Butts, Blood and Busting Moves: How Matt and Kim Videos Rock the Internet

Matt and Kim

originally posted on TIME

The band walks TIME through 5 of their music videos

Whether they’re forming flash-mobs all over New York or spoofing awkward family photos, Brooklyn-based duo Matt and Kim have a reputation for consistently generating must-see music videos for their high-energy songs. “We were two creative people that had no money to make music videos,” vocalist-keyboardist Matt Johnson tells TIME. “I always thought, ‘We need a really expensive idea.’ The only person who’s going to come up with that idea is us.”

The band has a simple test for evaluating their concepts: can you boil the pitch down to just one curiosity-piquing sentence? “I want it to be quasi-intriguing: Matt and Kim beat the crap out of each other, Matt and Kim get naked in Times Square,” says Johnson, who met drummer Kim Schifino while studying film at the Pratt Institute. “I guess it’s an old advertising thing. If you can be sold on it in one sentence, it’s probably pretty good.”

As the band readies its fifth album, New Glow, out April 7, Johnson admits coming up with new ideas can be daunting, but he’s not trying to compete with the band’s previous work. “I feel like [OK Go] got to a point where they needed to trump their last idea, and it became less and less about the music,” he says. “I want to show the energy of these songs, and I want to show a visual, but I don’t think I need to think of something that’s more clever. I don’t want it to become not about the music.”

“Lessons Learned” (from 2009’s Grand)
In order to avoid run-ins with the law while stripping naked through Times Square, the band sneakily applied for a permit to shoot a viral video about tourists dressed inappropriately for the weather. Despite Schifino’s initial hesitation, the clip ultimately scored the band an MTV Video Music Award for Breakthrough Video in 2009.

“I don’t know if you ever noticed, but you can see our friend collecting our clothes as we’re doing it,” Johnson says. “We did it like three times, so we needed to get our clothes back each time. You don’t really notice it because you’re focused on what we’re doing, but if you look behind us, you can see him jumping around. He was able to get everything back, but I think he did have to take a couple things out of peoples’ hands.”

“Cameras” (from 2010’s Sidewalks)
Matt and Kim are known for being one of the happiest bands making music today. During their exuberant live shows, their facial expressions rarely communicate anything other than sheer joy and enthusiasm, so releasing a video that features the two of them getting into a shockingly brutal fight seemed a little off brand — at least at first.

“As two people who create upbeat music, we always try to have something a little bit darker in the visual,” Johnson says of the video, which he says was their most expensive shoot to date. “If it was an upbeat song with a video of us swinging on swing sets with lollipops in our mouths, you’d be like, ‘Ugh! Disgusting!’ But if you’re going to listen to this upbeat song and watch two people beat each other up, it creates a good balance in my mind.”

“Hey Now” (from New Glow)
Longtime Matt and Kim fans weren’t shocked to see Schifino spend an entire music video dancing her heart out. On previous tours, she used to crawl onto the crowd and get down to Major Lazer while fans held her up. “If Beyoncé came and was like, ‘Kim, I need you to cancel your tour and come out as a backup dancer,’ I’d be nervous — I don’t know what she’d choose,” Johnson says. “She loves dancing so much, and she obviously loves Beyoncé so much.”

For those less familiar with the band’s live antics, Johnson admits the video might give them initial pause. “It’s weird, people think, for an indie band to do a dancing video. It doesn’t happen all the time.”

“It’s Alright” (from 2012’s Lightning)
Filming a dance routine in bed in your underwear isn’t as intimate as it might seem, especially during the song’s bridge, when Johnson and Schifino model a number of different sex positions (while clothed!). “As Kim’s bent over and my face is buried in her butt, they’re like, ‘Just hold on for one more second, we’re trying to get the light right!” Johnson says of the clip, which was shot in a producer’s bedroom, not their own. “I’m like, ‘This could not be any less sexy.’”

Unlike Schifino, the choreography didn’t come so easily to Johnson. “It’s like trying to learn French,” he says. “My body doesn’t communicate to itself in that way. Someone can say, ‘Hey Kim, right hand down, left foot back, right knee in, right hip out,’ and she’s like, ‘Oh, like this?’ They’ll tell me to do the same thing and I’ll just fall on the floor. It doesnt make any sense!”

Can You Blame Me” (from New Glow)
The band’s upcoming video relies on some not-so-old-fashioned audience participation. First, Johnson and Schifino uploaded close-up videos of themselves singing along to the song to YouTube. Next, they asked fans to play those videos on iPads and tablets held in front of their faces — and to film themselves while they pretend to perform. “At some point down the line we’re going to make a compilation video of what fans have made and make the video for it something we all did together,” Johnson says. “I think it will be really cool, and very Matt & Kim.”

The band modeled how the project will work with some examples they filmed around their house, but Johnson is hoping fans will get far more creative: “I hope someone goes on horseback or does it while skydiving.”

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