This Kansas City Art Institute Grad Helped Taylor Swift Tell People To 'Calm Down' | KCUR

This Kansas City Art Institute Grad Helped Taylor Swift Tell People To 'Calm Down'

Jun 25, 2019

A perfectly made up Taylor Swift wakes at 7 a.m. in her tiny but stylish trailer home and looks at her phone only to find that someone she doesn’t know is taking shots at her "like it's Patrón." She throws the phone onto her bed where it combusts.

Behind the scenes, Megan Mantia, a 2006 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, watches the destruction of the set she helped build.

Smoke rises behind Swift as she adds cotton candy to a blender of pink champagne. She and her cocktail sashay away from the trailer, and flames flicker out of the windows.

"They make sure Taylor is a certain distance from the trailer when we start," says Mantia, the art department coordinator on the video for Swift’s new song, "You Need to Calm Down."

The video went online last week and has more than 56 million views on Youtube.

Mantia, whose job was to coordinate and manage the sets, the props and other visuals for the video, says that the fire was real rather than created through special effects. That made the shoot especially exciting and required a lot of extra hands.

She also passed around cake in the rain for extras to throw at each other, dashed through the desert in search of supplemental AstroTurf and battened down curtains in gale-force winds so drag queens could dance uninterrupted.

"People don't realize how much work goes into music videos," Mantia says.

Since her move from Kansas City to Los Angeles in 2017, she's also worked on shoots with the band Ssion and with Tyler the Creator, a continuation of the sort of production work she was already doing in the Kansas City metro.

"A lot of people are demanding very original content and wanting to do something really spectacular visually because it gets them a lot of attention online, and it can enhance a song greatly," she says.

"You Need to Calm Down" is an attention-getter anyway. It's not all cocktails, fires and flouncing. The song is in support of the LGBTQ community, urging "haters" to take a break from the hating.

While few would disagree with a message of love and acceptance, both sides of the equality debate have raised concerns about its presentation.

Some members of the LGBTQ community wonder whether Swift is using her stand as a gay-rights ally as a sort of fashion statement, regardless of the video's inclusion of Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Rippon, the cast of Queer Eye, RuPaul, Adam Lambert and other queer celebrities.

Also at issue is the video's portrayal of those against the gay community as unkempt types in plaid flannels and flag T-shirts with all the hallmarks of the homeless community who would, incidentally, benefit from the support of a pop star.

Mantia didn't work with costuming, but she says bickering over why and when Swift made the video isn't worth it.

"We all just need to be glad that somebody of her level is willing to get her neck out there and be like, 'I am with these people, and I care about these things and it's not cool to feel this way anymore,'" Mantia says.

The arts team created a visually vibrant "candy land" as Mantia calls it, a technicolor world where everyone in town is "different," which makes them not odd at all.

The video is also an homage to the 1990 film "Edward Scissorhands," Mantia's personal favorite. She says the connection between the two is beautiful.

"The whole theme of 'Edward Scissorhands' is casting somebody out for being different, and actually really abusing people, and a family trying to take in somebody who’s different, and make everybody see how beautiful somebody can be," Mantia says.

She says she's proud of the finished product and that she hopes Swift’s message will reach those who still need to hear it.

"She's putting her foot on the ground and saying it's not cool to feel (hateful) anymore," Mantia says. "It's a call to action, which is never too late in my opinion."

Megan Mantia spoke with KCUR on a recent edition of Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.

Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.