Of 'A Million Ways' to Be Popular, OK Go Finds One OK Go's dance video for the song "A Million Ways" has become a sensation on the Internet... and it was never intended for public release. Robert Siegel talks with singer/guitarist Damian Kulash and his sister Trish Sie, who choreographed the dance.
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Of 'A Million Ways' to Be Popular, OK Go Finds One

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Of 'A Million Ways' to Be Popular, OK Go Finds One

Of 'A Million Ways' to Be Popular, OK Go Finds One

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Here is a song called "A Million Ways" by the rock group OK Go. It's the big single from their new album called "Oh No."

(Soundbite of "A Million Ways")

OK GO: (Singing) Sit back, matter of fact, tease and toy and turn and (unintelligible) pan the crowd. Play that song again, nother couple Klonopin and not a ...(unintelligible) of half-hearted bow.

SIEGEL: What's interesting is the medium by which "A Million Ways" became the big single from the album. It didn't get big on the radio or thanks to record company promotion. "A Million Ways" is an Internet sensation. More to the point, the video of OK Go dancing to "A Million Ways" is a sensation. People who count such things say the video has been downloaded more than 500,000 times. And it's not the sort of video one would expect to see on cable music channels with lots of editing or special effects or fancy costumes. It is highly choreographed, but it's a single shot, and the four members of OK Go look a little like four guys from the Genius Bar at the Apple Store who were filling in for the Laker Girls, and they're dancing on a backyard brick patio.

(Soundbite of "A Million Ways")

OK GO: (Singing) Oh, such grace, oh, such a beauty, so precious, suspicious and charming and vicious. Oh, darling, you're a million ways...

SIEGEL: The video came about when the band's singer-guitarist, Damian Kulash, called on his sister, Trish Sie, a choreographer, former ballroom dancer and ballroom dancing instructor. The brother-and-sister team responsible for this instant cyberclassic join us: Damian from Denver--he's on the road with the band--and Trish from Orlando.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAMIAN KULASH (OK Go): Thank you very much.

Ms. TRISH SIE (Choreographer): Thank you.

SIEGEL: First, Damian, what was the idea behind this video?

Mr. KULASH: Well, it wasn't actually intended to be a video. We just wanted something for our live shows that was kind of ridiculous enough to be memorable. I mean, not that the music itself isn't, but we wanted to have--we wanted something to end our shows with that would just be so off the map of a rock show, something so ridiculous that people couldn't forget that they had seen it. And my sister basically is the person who is so ridiculous that nobody can forget they've seen her, so we thought we'd call her and see what she could do.

SIEGEL: Well, we'll set that sibling remark aside for a second. Trish, you've choreographed...

Mr. KULASH: Thanks, man.

SIEGEL: ...lots of things: music videos, commercials, musical theater, modern dance. What was the challenge of choreographing your brother's band?

Ms. SIE: The biggest challenge was probably the fact that they're not dancers. But they have some rhythm and they're able-bodied, and they needed to look really good. But the problem was we were making fun to some degree, you know, of dance videos and bands that dance. But if you look like you're making fun of it, the whole thing gets kind of cankered with irony. So we really had to, like, make them look like they took it seriously, and the dancing had to be good enough that it was more than just silly; it was actually good.

SIEGEL: That line you used, `They have some rhythm and they're able-bodied'--is that the sort of thing that ballroom dancing instructors learn to say to the...

Ms. SIE: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...completely least-talented people in the course?

Ms. SIE: Yeah. Right. You say, `I've seen worse.' I--you've always seen worse is pretty much what you feel in that industry. But, you know, these guys actually are pretty good, like...

Mr. KULASH: Thanks, Trish. You've seen worse, Trish. Thanks.

SIEGEL: One of the high points of the video is, I guess, these slow-motion kung fu moves or--how do you describe it, Trish?

Ms. SIE: I'd say we ripped that off directly from "The Matrix." And, yeah, we call it the slo-mo fight scene, which it is.

Mr. KULASH: I call it "The Matrix" scene.

SIEGEL: "The Matrix" scene.

Ms. SIE: That's OK.

Mr. KULASH: Yeah.

Ms. SIE: Yeah.

Mr. KULASH: I call it "The Matrix" scene, but we don't always have to call it the same thing Trish is saying.

