Redefining a medium as visual as music videos in an audio podcast is no easy feat, but if anybody can do it, it’s the trifecta of talent behind Fela and Curiouscast’s new breakout podcast, ARTchitects.
Taj Critchlow, Karena Evans, and Director X are a Toronto-bred creative powerhouse of executive producers and directors who’ve helmed iconic music videos for the likes of Drake, Coldplay, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and more. Now, they’re giving the rest of us unprecedented access into their realm and smashing stigmas along the way.
“I’ve witnessed too many times the entertainment industry disrespecting this art form, even though it has spawned the biggest filmmakers in cinema such as David Fincher, Spike Jonze, F Gary Gray, Melina Matsoukas and many more. Put some respect on it and show love to these ARTchitects,” says Taj.
Last year, Critchtlow and Director X founded Fela, an award-winning production company celebrating inclusion and diversity. They decided to team up with Curiouscast, Corus Entertainment’s podcast network, to launch the bi-weekly podcast. So far, so good. ARTchitects debuted as the No. 1 music podcast in Canada when it launched in May.
Featuring guests like Dave Meyers, Daniela Andrade, and Benny Boom, the podcast gives those involved behind the scenes the platform to discuss their process and experiences, while celebrating their innovation, cultural impact, and artistry.
Complex Canada’s Alex Narvaez spoke with Taj Critchlow and Karena Evans about the new project. Watch the full video above—we’ve got highlights from the interview below.
On how the ARTchitects came to be:
Taj: [Executive Producer] Dean Rosen… It was his idea to do the podcast. I know there’s so many podcasts. I got a lot of stuff going on with the management company and [the production company Fela], and just my life in general. I just didn’t think I had the capacity. And then the universe kept pushing me back to this. Imagine going back in time and sitting down with John Landis, the director of Thriller, and hearing how it came about working with Michael [Jackson], and why zombies and a werewolf and where those ideas came from. Just the whole process of making that music video. So I thought it would be awesome to kind of create this format in the audio space for storytelling. And of course, it wouldn’t be right to not have it with my people—my family—my tribe, Director X and Karena Evans.
Karena: Taj is a star. I think most people know Taj to be the man behind the curtain, managing artists, executive-producing jobs—making shit happen behind the scenes and grinding in the back—nobody sees him. But he also has this contagious light and energy that lifts your spirit. And I love that Taj is the host and he’s taken a leap of courage and faith to host the show because I think it’s resonating.
The stigma that comes from being a music video director:
Karena: I think [Episode 1 guest] David Meyer is absolutely right, there definitely is a stigma and a misconception about music—video directors in general not knowing how to tell a story. But I think you can see in the works of some of the great music video directors that they are storytellers. There isn’t a script. And so the story derives from their heart and their heads. And so I think how I approach challenging that stigma is just by digging into the work and showing that, in fact, I do know how to tell a story. And rather than me telling you that I can do it, I’ll just show you.
Taj: Well, when I’m having conversations with studios and other production companies, there’s always that stigma, like, ‘oh, you come from music videos and you can only make it look visually stylish. You don’t understand story.’ I’m like, that’s bullshit. And that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to create this podcast because a lot of people don’t understand. Some of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood come from music videos like David Fincher, F. Gary Gray, Antoine Fuqua—a lot of people don’t know, Martin Scorsese directed Bad for Michael Jackson. A lot of people don’t know, Spike Lee directed Public Enemy’s Fight the Power.
When Karena was transitioning to film and television and was like, OK, we understand she could, you know, make pretty pictures. But did you watch God’s Plan? Don’t you see there’s a beginning, middle and end? There’s a narrative there. There’s a throughline there. There’s a story there.
On difficult conversations and keeping it real on the podcast
Taj: That’s the beauty of the podcast—it’s like we’re literally having conversations that we have all the time, but now in an open public space. And I always welcome being challenged and I joke around about people taking shots, but that’s how we push to be better, right? We challenge each other. And I use the analogy of a MasterChef… I always welcome that challenge. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes too. But the great thing I have with my tribe and my team is when I do step out of line, they check me. And I welcome that because I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I’m the emperor walking around with no clothes.
On who’s more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome:
Taj: Karena. All day—I got to tell you. There is a mega job that she did that was like the reason why Hollywood came knocking on our door. And she is like, “I don’t know, is it really that good?” I’m like, “Karena… like what?” But you know what, though? I love that about Karena. Because that just goes to show the true artist that she is because if you look at any artist out there, they’re always pushing, pushing, pushing. Once you get complacent and comfortable, that’s when the trouble starts.