Meet the Man Who Made Miley Cyrus' Twerking Bears: Artist Todd James
The NY-based artist is known for Beastie Boys album art and had just one month to make strap-on bear suits -- and the "selfie bear" -- suitable for Cyrus.
It's clear that people were, uh, unhappy with Miley Cyrus' performance during MTV's VMAs this year. However, one of the more memorable aspects of her shock-and-awe-inducing performance was the crew of massive, cartoonish teddy bears on stage.
The man behind the sleepy-eyed beasts is New York-based contemporary artist Todd James, who began his career with graffiti, a 17-year-old tagging in the New York City subway system under the moniker REAS. His past work includes designing the Beastie Boys' Brooklyn Dust Elephant emblem, as well as creating The Source magazine's logo.
While James' work is typically focused on colorful paintings and installations with a slight Japanese street-art bent, he told The Hollywood Reporter how his moment of grizzly VMA greatness came about — and how the 20-foot-tall background bear, 12 bubble-gum pink dancing bears and six twerking bear suits came to life.
"The director who directed Miley's ["We Can't Stop"] video, is Diane Martel -- she's an old friend of mine and we worked together a lot," the 44-year-old artist said over the phone. "She just called me and was like, 'Hey, MTV wants me to direct a segment and I want to use elements from the video. I want to do a giant bear and some dancing bears that I want you to do in your style. Are you interested?' I was interested."
Being able to contribute to this year's VMAs felt like "the stars aligned," said the artist, especially since he was able to collaborate with Martel while his good friend KAWS (aka fellow pop-art-flavored contemporary artist Brian Donnelly) worked on redesigning MTV's iconic Moonman.
Since Martel hit up James about the project less than a month before the VMAs were set to take place, he created a few sketches of a giant teddy bear with digital goggles and the "twerking" bears strapped to Cyrus' background dancers. Once Cyrus and Martel gave the go-ahead, he went to work.
Despite the small amount of time available to prep for the big night, James worked with fabricators at Brooklyn-based Eleventh Street Workshop to help bring his designs to life. While the construction of the bears was based in New York, James worked via e-mail with the L.A.-based Martel to find the right fabric on the West Coast.
Cyrus also offered her two cents.
"Miley gave her input to Diane, and I would get these notes via e-mail," said James. "She sent me a picture of her doing the tongue thing that the bear has as its expression. It's like a selfie bear."
While plenty of viewers shared their distaste for the 20-year-old's act during the VMAs, James wasn't bothered by the raciness displayed at Barclays Center on Sunday night.
"I think there have been way crazier performances. There were no malfunctions of outfits or anything. I don't get it," commented James. "It's a transition for her, so it may take a second for some people to get on board. I think most people she's collaborated with, where I've heard interviews, were totally on board for her."
James added, "You know, people grow up, and I think it's positive. You've got to move forward. I didn't think it was that crazy, especially for the VMAs."
Photos of sketches courtesy of Todd James