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Bruno Mars is a walking, talking, Hawaiian avatar of nostalgia. From the top of his pompadour to the bottom of his retro Reeboks, Bruno is a master of reinterpreting the past for a ravenous present. Recently, Bruno’s “Finesse” music video featuring Cardi B took everything we love about the ’90s — neon apparel, new jack swing, In Living Color — and mashed it into a viral moment.
Phil Tayag was one of the architects of this vision. Credited as the choreographer and creative consultant for “Finesse,” Tayag, a founding member of the JabbaWocKeeZ dance crew, helped translate the iconic dancing of the Fly Girls from In Living Color for a new generation. MTV News spoke with him to discuss how “Finesse” came together, what it was like filming the music video, and meeting Cardi B for the first time.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
MTV News: Who had the initial idea to make the “Finesse” video all about the ’90s?
Phil Tayag: That was Bruno’s idea. I mean, the record itself is demanding that it’s definitely that early ’90s era, this new jack era. The In Living Color whole theme seemed to be perfect.
We were bouncing around ideas, like, ‘What about In Living Color?’ It was perfect because they just provided the perfect setting for us to do drippin’ finesse. This is from that era. So I mean, everything really worked out, and I’m really happy about it.
MTV News: Were you a fan of In Living Color and the Fly Girls growing up?
Tayag: For sure. I mean, I was a little bit younger, but I was definitely watching In Living Color. I mean, from Jamie Foxx to Jim Carrey to the Wayans brothers, of course, and you know, Tommy Davidson and [David] Alan Grier, all those guys. Then the dancers, Carrie Inaba, Jossie [Harris], [Jennifer Lopez], Rosie Perez, I mean, definitely was really a fan of that movement.
At the time, it was really like a culture shock to see just this whole thing with this almost sketch comedy thing to seeing the dancers and the live performances, the singers, the artists, the rappers, whatever. To see it all packaged into one, they were kind of like the blueprint. It was an honor to be able to be the ones to pay homage to that era.
MTV News: What I remember about the Fly Girls’ dancing was it had this power to it. It was very sexual, very sensual. It was very iconic for them. How do you transform that into something that Bruno can dance to that is still very much honoring the dancing they were doing on In Living Color, but also fits his whole vibe?
Tayag: Right. I mean, you know, that’s the trick, right? You’re right on the money with that. How do you come to really pay homage in the right way to such iconic dances and such an iconic show and at the same time still be this drippy, swagged-out, sparkly, sprinkly Bruno Mars in the game? You know, how do we still convey that?
It’s Bruno and company are going to just by default be that and have that energy. The thing is, even with Bruno, we all grew up watching that. This is a part of that. [The] ’90s era is part of our DNA. So it was really funny, this kind of music, you know, and go from these big power moves. It could almost feel like aerobic. Like the running man that is, you know, inspired by a running man. It’s very athletic and very big, and it’s great because it was all about the group then, in the ’90s, and fusing that with this more loose swag.
Phil Tayag by Ted Sun (www.tedsun.net)
Definitely, we have to be mindful of the ratio of this new drippy swag to this ’90s hip-hop/new jack era. I mean, really, it was fun, and it’s cool that you’re even bringing this up, because obviously, that was a very huge focal point when it came to executing this whole project.
MTV News: What was it like the day you filmed the video?
Tayag: The day I filmed the video, it was just surreal. We’re on the In Living Color stage like verbatim and the vibe, the gears, the clothes. This is just like a huge flashback and its almost like you’re on this really high bridge and it’s really great if you’re kinda just looking at eye level, but you look down it’s like, wow this is pretty high up.
What I mean by being pretty high up is like, this is actually some big shoes to fill when it comes to trying to replicate this whole In Living Color thing. But you know, I’m rocking with Bruno. Our chins were up and we knocked that thing out.
MTV News: Did you get a chance to meet Cardi B?
Tayag: Yeah, yeah. We worked with Cardi B, and she was the person that we probably all really feel like she is on social media — just this humble and this goofy, magnetic being. It was really, really dope to see somebody like that, you know, face to face.
I always love seeing good people. I love seeing good people make it. I love seeing good people just get what they deserve. I think we’re all happy to see Cardi B make it. She’s a good person. I think everyone feels like she’s one of us and she made it. So big, big Cardi B advocate right here.
MTV News: Would you ever choreograph one of her music videos if she ever reached out?
Tayag: Yeah, I’m definitely open to that, I think. I think Cardi had fun being on the set like that and being around like dancers and that type of, you know, visual art, those visual artists. Like I say, yeah, I think she definitely was vibing. She can dance. So yeah, for sure.