Here’s some sad truth: Not every artist is being honest about their circumstances in their feed, in their Insta stories, and in every interview. Yeah, it’s not just your friends. Often, only after crossing a cozy threshold do people begin telling the stories of living off apple juice with a bank account in the negative and only a vague outline of a song. Everyone loves a good rough times to riches story, but they don’t want to watch it unfold like serial television. They want the ending first, so they can know they’re getting their money’s worth.
In the age of social media, where acne can be smoothed out and miserable relationships can look like near engagements, it’s easier than ever for an artist to put on a face, and get some of that much needed validation. Haitian-American singer Steph Lecor’s latest single “Face” is her bon mot to the 21st century notion that an artist’s feed is an art project all of its own.
Lecor is not tentative to show it as she’s seen it. When it came to storyboarding the video for “Face,” Lecor drew from her experience, transitioning from IG personality to television star of VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop Miami. With no financial backing or direction from her label, Steph employed the talents of her friend, 24 year old director Lucy Sandler, and together with only an iPhone 7 they shot a satirical piece on the pressures of developing an online presence when you’re on the road to becoming a star, an artist, a teenager, or quite literally anyone what hasn’t achieved the dream yet.
We spoke with Steph and Lucy about their vision for “Face,” the idea of being an influencer vs an artist, and the impression that followers equal artistic success.
What frustrations served as a catalyst for “Face” both the song and video?
Lucy Sandler: From a creative standpoint I think this video is the first time that I’ve made something that’s so *me* I guess – it felt crazy empowering to do all of this myself with Steph’s help. I’ve spent a lot of my time allowing myself to be heavily influenced by the more domineering personalities in my life (often men) or visual trends in general that people think are “cool”. This was really a culmination of my frustration around my inability to figure out what I wanted to make, so I made this crazy collage of all the things that I love, with this aesthetic that I knew Steph and I shared. It felt like a really intense release after realizing how muted this part of me had been prior to this.
Steph Lecor: The only thing that was frustrating about the song “Face” was me truly believing in the record, and not really getting the support from my label. Feeling like it was a good record that should be heard, and not really having a budget to do a big mainstream video. So I think that meeting up with Lucy and kind of talking about that, we came up with a really cool way to just do some visuals for it. And Lucy of course just being so talented she directed and edited the video.
The video is a satirical approach to the conversation around the need for/pressures of developing an online presence and following. What are some examples of satire in the video that viewers may not notice at first viewing?
LS: I think how sexy the video is is satirical, or at least self-aware. Steph is hot and so are her friends and I didn’t want to tone that down in any way because I think it’s such a huge part of IG culture. People want to see hot people doing cool stuff so I gave it to them, trying to take the power back a little in that sense and reclaim that exploitative gaze. Do it on our terms in our way as empowered women that understand the power and appeal of sexuality.
SL: I agree completely with Lucy.
How did you two meet and what drew you to want to work with one another in this capacity?
LS: We met making a sneaker talk show for Champs Sports – I was directing and Steph was the host. We ended up traveling all over the US together and spending really intense bursts of time together in strange cities, which naturally brought us really close. Steph became a comfort and close friend in those times of super intense work, and we got along really effortlessly. We had dinner in Miami and I brought up making a video together just because I knew Steph was making new music and I just knew it would be so much fun to collaborate. And then we did it! I think we both saw this creative potential in each other that we weren’t able to realize when we were working on the talk show. We were both frustrated with our lack of creative control over the projects we had worked on together up until that point and wanted to just break out of that completely.
SL: Lucy and I met while filming a show that she directed called “Her Take” which is a web series for Champs Sports but, we got along instantly and I always genuinely liked Lucy. I thought she was such an amazing director. And you know, she is really young. Seeing her work ethic, how she held down a team of twenty people, and kept everyone on track, it just was amazing to see. So from there it was a no brainer when Lucy brought up the idea of wanting to shoot a video. It was something I was already thinking about. Like “I would love it if Lucy shot a video for me.” And I have never worked with a female director prior to that so I kind of wanted to have a woman’s viewpoint. Especially on a song like “Face.”
In what ways was the making of this video different from other creative ventures you’ve taken recently in your careers? Did your collaboration revitalize you creatively or change your perspective on how you approach your craft?
LS: I think I kind of answered this in the first question. I was frustrated with the amount of parameters that had been placed around me creatively in the past, and I was frustrated by the limits I was placing on myself. This was such a creatively exhausting experience and so fulfilling, I am just excited to be able to do this again with a budget and more preparation and maybe like, an extra set of hands!!!
SL: For me, this was the first time that I’ve actually taken control of my artistry visually. Prior to this, every time I had the opportunity to shoot a music video the treatment was always given to me, and the ideas were already there. So working with Lucy was great because we both had a hand in what we wanted it to feel like and look like. It was definitely something that opened my eyes and I am very excited to now take more control over my career.
