lulled into forgetting what resistance is,” she said.
Devlin has designed touring stage sets for artists including Kanye West, Lady Gaga and U2, but this is the first time she has worked with Perry.
“Artists often start like that [with me],” Devlin said. “They have these performances where the visual aspect is as important as the musical aspect. They want to try and start new relationships with visual artists on those terms because it’s quite small and it’s quite manageable, it’s not as a big of a commitment as doing a whole tour.
“But I struggle with is as I find it a really hard medium to do anything really relevant or useful as usually it’s so prone to dilution.”
Other recent projects by Devlin that have been published on Dezeen include a temporary mirror maze created in a London warehouse and a fashion show for Louis Vuitton at Oscar Niemeyer’s Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Niterói in Rio de Janeiro.
The post Es Devlin’s Grammys stage set for Katy Perry featured picket fence that turned into “divisive wall” appeared first on Dezeen.