Gaga's longtime choreographer Richy Jackson dishes on her collab with Grande and gives an exclusive look at his directorial debut for Zack Zilla's new music video

By KC Baker
September 11, 2020 05:15 PM
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Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande perform at the VMAs

When it came to her "Rain on Me" collab with Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande "glided" right into the Gagaland galaxy, choreographer Richy Jackson tells PEOPLE.

"Ari allowed herself to come into our world," says Jackson, Gaga's longtime choreographer, who dreamed up all the moves for the iconic duo's "Rain on Me" video and their epic 2020 MTV Video Music Awards performance last month.

The "Thank U, Next" singer was a total pro, he says.

She "spoke to Gaga about how Gaga saw the video, how she saw the fashion, the hair, the makeup, the dancing," he says. "She was really just free to come into the House of Gaga and perform and give her best, through our eye and through our lens and through our choreography."

Richy Jackson
Zamora Vacek

"She was great," he says.

The result? "Was just so beautiful," he says.

So beautiful that the uber-talented duo scooped up three awards at the VMAs for their hit duet, "Rain on Me," a track from Gaga's album Chromatica: Song of the year, best collaboration, and best cinematography.

So how were they when he saw them working together?

"Oh my gosh," he says. "Like sisters."

During rehearsals, the high-wattage duo "were laughing, cracking up, speaking about fashion, going over the dance moves, talking to each other, coordinating with each other," he says.

"It's always hard work," he adds. "Though we were working, it was still such a good time."

Figuring out how to "bring two humongous stars together on one song" certainly had its challenges, he says.

"For the music video, my vision choreographically was about how to make Gaga and Ariana stand alone as two separate artists with their dance movements and then how to also bring them together as one under this fantastic song."

Grande loved the choreography Jackson created for her, he says.

"When she saw it, she was very happy," he says.

So happy, he says, "She clapped!"

"Then I asked her, 'How much of this do you want to learn?' And she said, 'I want to learn all of it.'"

They shot the video in Los Angeles in late February or so, just before the COVID-19 quarantine locked down the nation.

"We just got in there," he says.

That wasn't the case in late August when the duo performed "Rain on Me" on a remote set in Los Angeles for the VMAs and had to stay six-feet apart and wear masks the entire time – even when they were rehearsing.

Normally, big award shows like the VMAs "are pretty much like a big reunion. You see everyone backstage," he says. "But this just was completely opposite of that."

Still, he says, "We all got a chance to perform again and to be on stage and to hear live music."

That was a thrill for Gaga and Grande, "who were just two happy pop stars happy to be back on a pop stage doing pop music," he says.

"I just saw nothing but just joy and like, 'Yes, let's go give a great performance.'"

Exclusive Debut of Budding Artist Zack Zilla’s New Video

Richy Jackson and Zack Zilla
Keith Weidner

Next up for Jackson? The debut of the music video for young artist Zack Zilla's latest song, "We Are Saving the World," which Jackson directed and choreographed.

The song debuted on Spotify Wednesday. The video — which marks Jackson's directorial debut —  can be seen exclusively here for the first time!

Zilla wanted to debut the music video on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks to inspire people to persevere through the toughest of times, says Jackson.

"He felt that a song like this should still invoke that same human spirit from that day — that we can still push on and push on together and heal."