What hardships (if any) did working in this capacity bring about?
LS: The edit was exhausting. I sat with it for weeks, none of the glitter cut outs or special effects were pre-planned. I do a lot of collaging in my spare time, like physical collaging with scissors and paper and glue, so I tried to mess around with those techniques in this video. But yea, there was no plan. Just me staring at Premiere and teaching myself After Effects. The creative freedom was awesome, but I won’t go into something like this without a stronger concept in the future. We had no pre-pro time! Shooting alone was draining, my friend helped on night one and I didn’t realize how much of a difference it would make to have an extra person. When we did the balloon scene it was hours before Steph was leaving for Miami. We were in my apartment with 100 balloons and I was trying to film her while also trying to position this old broken light that I didn’t have gloves to touch so I kept burning myself. I almost set my sweatshirt on fire because I didn’t have any black wrap. Meanwhile, I’m trying to throw balloons at Steph while recording. We were both exhausted and I was just like, holy shit I need HELP right now, but that was really the only moment of desperation, but we pulled it off.
SL: I think the hardest thing about shooting this music video was the fact that it really was just Lucy and I with a little help from Lucy’s friend who was there for some of the shooting and went shopping with us. I think there was a lot of pressure because we had a really short amount of time to film it. I think we talked on a Friday, I was at her house on Saturday, and Sunday we shot. Monday I had to fly out and we shot again… Something like that. So I think the timing was difficult. The budget we kind of understood was very limited because it was something that I was paying for outta my pocket. Lucy didn’t take payment at all, and I know she stayed up late editing. She edited for weeks and did an amazing job at it. I think the pressure was definitely the scheduling and a little bit of the budget.
In your own words, what does having a ‘lit’ IG mean to the general populous in 2018? Is your definition different from what you wish was the case?
LS: I think that totally varies, honestly. Obviously followers are a huge thing, that’s basically currency in our society or at least in the world I live in. But I do think there are so many different types of expression happening on IG, and a *lit* IG to one person could be totally uninteresting to someone else. Despite the fact that IG has kind of become its own universe, I do think there is a lot of potential for variety in that universe and that you can make it what you want. Although I wish they’d stop censoring nipples and female sexuality :).
SL: I completely agree with Lucy. Also, I think that when using the word ‘lit’, especially when it come to Instagram, it’s a person’s personal preference. For me a lit page is if I find things in common with the person like beauty in their art, love for the music that they make, their photography, or if I like cooking the same things and I wanna learn from it. I think it just depends what you’re into.
In each of your respective crafts, do you feel that social media makes it difficult to separate art from the artist? In other words, to be a successful artist today do you have to have an online persona that in some way matches the art you create?
LS: Yes. You just have to. I got a fake instagram a few months ago because I want to post crazy shit, but I realized how important it was to have a marketable instagram. I think having a website is important, but having your IG being a reflection of your aesthetic is kind of critical because it gives more insight into your personality. It seems inconsequential but it’s just the world we live in. My parents are always like *wow you can add that project to your portfolio!* I’m like yea I can post a link in my bio. FOLLOW ME @lucysandler …. I’m just kidding. but not really. I have a really cute cat.
SL: Honestly, I am one of those people who loves keeping my personal life private. So social media has kind of been a difficult thing for me. But I open up the more that I play with it and get involved with it. My fans wanna learn more about me. So I am definitely posting more, and working on posting more. And I do feel like it kind of has to match your art, because your art is in an essence who you are.
Following up on that question, do you feel authenticity on social is a charade as long as social media profiles are curated?
LS: I think I’m authentic, but I’m also not even close to an influencer in any way so I don’t have to think about it very much yet. I’ve spoken to Steph about it a decent amount because I know she’s been trying to figure out exactly who she wants that persona to be – she wants to be true to herself, but she also wants to keep her audience engaged. My advice is always just be yourself, because as social media grows people can more easily see through an online presence that is performative or super calculated and curated. People want to be able to relate to influencers – but I guess if influencers are aware of that fact they will just carefully curate their instagrams to seem effortless. It’s never what it seems. I went home for Christmas and had friends from high school be like “holy shit you’re killing it your life is so amazing” and I was straight up like “Oh you know that’s just social media right?” It’s easy to make your life look cool even when it’s not, and everyone should keep that in mind. Comparing your own life to what you see on the internet is a dangerous emotional trap.
SL: I can only speak for myself and say that my page is authentically me. However, I am still trying to figure out how to keep my fans engaged because I want my fans to be engaged. I want to post for them, and I want to let them in more. I still am authentic when I post though. I would never post something I wasn’t interested in or didn’t like. Even with paid sponsorships, if it isn’t something that I genuinely like or would genuinely use, then I would never promote it. I want people to get a sense of who I am when they go on my page. And it’s still a working progress.
