Just when we started to wonder how creatives would continue to create amid lockdown, the question was answered by Miley Cyrus and her partner, the Australian musician Cody Simpson.
Cyrus directed his new music video for “Captain’s Dance with the Devil” from her very own home. Simpson is known for using poetry (he recently released a book of his original prose called Prince Neptune,) and lyrics as a mode of storytelling. In “Captain’s Dance With the Devil,” Simpson paints a portrait of a teenage heroin addict, a young man living outside social convention.
“‘Captain’s Dance With the Devil,’ was inspired by my new collection of poetry,” Simpson said. “It’s a narrative about a young sailor yearning for freedom. Interested in the rough life, the tough life, a life outside the law. A life at sea.”
In the video, Simpson covers his face in brightly colored makeup and dons elaborate archival and vintage pieces from Jean Paul Gaultier and Chanel, while blue lighting drowns a drug-fueled night. Here, the musician discusses Cyrus’s directing style, and how a makeover she gave him inspired part of the visuals.
What was the inspiration for this song? How did it come to you?
The original conception of the song began as a narrative short story about a young sailor who ventures to sea in search of freedom and never returns. The lyrics are fairly ambiguous and open to interpretation. Every one who has heard the song walks away with a different message.
Miley’s interpretation, which is reflected in the video, was about a Captain’s struggle with society’s conception of masculinity—especially at a time when it wasn’t as accepted as it is today—and who also has affinity for drag. I wrote the song fairly swiftly, probably in under an hour. My favorite music I write seems to happen that way.
Do you relate to the song personally or did you write it with someone else in mind?
I certainly relate to it personally. What I take from it overall is that we can’t win in the world. We are constantly judged no matter what it is we do. And so it touches on my struggle with true freedom in society.
The lyrics are so poignant—was this poetry you had written or did you write it with the intention of turning it into a song?
It began as the concept for a short story, but I turned it into a song. Who knows, maybe a novel is still in the works.
The video has such vivid imagery—did you have an idea of the imagery as you were writing it, or did the visuals come later as you guys were brainstorming the video?
The imagery was developed later, especially as Miley and I lived with the song, and we decided how we’d like to craft the visual. We had been trapped inside together for over a month, and started messing around with makeup. The video conception was crafted after I had asked her to make my face up, after which we figured it’d be interesting to incorporate it into a visual.
What was Miley’s directorial process like? Or was it more organic with a more flowing process?
She had the whole outline mapped out before we even began, from the basic setups, to the costumes and lighting. She is truly a proven director and is extremely organized in that sense. Once we started, we began to improvise, and I was free to develop each character in whatever way I pleased. It was cool being stuck indoors and having to look inward and into our immediate surroundings for props and belongings. Everything in the video is from our personal collections and closets.
How much or how little was it a collaborative process?
I give her full the credit for the vision and for executing it so vividly. But it was certainly a creative collaboration for us, and deepened our relationship not only as a couple but as creative partners.
Related: Cody Simpson Suggests That You, Too, Become a Poet
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