Director Kim Gehrig and the team at Soundtree Music tell LBB’s Laura Swinton how Libresse’s vocal vulvas gave voice to an underrated classic
Oysters. Silk purses. Papaya. Conch shells. Sock puppets. Sea caves. The new Libresse spot Viva La Vulva is a relentless carousel of creative imagery. Devised by creative team Caio Giannella and Diego Cardoso de Oliveira at AMV BBDO and directed with humour and ingenuity by Somesuch’s Kim Gehrig, the film weaves together a collage of visual metaphors for the vulva. It subverts an unspoken insecurity many women feel about their vulvas – 44% of women surveyed have felt embarrassed by the way their vulvas look or feel or smell and a quarter do not know that each vulva looks unique. The panoply of pussy symbols help celebrate that diversity – but there’s one thing that brings the spot together. The music.
Take Yo’ Praise is a soulful track from the activist, author and musician Camille Yarbrough. It might feel familiar though – the opening lines were famously sampled by Fat Boy Slim in Praise You. But there’s so much more to the song than that – when the bass kicks, Camille starts singing about her ‘warm’, ‘fine’ love and the lyrics could have been written specially for the campaign.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Kim Gehrig, Soundtree MD Jay James and producer Luis Almau to find out about the ultimate lip sync video.
LBB> When you saw the idea and started working on the treatment, what was your way into it?
Kim> I loved the original script the guys sent me, it was a celebration of the vulva and had a wonderful eclectic visual approach…
The one thing I wanted to bring to it was that I wanted to make the vulvas sing. I just thought it was a funny take on a ‘lip-sync’ music video… and it went from there… Vagina Lip Sync was the phrase I think I used in the treatment. I had never written that before…and that was my way in.
It started as a personal joke on the idea of a ‘lip sync’ video… as these are the ‘other lips’. I knew it was a bit insane, but it kind of made sense. Give the part of the body that never has a voice, a voice. Make it sing. Give it personality and joy.
LBB> There's such diversity of imagery - you must have reached a point where you saw vulvas everywhere! - but how did you go about building that bank of imagery and figuring out the artistic styles you wanted to work with?
Kim> Yes, I have now seen a lot of vulvas… !
The exploration of styles and techniques came pretty naturally. There is a lot of great work out there and we approached people who were already exploring this subject matter. We found some wonderful people and everyone was so positive about the collaboration.
LBB> I know that you started working on the music very early in the process. Why was it important to nail that down and bring Soundtree into the process early?
Kim> It was important to land the music before we shot as we did a lot of puppeteering and we needed to get the ‘lip sync’ correct. I didn’t want it to be generic, I wanted the puppets to really deliver a performance as if they were really singing that track.
LBB> And the Camille Yarbrough track is so perfect on so many levels! It’s been on heavy rotation on Spotify since I saw the film…
Kim> Soundtree always find me incredible music…. but this time they really nailed it. I remember Pete playing the track to me and I got the prickles on my arms. I knew it was right. The borrowed fame from Fatboy Slim alongside the pertinent lyrics about being ‘proud to be a woman’… it was sublime.
LBB> Jay and Luis – tell me about how you found that track?
Jay> Not only does Kim have a brilliant eye and is so articulate about what she wants, she also has an incredibly interesting social and political stance on everything. But she does it in her own inimitable style. It’s not didactic or preachy or whatever. It comes with a wink; that irreverence, that joy. That, for me, was what we really wanted: to find that song and bring the depth of what the whole project was about. You don’t want to do it in a way that’s overly soapbox-y or whatever. You can do it in a way that is full of joy and humour and is really inclusive actually.
Luis> People don’t know the original at all – they know the beginning and it just goes to this crazy, unexpected place. You don’t get it that often with tracks, usually the well known beginning is well known for a reason and the rest of it is not very interesting. Here she says, 'you’re so rare, you’re so fine, I’m so glad you’re mine’. It was perfect.
LBB> And Camille is a really interesting artist in her own right.
Luis> That’s the other layer – what’s it saying and who’s saying it? And you find someone like Camille…
Jay> ...It’s the right song with the right artist. I didn’t realise this until we started looking into it but she was involved in a lot of activism. In a way she embodies that strength and power we want all women to have. And it’s all very subconscious.
LBB> You added to the original track by weaving an arrangement of other voices around Camille’s. Why did you decide to take that approach?
Luis> We were talking about adding that joy to it and a lot of times that comes from having a number of people do the same thing.
Jay> Obviously we have Camille as our hero voice but what you see is these groups of singers, like the purses so we started finding these groups. Then it became much more complex project for us because we had to think about, well, what is the right voice here? How does it fit with Camille? How does it sound for the character?
Hearing all the women sing together is part of the warmth of the song. We had some great singers here. It’s always a treat to record singers or musicians, always. There’s a sense of unknown – you know you’re going to get a good singer but they bring something else to it. I have to say that some of those sessions were some of the best I’ve done, they were so much fun.
LBB> Tonally I felt like the film really nails it. It's really funny without being frivolous or leery, it's challenging quite pervasive and insidious notions but in a way that isn't didactic and isn't about making women feel 'wrong' about any insecurities they have. How did you and the creative team find that voice? What sort of conversations did you have around it and what helped 'click' everything into place?
Kim> This piece was all about tone.
How is this subject matter not pervy or sexual?
How do we make sure it is not pretentious either?
It was important that it was inclusive, honest, and witty. We wanted to bring everyone with us. It would be easy to be prudish about the subject matter and it was really important to me to try and bring the prudes with us. Make them love it too. We didn’t want to make something shocking. It had to be celebratory.
LBB> I gather the project involves a lot of collaboration between the different craft elements. As a director how do you create an environment where this kind of collaboration can happen?
Kim> I had an awesome team on this. Everyone on the team is positive and an optimist. That is always really important to me, but particularly on a project like this with so many moving parts. Everyone was willing to be collaborative and inclusive. Lee my producer set the tone with his disarming honesty. Soundtree would often be in Time Based Arts, the post house, working on lip sync. Deepa my DP worked in detail with Marie our production designer. Vanessa our stylist worked closely with Leanne our casting director on all the women. There was a great shared energy on the project and you really feel it.
LBB> What was the most interesting challenge with the project and how did you overcome it?
Kim> Saying the word ‘vagina’ a lot and not shocking new people. The only way to overcome it was to keep saying it!