Video: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, ‘Phenom’

Thao Nguyen (Photo by Shane McCauley)

Not only is their new song “Phenom” a cerebral lightning-bolt about “a post-apocalyptic utopia,” Thao & the Get Down Stay Down and their team pull off some next-level choreo-techno-graphy (to invent a hyphenate) in the video for the song.

Immediately bringing to mind the opening panels of “The Brady Bunch” and then going far beyond, the video was made using Zoom video conferencing software. It starts with Thao Nguyen at the center of the action before she is surrounded by eight dancers. Even more amazing, the video came together in just one week’s time in late March, when the original music video was supposed to be made in Los Angeles with directors Erin Murray (Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX, Troye Sivan, Muse, John Legend) and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux (PUP, Lights, Calpurnia) and producer by Victoria Fayad (Moby). The coronavirus shutdown scotched the shoot, but another idea was hatched.

Nguyen recounts the timeline:

Monday, March 23: “My manager Joe floats the idea for a ‘Phenom’ video constructed entirely within Zoom.”
Tuesday, March 24: “Erin and Victoria hop on board with the project, and Erin sends over a new treatment that afternoon. Jeremy joins, and the production team coalesces.”
Wednesday, March 25: “We have our first and only pre-production meeting (via Zoom).”
Thursday, March 26 & Friday, March 27: “Erin somehow works out all the choreography for a live Zoom dance video incorporating eight dancers and myself, all sheltering in place in our respective homes.”
Saturday, March 28: “We hold our first and only five-hour rehearsal via Zoom.”
Sunday, March 29: “Shoot day. Everyone logs on at noon and wraps at around 8 p.m. Erin, Jeremy and Victoria begin post-production immediately.”
Tuesday, March 31: “Jeremy sends the first cut at 3 a.m. Toronto time. The final ‘Phenom’ video is delivered at the end of this same day.”


Says Murray, who also did choreography for the band’s video for “Temple”: “I had fun adapting many of the original video ideas into the Zoom space, an outlet that was totally new to me in a storytelling/choreographic sense.” Adds Schaulin-Rioux adds, “It speaks to the power of Thao to channel the rage and beauty of this song, turning isolation into community in a way that’s unique to this scary moment and also universal to a fucked-up world.”

“Phenom” is from the fifth Thao & the Get Down Stay Down album “Temple,” coming out May 15. There’s a limited-edition Temple Food Dessert Kit available, too, with goodies made by chef Diep Tran, the founder of the Banh Chung Collective and former owner of Good Girl Dinette in the Highland Park. Proceeds go to L.A.’s Alma Backyard Farms, a nonprofit creating opportunities in urban farming.

The making of the album follows Nguyen’s coming out in her public life after a 15-year career during which she kept her queer identity a secret. “But that shit will kill you,” she says. “I have divided myself into so many selves. I am nervous, but hopeful that in belonging to myself, I can still belong to my family, and my Vietnamese community, especially the elders. … I believe that shame has made my work more general, when I’ve always wanted to be specific. This record is about me finally being specific. If you listen to my music, I want you to know who you are dealing with.”

||| Watch: The videos for “Phenom” and “Temple”