In the event that you were too preoccupied trying to educate your racist uncle over the holiday, you may have missed the racy short film Kylie Jenner unveiled on Christmas day. Describing the video as Jenner's "little surprise gift for the world,” Ukrainian director Sasha Samsonova captured Jenner and Tyga in various states of intimacy (including a noteworthy shower scene that had the internet losing its mind). The film opens with Jenner, topless and flicking a lighter as she pulls a cigarette to her lips; it then cuts between shots of Jenner’s bare torso and silhouettes of her frame in a white T-shirt beneath a shower stream: summer heat in December.
Of course, this wasn’t your average thirst trap. Shot using an ALEXA Mini, the production quality is excellent and the soundtrack, from singer-songwriter Niia, is perfectly paired. Samsonova has worked with Jenner on a number of projects (she’s sometimes described as "Kylie’s secret weapon"), and subscribers to Jenner’s app are familiar with the photographer’s name. But this project was something new for the frequent collaborators. For one, the video went completely unretouched during post-production—a rare occurrence for a star associated with such glossy image-making. But this was all part of Samsonova's design.
“Honestly, she’s so beautiful and it’s so natural for her to be in the shot, it doesn’t take me too much work for me to make everything look great,” Samsonova told Complex by phone, explaining the decision to keep the footage raw. “We have an amazing connection where I totally understand her and she understands me,” she said of her creative relationship with Jenner, “and she can contribute to my work just as much as I can contribute to hers.” Jenner reportedly contributes a tremendous amount of creative direction to her projects, eschewing charges that she, along with her sisters, is famous for nothing.
Still, this isn't the first time Jenner has exhibited her body for a project. (It was with Samsonova behind the lens, after all, that Jenner decided to give her first full topless photoshoot for Complex’s Oct./Nov. 2016 cover story.) As for Tyga’s steamy appearance, Samsonova told W she “almost didn't notice when...Tyga stripped down and got in on the action.”
She confirmed for Complex that the shoot was “very impromptu—it just felt like that was the right place, right time.” She added that their creative partnership and year-and-a-half long professional relationship established the trust she says was the only reason they were able to comfortably capture such intimate, purposely voyeuristic imagery.
“With the nudity, I know a lot of people have a lot of hard feelings about it and they’re not afraid to express it on social media,” she said. “But for me, it’s not about the nudity. It’s about what this image makes you feel. For a moment, I wish people could just forget who they’re looking at and what they’re looking for and just connect with an image and be like, ‘Oh, this image actually makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. And how is that exciting? How is that enticing?’ That’s why this film exists, to make you feel something.”
That’s certainly achieved in part thanks to the soft background croons of Niia, whose “Last Night in Los Feliz” works well with Samsonova’s imagery. Niia is perhaps best known for her 2007 feature on Wyclef Jean’s “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill),” alongside Akon and Lil Wayne. (Her long-awaited debut album, via Atlantic Records, is coming soon.) Samsonova described her decision to use Niia for the short film as something of a no-brainer. “Her music is incredible. It’s very sexual, but very raw and beautiful,” she said. “So when we shot that video, I just couldn’t look at it at the time. When I sat down and looked at all the footage, I thought, ‘This looks the way Niia’s music sounds.’”
Reached by phone, Niia told Complex she was more than pleased to lend her music to the video. “Sasha just has that ease about her that makes it seem like [involvement in her projects] is the right decision,” she said. “She's a huge fan of David Fincher. A lot of her work has this sexy element but also this kind of darkness to it. I think she shoots women really well.” And as for her own feelings about the film’s principal? “What she’s done with Kylie is just mindblowing,” she said, gushing about Jenner as Samsonova’s muse. “You kinda see a different look with her, especially with this video. It is far more intimate.”
Samsonova echoes the sentiment, calling Jenner one of her “favorites out of anyone I’ve shot with, ever.” Maybe most interesting is her perception of Jenner and Tyga as a couple. She struggles to understand the turbulent rumor mill and culture of divisiveness that seems to dog them in perpetuity. “They have a genuine, beautiful energy,” she said. “I’ve never heard anything that was not nice. It’s just amazing, positive energy. That’s the world I’ve experienced with them.”
“I started working with Kylie pretty much the same time I moved to America. For me, I never had any other perception of her or him in my head,” she added. “I only look and them and I only know them from a point of view where we are partners and we create this product together. I don’t really understand the difference, from my point of view. When people look at certain things and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is her naked,’ or, ‘His hands are on her body,’ I never think about it that way. For me, they’re just this beautiful couple and we created this little art piece."