“Oh, you’re going to be observing all my moves!” Yoko Ono told a visiting reporter on the set of her “Bad Dancer” video. Not just hers, it turned out: for the first single from her new Plastic Ono Band album Take Me to the Land of Hell, Ono and director Ben Dickinson decided to run with the song’s title. With only a few days’ planning, Yoko reached out to a wide range of artist friends in New York and asked them to drop by a soundstage in Brooklyn to bust out their geekiest, most expressive dancing for the cameras. “‘Bad Dancer’ is a comedy, really,” Ono told Rolling Stone, “and I wanted this to be fun, not too serious.”
The late-September shoot began with Ono alone, painting on a canvas and then showing off her own dance steps. “They were going to hire someone to paint the set, but I said, ‘Yoko can paint it,'” laughs her manager, David Newgarden.
“We sort of built the video around Yoko’s spontaneous painting that she does at the beginning, which in itself is a sort of dance,” Dickinson told Rolling Stone. “Her works have always encouraged a dialogue with the audience, the participation of the viewer, or even a challenge of boundary between artist and audience, so we have an immersive and ecstatic and subjective experience – a conversation instead of a lecture – which is really what’s at the heart of this video, too. The simplicity of her just dancing with people.”
Then, over the course of a full day, a parade of friends dropped by: Ad-Rock and Mike D of the Beastie Boys (both of whom also mixed the track), Questlove, Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori, performance artist Justin Vivian Bond, Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, Das Racist alum Heems, This American Life host Ira Glass and R&B singer Roberta Flack (Ono’s neighbor). Each one warmed up quickly and made the most of their 10 or 15 minutes in front of the camera.
The result is a deceptively simple, charming video crammed with impressive cameos and moves – some intentionally bad, others joyously frisky. “These are creative people and they have unique movements,” Ono said. “They don’t move like other people do.”