SIEGEL: Perhaps, Trish, since you have a vocabulary for these things, perhaps you can give us the visual description of what's happening at that moment.

Ms. SIE: Well, we were kind of trying to set up an adversarial "West Side Story" kind of moment because, really, this dance, we want--we intended to take it through a number of different scenes and really, like, take the viewer on a joyride with OK Go in the driver's seat. And one of the places we felt we needed to go on this joyride was to, like, a brawl and a dance brawl. So we staged a fight. And, you know, basically it's become such a part of sort of like the pop culture that fight scenes have to have, like, a slo-mo special effect moment to them at this point that we just had to insert that.

Mr. KULASH: There is that scene from "The Matrix" that's kind of like--it's in the vocabulary of pop culture. I mean, everybody knows that scene. The bullet goes flying across the guy's face and--I can't even describe it now.

Ms. SIE: Right.

Mr. KULASH: But it's like the most famous moment from "The Matrix" and this kind of new super-high-tech maneuver.

Ms. SIE: Like--yeah.

Mr. KULASH: And we kind of like the idea that our dance, which was super low-tech, would have this, like, reference to, like, the most high-tech, most ridiculous high pop culture moment.

SIEGEL: How did this go from being the video of what you do at the end of your act to somehow getting out to hundreds of thousands of people? Probably by now millions of people have seen it in one way or another. What's the medium at work here?

Mr. KULASH: Well, you know, someone at our label saw a copy of this video. What happened was our label sort of went, like, (unenthusiastically) `This is great, guys. This is really wonderful.' You know, and then...

SIEGEL: That enthusiastic, eh?

Mr. KULASH: Yeah, exactly. (Unenthusiastically) They were really excited about it.

You know, we had a different single lined up. We actually recorded a very hi-fi, professional video with, you know, a famous French director and all this kind of stuff. And that was all set to go when we, you know, recorded this thing in my back yard, gave it to some friends. And it got around to people at the label, and they kind of like, `OK, guys, we love your silly dancing. Now can we get back to the rock please?' you know. And so we sort of left it at that.

But we were on tour at the time--or, you know, a week later we started our tour, and we started giving it out to fans just--you know, we gave DVDs of it to a few people. And within a week, you know, it was on 10 or 15 Web sites, and within a month it was everywhere.

SIEGEL: And...

Ms. SIE: Can I interject something, too?

SIEGEL: Yes, certainly.

Ms. SIE: And in terms of what this was originally intended to be was absolutely that, just like an end-of-set number, an encore kind of number. But I feel that what you guys tapped into, knowing it or not, was the fact that I believe everybody universally on the planet likes to watch men dance and especially like men that don't dance for a living. And there's, like, a sort of buffoonlike quality to it, but it's not completely buffoon; it's actually pretty good, but there's just something kind of wrong with it. People love that.

Mr. KULASH: One of the things that it seems to capture well is the basic sort of identity of our band, the personality of our band. We play pretty accessible, like, melodic, singable rock music. And a lot of bands that are like that are either like super-supercool and really dour and kind of shoegazery and dark, you know, or they're gleamy, bright, kind of superhappy, kind of glib, childish, like, you know, `Pop rock! Pop rock 'n' roll!' you know. And this video, you know, sort of accidentally captured this sort of like--how excited we are to do this stuff. Like, you know, we don't take ourselves too seriously, but we take what we do, you know, really seriously. We're doing this sort of ridiculous dance, but it obviously took us a whole week to learn how to do it. You know, it's like we've learned every move; we care intensely about what we're doing; we love, love, love doing it, you know.

SIEGEL: It's this perfect balance of the earnest and the ironic that you have achieved in your video.

Mr. KULASH: I would like to think so.

Ms. SIE: I'd say perfect balance.

SIEGEL: (Laughs) At least as perfect as the physical balance demonstrated...

Ms. SIE: Right, that's...

SIEGEL: ...by the dancers.

Ms. SIE: Exactly. Perfect balance is a good term.

SIEGEL: Brother-and-sister team Damian Kulash and Trish Sie, thank you both very much for talking with us.

Mr. KULASH: Thanks so much for having us.

Ms. SIE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That is choreographer and ballroom dancing instructor Trish Sie and her brother Damian Kulash; he sings and plays guitar in the band OK Go. And you can check out their moves for yourself and watch the video for "A Million Ways" at npr.org.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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