“The Idol” may not get much critical love, but is it thriving in one place? Tick tock. As pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) pushes herself to a mental and physical breaking point as she shoots a music video for her new single “World Class Sinner / I’m a Freak,” the creators have embraced Choreography by Nina McNeely. However, when it comes to McNeely’s influences, the word “trendy” doesn’t really apply – it’s more like “classical,” as the choreographer has looked to dances that have stood the test of time for 25 years or more for inspiration. .
“I wanted to dig into the classic tropes of what makes a pop star an icon,” McNeely told IndieWire. “I’ve been thinking about stars like Madonna and others who have used eroticism to push boundaries and make big statements.” McNeely began looking for the great erotic dance moments in movies and music videos and started with one of the greatest American musicals of all time. “The first that came to mind was Bob Fosse’s ‘All That Jazz’ — the ‘Take Off With Us’ scene that starts out as an upbeat musical, then when the lights go out it becomes smoky and foggy. The clothes start to come off and you have men with men, women with women, and they do this number really nice and sexy.
From Fosse, McNeely moved on to David Fincher’s video for Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted,” which was choreographed by Abdul and Michael Darrin and was inspired by the same number of “All That Jazz,” and Britney Spears’ video ” I’m a Slave” 4 U”, directed by Francis Lawrence and choreographed by Brian Friedman and Wade Robson. Another key cinematic reference was Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 show “Showgirls” and its choreography by Marguerite Derricks. For McNeely, all of these works shared a common strength: “They all have wonderful scenes where the dancers are so close to the star that it’s almost an orgy sensation. It’s an image that creates a real feeling of yearning for the pop star, so I really focused on creating those kinds of images.”
McNeely’s work holds its own against these influences, as evidenced by how quickly the choreography went viral on TikTok. “To my surprise, a couple of days after the first episode aired, messages with links to TikTok videos started coming in from friends and family,” she said. “It has been a real pleasure to see so many people perform my choreography with such attitude and precision. Everyone is killing it and it brings me so much joy!
McNeely also wanted to explore how Jocelyn felt about being overwhelmed during the video, which is what led to the numerous instances of her being pushed and pulled by everyone around her, a clear visual metaphor for the character’s struggle throughout the series. “They pull her around, they invade her space, they lift her in the air and her body is in all these awkward positions,” McNeely said. “She gets thrown all over the place.”
Director Sam Levinson invited McNeely to not only choreograph but also contribute story points based on his extensive experience in music videos. “He asked me to send him a list of all the things that went wrong for me in a music video.” One of those things—that pop stars often try on shoes other than the ones they perform in, which leads to trouble on shoot day—produced the memorable image of Jocelyn’s shredded feet after she gave it her all during the dance.
Helping to create that image was indicative of McNeely’s experience on “The Idol,” which he described as highly collaborative. “I was asked a lot for my input and given a lot of creative control over the choreography,” he said. McNeely is best known to film fans for her cutting-edge work in films like Gaspar Noe’s ‘Climax’ and Mark Pellington’s ‘The Severing’, and what is interesting about her work in ‘The Idol’ is how which he applies his voice to dance sequences that are meant to reflect something more mainstream and accessible. It was also an interesting balance for McNeely: “It was a really good challenge for me, because direct pop is a bit out of my reach. But that’s pretty much what the show is about: bringing darkness and an experimental quality to something that’s a straight pop star dance.