Seen Your Video: Matt & Kim

Your music video may have only played once or twice on MTV, but it’s on permanent rotation on YouTube. We watch videos and TV performances—the good, the bad, the hilariously dated and the brand new—with musicians to find out what they were thinking. MAGNET’s Robert Ham gets the skinny on Matt & Kim‘s naked promotional stunt for “Lessons Learned.”

“In all of our videos, there’s some sort of surprise.” That understatement comes from Matt Johnson, one half of the indie-pop duo Matt And Kim. The two have been getting a lot of (ahem) exposure lately for the video for “Lessons Learned,” a track from their latest album, Grand. And, no, the surprise isn’t just that the two strip naked in the middle of Times Square. Johnson reveals that surprise (watch the video first if you don’t want it spoiled) and recounts the experience of being nude in the most public place in America.

Johnson: I came up with the idea for the video. The song has this kind of “I don’t give a fuck anymore” attitude, so I came up with this idea that’s us taking our clothes off in the most public place in America. I just had to convince Kim to do the video. It took a lot of talking and some foot rubs and back massages.

In all of our videos, there’s some sort of surprise. Kim came up with getting hit by a bus. Just to have something that gives you a reason you just watch through all the way to the end. I went to school for film and video, and my marketable skill was motion graphics and compositing, general after-effects stuff. We wanted it to be a taxi, but it was too confusing and the roll up on the hood didn’t look real enough, so we ended up going with a bus. We shot it in February. It was totally cold and not one of the most glamorous days for a man to be naked in public. I was really surprised none of the pictures that tourists were taking popped up online. We would Google “naked, Times Square” after we shot it, and all that comes up is the Naked Cowboy, the icon of Times Square nudity.

We had to shoot Kim standing in the road without her clothes on, jumping in different angles. It was generally confusing to people and embarrassing to Kim. She didn’t realize the nature of the tourist in Times Square. It’s not something you see every day. Watching back, you can obviously see who is going to work and who is from out of town observing this crazy goings on. People taking pictures and video and watching. But then the one shot, the Bad Boys/Michael Bay shot where the camera spins around us, there’s these women who do not get out of the way of the camera. You can see them if you watch it. Our assistant cameraperson had to bug them: “Can you move, ’cause we need to shoot this?!”

We had to decide beforehand about wearing clothes that we could throw off and not worry about or just get clothes that we don’t like and get rid of them. But we figured that people might actually see this video and we want to be wearing clothes that look cool. After the take, we just ran back to the van and someone had a couple of robes waiting for us. There was a clothing collector. Every once in a while, you can see him dart in and grab clothes.

We’re consistently asked now if we are going to get naked at our shows. I’m not sure if they’re asking for this because they want us to be naked or if they want to be warned so they can look away. But the question comes up once or twice a show. I usually respond that you can get naked and we’ll see what happens.