The masterminds behind the Justin Bieber ‘Popstar’ video reveal how on earth that happened

Director X and Taj Critchlow share how they 'cheffed up' Drake's little idea.
Published September 10, 2020 4:42 p.m. EST
Last Updated October 16, 2020 6:47 p.m. EST
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When the music video for DJ Khaled and Drake's "Popstar" dropped, fans were pretty shocked to see it wasn't Drizzy or Khaled who dominated the eight-minute visual offering, but Justin Bieber. If you're a fan in the know however, you may have seen a little tidbit of a hint pop up on the Instagram of frequent Drake collaborator and co-founder of the new production company, Fela—Director X. X, who also worked with Bieber on the "Boyfriend" music video 10 (!) years ago, shared a clip from that decade-old project a day before the "Popstar" video dropped and honestly, we should have known it was a Drake-related clue. The director and Fela's other co-founder Taj Critchlow talked to eTalk's Tyrone Edwards and explained just how the trippy, star-studded video came to be."We've been working on that whole project for a long time—from before quarantine," Director X said. "Drake was going back and forth with ideas and the way Drake and I work—sometimes he'll know an idea and actually have scenes laid out and sometimes he just has an idea.""This is one of those times where he was just like, 'What if it's Bieber? And Bieber is me?'" X continued. "And I'm like, 'Okay.' And then I go in and sometimes it's sort of like I'm the chef so then I go and I chef up the meal. Drake had it in his mind that the intro was Khaled and this wave of videos... and then he was like, 'Oh man, I gotta call in a favour.' And then from there I had to go figure [the rest of it] out."
Director X (aka Julien Christian Lutz) added that as much as the project was a fun idea for Drake, it was more of a statement for Bieber who has been in the process of shedding his partying pop star persona since settling down with wife Hailey Bieber."He needed to let the world know he had let that life go," X explained. "It was very serendipitous. Really, that's what that's about at the end. That big 'Sigh. I love you, babe' [to Hailey]—that's a sigh of relief, like, 'I'm out of that life.' The subtext is 'That's not me and I'm so happy to be with you and walking the dog.'"[video_embed id='2031669']RELATED: Drake's son heads to his first day of school[/video_embed]The video release was a pretty big outing for Fela's first project, but that's only a ripple compared to the industry waves they're planning on making. Only a couple months old, Taj says the company—which has a mandate to use their "innate ability to tell cultural stories authentically while being a voice for the unheard and underrepresented"—was "birthed out of the revolution" this summer. Diversity and meaningful representation is top of mind not just in front of the camera, but in every aspect of production, including ownership."With this mobilization of Black entrepreneurs and X and I being industry leaders, we felt it was only right that we step out fully independent with no partners and be in control of our destination," Critchlow said. "Which means having stake equity in our culture... Look what happened to [Colin] Kaepernick—he got kicked out of the league for standing up for his rights and if there was Black ownership of a football team, he wouldn't be kicked off a team right now." X added that specifically in the Toronto media scene, there's an overwhelming lack of diversity."Toronto still has a very real issue with the whiteness of its commercial film and television industry. It's a big issue," he said. "It's a big issue getting people of colour on set, it's a very big issue getting them in the board rooms... those writers rooms really need some help. I'm very grateful for the people that said 'Yo, we're going to back you guys up,' but there comes a time where you gotta fly free. There comes a time where it's more than just being executives and we start getting into ownership."When Tyrone pointed out that the "Popstar" video was the result of almost an entirely Canadian creative team without any of the negative baggage often associated with Can-con, Director X pointed out there are no limitations to creative output when you make the means of production more accessible to a diverse group of people."There are no limitations any more because the gatekeepers are gone," he said of Fela's work. "That's really something for other industries to look at—are you being a gatekeeper or opening the gate?"
Fela's next project is certainly doing the latter. The company's new documentary Underplayed is premiering at TIFF this week and delves into the often ignored world of female DJs in the EDM scene."[Creative director Neil Blewett] came to us with the seed of an idea—'I want to make this film about female DJs and talk about their challenges being in this male-dominated industry in Electronic Dance Music,' Taj said. "[Director Stacey Lee] was like, 'I want to follow these five reputable female DJs and tell their stories and tell their challenges.' And at the same time, it's this amazing coming-of-age story, it's an education and it's education about other people who have contributed so much.""We're talking about the female engineer who worked on 'Purple Rain;' we talk about one of the producers who created the opening sequence music for Doctor Who—these were all women," he continued. "It was an education for me and it was important for us, at a time where we have to be allies to women because it's the only way it's going to change. It's no different than what's happening with the Black Lives Matter movement—if we're going to be allies to groups that tend to be unheard and underrepresented, then it's only right that these groups come together as well."[video_embed id='2032039']BEFORE YOU GO: 11-year-old Toronto girl makes it to 'America's Got Talent' finals[/video_embed]