Interview: Artist Todd James Talks Designing the Bears in Miley Cyrus' Dance Crew for the VMAs

He also discusses her performance, loving "Applause," and New York.

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Image via Complex Original
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You may know Todd James as the artist who designed logos for The Source and the Beastie Boys, or maybe you know him as REAS, the writer who tagged NYC Subways early in his career. Despite an already impressive résumé of work for rappers like Mobb Deep and Eminem, plus a stint as a puppet designer for Jimmy Kimmel's "Crank Yankers" show on Comedy Central, Todd James is an important fine artist.
It's no surprise that he was asked to design the bears for Miley Cyrus' (controversial, historic) performance at the VMAs, where he applied his captivating, colorful, and ironic aesthetic to her backup bear dancers. The bear crew supported her singing and twerking act on the KAWS-designed stage and was one of many exciting instances of visual art at the VMAs. Read on for what he has to say about designing the bears, her performance, the awards show taking place in Brooklyn, and more.

I believe she liked them, because they decided to incorporate one of the bears onto her outfit.

How were you approached to design for Miley Cyrus' performance at the VMAs? Did you immediately say yes or did you have to think about it?
I was approached by my friend Diane Martel, who directed Miley's "We Can't Stop" video, because she was directing a segment of the MTV Awards. I thought about it while we were on the phone, because it sounded kind of insane. She said, "There will be a giant Todd James teddy bear that will stand inside the head of KAWS' Companion stage." 
Did Miley have any involvement in the stage design? What did she think of what you made?
I worked in NYC while Diane and Miley worked in LA. I believe she liked them, because they decided to incorporate one of the bears onto her outfit, which I made a "selfie bear" for.

What did you think of the final performance? Did Miley outshine the bears? Was it vice versa?
It was a perfect balance of Miley and puppet suit bears, which is exactly what people want out of the VMAs.

Did any other performances or stage designs stand out to you from the VMAs? What did you think of the KAWS takeover?
I spoke to KAWS when I was first approached by Diane, because I knew he was working on branding the event and his stuff looked amazing. That giant KAWS moonman was 60-feet tall. He dominated the Barclays Center, and it was a nice follow-up from his Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Companion float.

I saw JWoww walking around, so that was nice. I also liked Katy Perry's performance at the end.
Being from New York and having done so much work here, what do you think of an event like the VMAs coming to Brooklyn? How have things changed, in your eyes, for Brooklyn's artists and for the borough as a whole, culturally speaking?
I'm from Manhattan, and even though I'm a fan of Brooklyn, it's tough to admit that Brooklyn's got a lot going on. It's on the rise.

I wish I could sing like R. Kelly, and I've been listening to Lady Gaga's "Applause" on repeat today in my studio.

Do you have any opinions about Jeffrey Deitch leaving MOCA in Los Angeles and returning to New York, given that you showed the installation Street Market at Deitch Projects?
Welcome back, Jeffrey. I'm glad he's bringing what he does and his energy back here.
You have a history of collaborating with musicians, including a lot of rappers. What are the positives and negatives of creating art that represents or supplements music, and what do you think about the increasingly obvious amount of mainstream artists using visual art to support their music?
I'm a fan of music. I wish I could sing like R. Kelly, and I've been listening to Lady Gaga's "Applause" on repeat today in my studio. Collaboration has pros and cons. The pros are you can come up with something that maybe you wouldn't have on your own. The cons of collaboration can be having to adjust what you have in mind as the creative vision for something you don't agree is 100% perfect. It can be a double-edged sword.
Visual art and music collaborations have been going on for a long time, though, such as Andy Warhol working with the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground. Music and art go hand and hand.

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