The internet brought about the concept of “work without walls.” The reality that due to mobile devices and the internet one is never unreachable and can never truly “clock out from work.” Do you feel that today artists are “without walls,” and if so what stress or pressure comes as a result of never being able to truly “log off?”
LS: Eh kind of. You just have to make time for it. There’s this great Note to Self episode with Marina Abramovic where she talks about how important it is to sit and stare and do nothing for a few hours every once in a while. How important allowing true BOREDOM into your life is, and I fully ascribe to that. Allowing yourself to get bored as hell can lead to creativity, I think we haaave to spend that time with ourselves to tap into our full potential. I started collaging because I needed an activity that was physical, tangible, and that was both meditative and creatively fulfilling and not in front of a screen. You can log off. You just have to make a conscious decision to do so.
SL: Absolutely there is so much pressure. There was pressure in my industry before social media became as big as it is now. As an industry of ‘Team No Sleep’ you are literally expected to constantly put in work cause there is always work to be done. Now with social media we are able to show us during the late hours in the studio or during a photoshoot. The moment you take a break or have a moment to yourself it’s like “Ahh where have you been? What are you doing?” and it’s like ‘I’ve been gone for a day.’ So there is definitely pressure there. There was pressure before and so I guess for me… I am just kind of use to it.
According to the Cambridge dictionary an influencer is “a person or group that has the ability to influence the behaviour or opinions of others: The influencer is the individual whose effect on the purchase decision is in some way significant or authoritative.” Do you think it is possible for an artist to be influencer and vice versa? In your opinion can both things be true at the same time?
LS: Yea, I do. They totally can be. I don’t think it’s all that complicated. Having a bunch of followers doesn’t have to compromise you as an artist if you don’t let it. I think it’s just a matter of being true to yourself as cheesy as that sounds and not partnering with brands that you don’t back.
SL: I think everybody has the ability to influence. Weather you have one follower or one million followers, you can influence someone’s life. And I think it is just what you do with that ability that is most important.
In an economy where many creative industries focus less on physical product and content is more or less free, branded content has become a way for artists to self-sustain and earn their sheckles. Both of you have worked with brands and have had creative ties to branded content. What do you see being at risk when brands utilize, take, or borrow from artists? How does youth culture and creative subcultures suffer as a result?
LS: I have worked in branded content video for my entire professional life, this is one of the first things that I’ve gotten to make as an adult that wasn’t sponsored or branded in some sense, so my emotions are heavily tangled up in this issue. I have really mixed feelings – on the one hand, it pays the bills and I definitely couldn’t sustain myself without it, and I think brands are enabling a lot of awesome stuff to happen. I’d like to believe that brands are empowering artists to make things that they wouldn’t have the ability to otherwise, rather than stealing from them, but I know that’s not the case across the board. A lot of brands are creating content that needs to get made that would have no way of getting funded without it. That being said, most of the people that work for brands or in marketing are unbearable and out of touch and because they have money, are often able to exploit young artists to compromise themselves in ways they might not otherwise, in order to keep the relationship intact and get that check. I think a similar thing is happening in BC that happened in the studio system in film like a million years ago – brands have the money so they have the power and they control what gets made, but we’re getting way smarter as both creators and consumers. I’m hoping the relationship just gets more symbiotic rather than more exploitative. Honestly, watch Drib, that movie is incredible and makes a lot of statements about the BC world that I wholeheartedly agree with.
SL: I think it’s as simple as don’t support something that you are not interested in or don’t believe in. I think a huge misconception with the music industry is people think that if you have a hit record you’re rich, you’re paid, you’re making money. But at the end of the day, you are signed to a label, and labels do recoup the money that they’ve invested in you. That costs a pretty penny so, in a lot of ways, artists like myself look forward to these deals with brands and aligning ourselves with products because it really is how we pay our bills. If you keep true to yourself and it makes sense for your brand, then I am all for it.
When working with brands is there any ways that you as the artist ensure that the art is not compromised during these partnerships with brand?
LS: Oh man. It’s almost always compromised I have to say. I wish that wasn’t the case but in my experience the people that are behind these brands have not quite caught on to this new age of subliminal advertising, and they always want that product hit, that call out, that like giant sign that says their brand name that makes no sense. Every once in awhile you get lucky and get to work with a brand that trusts your vision and listens when you provide your creative recommendation, hopefully I have a bit more of that in my future. But I mean you just have to be patient and communicate and hope that your idea doesn’t get too frankenstein-ed along the way.
What’s next (creatively) for each of you?
LS: I just quit my job at Complex!!! I’m super stoked. I’m going full freelance now, looking for representation as a director. Hoping to do more of this. Steph and I have talked about making another one for her next single, maybe somewhere tropical sooo keep an eye out.
SL: For me, I’m continuing to take hold of my career. That means not waiting anymore for someone to tell me what I can and cannot do, and taking more control creatively. I will be releasing more music, more videos and feeding my fans with more content. So expect more music, more visuals, more music videos, and a lot more performances.
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