Kim Gehrig is perhaps best known for her advertising work. She directed some of 2018’s most talked-about commercials – from Libresse’s Viva La Vulva to Nike’s Dream Crazier and Gilette’s controversial spot calling out toxic masculinity – but the Australian director has also made some excellent music videos. Her film for Wiley and Mark Ronson track Cash in My Pocket offered a gloriously silly look at London office life, while her colourful promo for Chaka Khan’s Like Sugar made clever use of looping visuals.
Her latest video for Brittany Howard’s track Stay High – the first single from the Alabama Shakes frontwoman’s forthcoming solo album – is another stellar piece of work.
Shot in Howard’s hometown of Athens, it follows a factory employee played by Brooklyn 99 actor Terry Crews on his way home from work, making a quick stop at a supermarket and a local cafe before pulling up at his front door and stepping inside with his family.
Nothing out of the ordinary happens – for Crews’ character, it’s just a day like any other – but there’s something compelling about watching him drive through his neighbourhood while singing to himself in his car. It speaks to a truth we can all relate to – the joy at punching out at the end of a long day and coming home to our nearest and dearest – and aims to show a different side to life in a place that Howard says is “so often misunderstood”.
The film is dedicated to Howard’s father. Both Howard and her Dad make a brief cameo appearance and all of the actors aside from Crews are friends and relatives of the musician.
“I wanted to share the story of our small working town, and follow this hard-working man as he moves throughout his day,” Howard tells CR. “We wanted to reveal the side of him that he always guards so well: his inner beauty, his grace, his playfulness, his kindness and his anticipation to return home to his family.”
Crews agreed to star in the video after Howard got in touch to explain the meaning behind the song. “I got an email from Brittany, asking me to be a part of a song she wrote that was all about her Dad and how special he was to the family. And she poured her heart out in this letter,” he says. While Howard initially offered to shoot the film in Los Angeles, Crews said he told her: “I’m coming to you. We’re going to Alabama. We’re going to where you grew up, where your family is.”
Howard says she wanted the film to pay tribute to the man she idolised growing up. “Some folks in town looked down upon him as nothing but a lying used-car-salesman, pitch man, scheming hustler. But, we didn’t see him that way. He was our hero…. My father, K. J. Howard is a strong, resilient, black man who did whatever he had to do to support us and show us he loved us.”
She also wanted the film to subvert traditional notions of masculinity: “I wanted to reveal that boyhood magic that still exists in him despite learning that a ‘real man’ shouldn’t show it,” she explains. “I wanted to shatter that image of toxic masculinity by choosing my father’s generation, where it is still very much ingrained. I wanted our lead character to display his inner world that is so safely and procedurally hidden away. He’s not just a strong, resilient, black man; but he is a father, a thoughtful friend and husband, a generous man, a joyful being and a playful little boy.”
The film is filled with rich details – from the scenes of children playing in the freezer aisle of the grocery store, and families queuing up for a cold ice cream as dusk sets in, to the checkout counter lights that chime in time to the music. Crews puts in a great performance, revealing his character’s personality through his interactions with people he encounters on his commute.
The video isn’t sentimental or twee, but instead feels like a celebration of the simpler things in life – like enjoying the company of family and friends and feeling a sense of belonging in your local neighbourhood. It’s a quiet piece of work, with no dramatic twist or big reveal, but all the more powerful for it.
“Stay High is a song about the joyful-anticipation of being seen, heard, valued and truly loved for everything that you are by those who love you the most,” says Howard.