EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Britney Spears' Video For '...Baby One More Time' Turns 15, Director Nigel Dick Looks Back
It has been 15 years since Britney Spears' iconic "...Baby One More Time" video dropped, becoming a cornerstone in '90s pop history. To this day, pigtail braids, a plaid skirt, puffy pink hair ties and an unbuttoned, cropped white Oxford are the key ingredients to dressing up as the popstar. The outfit, the hallway, the lockers, the dance moves and six simple words changed pop culture forever.
To commemorate the anniversary of the "...Baby One More Time" video, Music Times called up its director, Nigel Dick (who also directed "Sometimes," "(You Drive Me) Crazy," and "Oops!...I Did it Again") to talk about what it was like to be a part of pop history.
MT: How do you think the "...Baby One More Time" video influenced Britney's career and future videos?
ND: Certainly, it was highly influential in Britney's career, which is exactly what it was meant to do. I would say three months after the video was released that mission was accomplished. She was largely an unknown artist. She was releasing an album. You make a video for it, you put it out, and suddenly she's on the cover of Rolling Stone. People are talking about her, and the record is at the top of the charts. So I think the video we made for Britney was definitely part of that process. I mean I don't always like to claim that something that I made helped something along, but I think in this instance it was definitely part of creating a space for Britney in the pop world. And it definitely succeeded in doing that. So, from that point, the video was very influential. We are still talking about Britney now, so that's a good thing from that perspective.
Can you talk about the sexuality of the video and how it was perceived at that time?
ND: Here's the irony. In many ways, what Britney was wearing and what she was doing was really quite unremarkable. I think the thing that was specifically remarkable was the way people chose to go straight to the "dirty old man" place. I read an article in Q Magazine about 12 months afterward, which said that Britney was designed by a bunch of dirty old men wearing raincoats in a record company office, you know, that this outfit and this look had been carefully created by a bunch of dirty old guys sitting around a table. But that was absolutely not the case at all. There was an honest discussion between three people at a wardrobe meeting about whether this was an okay way to go. Two of those people were women. Eventually, we reached the conclusion that some people might choose to go there, but most of the people who saw it would say it's a girl at school being a 16 year old. I think people chose to read a lot into it, but it was not necessarily as overt as they'd like to believe.
I've read that you took on the project because you had heard the song and liked it. Was the vision you had going into making the video the same as how it turned out?
ND: I had a completely different idea for the video, which I can't remember now. I submitted [something] but everyone said, "No, this is wrong. But speak to Britney, she's got an idea." So the video that we made was essentially her idea, and I think it was a good one.
Do you have any favorite moments from the video or the process of making it?
ND: I think the thing I like about it is that it sort of captures who she was then. On some level, it was a documentary that captured a moment. There weren't a bunch of evil grown-ups behind the camera going, "Do this or that more." It showed her the way she was. I think it was fun to be a part of that. Another thing that was great to me was being a Brit and being allowed to film this very iconic moment in an American child's life. Seeing from a foreigner's perspective life in an American school is a bit like a milkshake, a hamburger and a Ford Mustang — a quintessentially American experience. So the fact that I was allowed to come in here and put my twist on it and nobody rang me up to say, "You got all this wrong; the details were wrong." Never has anybody made a comment ever about the fact that I twisted the American experience. On some level that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to capture something I had imagined would be the experience of being a young girl in school. I went to a school with no girls, so I wasn't like, "Oh girls used to dance down the corridors in my high school wearing short skirts." There was just 349 other boys looking to get out and looking forward to going home for the holidays.
Did you ever receive any backlash for the fact that you portrayed a young girl in a sexual way?
ND: I was accused in a restaurant of being a pedophile, which was not an off-hand comment but a full discussion of my personal sexual taste. I found that very challenging. I was actually the first person to say, when the choice of wardrobe came up, "Are we sure this is a good idea? Are we sure that people aren't going to jump to the wrong conclusion?" So to be accused in a public place of furthering this attitude toward young womanhood, I found it galling.
Compared to the videos nowadays, that video doesn't even seem that shocking.
ND: On a scale from 1 to 10, I think it's very mild. To go back to my earlier point, it was sort of a Rorschach test in that you show people an image and people read into that image a lot of what they think as well as what they are presented with. So, when I saw that image or when I was in the process of presenting this image, I was trying to make sure that it wasn't too sexualized. It was just girls having fun, dancing with boys at school. Certainly if you're 16 and the boy's have their collars at half mast because they think it's cool and the girls are hitching their dresses up and all the rest of it, there is obviously some sort of subconscious sexual conversation going on there. But it was not as rampant as it is now.
You worked with her on other videos. Did the ideas for those originate from Britney as well?
ND: Yeah I worked with her on three other videos. She would give me like a two sentence perspective of what she wanted. When we did "Oops...I Did It Again," she said, "I want to be in a red outfit on Mars, and I don't want there to be a rocket ship." So the rest was up to me to figure out the way we were going. You create Mars. You give her a red outfit, which she ends up rejecting and comes up with her own version of it, and that's how you proceed.
So she already had a vision at a young age and being new to the industry at that point?
Yeah she did, and I think it was really healthy at that point for her to say, "This is what I'm thinking. This is what I'd like to do." Because as a grown man, you don't think like a 16- or 17-year-old girl thinks. Especially when it's her career, I think there are times when you say, "You know what, I don't think this is a particularly good idea. Why don't we do this instead," but I think it was good for her to own the idea so you're not trying to push something on to her and so she could feel like it was part of who she is and part of what she was trying to portray. I was quite okay with her saying what she wanted to do because I would never have come up with Mars, and I might have thought that the school idea was too humdrum. I think it's crucial for the artist, if they have an opinion, to voice it so you can see what it is that makes them unique.
Are you surprised that 15 years later it is such an iconic, video?
ND: It certainly hit a nerve. I've had people come to me subsequently and say, "I want you to make a video for me that's going to be as iconic as Britney's video." And of course you can't. You never know at the time. You don't go, "Ooh I'm making an iconic video now; this is an iconic moment," because you don't know how other people are going to perceive it. You just do the very best job you can on the day and try and present it in such a way that it's visual interesting, stunning, does something for the artist, puts the artist in the best possible light, and serves the song well so people like the track and want to go and buy it. That's what you're concentrating on, you can't go in and knowingly create an iconic moment, it happens of its own free will.
Watch the video that started it all, and share your memories with us in the comments section below!