Go Behind the Scenes of Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR Prom Video

July 29, 2021

What is a high school prom, if not bittersweet? If you’re Olivia Rodrigo, the whole event can turn downright sour.

After releasing music videos for “drivers license,” “deja vu” and “good 4 u,” Rodrigo collaborated with directors Kimberly Stuckwisch and Toby L and choreographer Monika Felice Smith on SOUR Prom, a 27-minute concert film for her album SOUR. “You can look at the time it takes to prep choreography for a single music video and multiply that by at least eight,” Smith says. “Then throw in 20 dancers, 15 cheerleaders, a drum line, Olivia’s band and 70 background actors.”

Dance Spirit
spoke with Smith and dancer Genna Moroni about bringing SOUR Prom‘s choreography to life on film.

Prom Prep

Once Smith signed on to choreograph the concert video, the challenge of creating movement for a long video with a large cast became clear. “My prep time was a lot longer and took infinitely more brainpower,” Smith says.

She enlisted two assistant choreographers (Jen Apter and Leah LaGrange), and reached out to trusted dancers to join the project. One was Moroni, who had previously worked with Smith on a music video for Sam Fischer.

“It was quite intense, with a really quick turnaround,” Moroni says. She learned about the project on a Friday. It was cast that weekend, and by the next Tuesday, all the dancers were deep into two days of hours-long rehearsals. The dancers were split into two casts, one for the indoor gymnasium scenes and the rest for the outdoor football-field scenes. After the dancers learned and rehearsed the choreography, Rodrigo joined the rehearsal and learned her blocking in each number.

Moroni appeared in the indoor scenes, including “brutal,” “traitor” and “jealousy, jealousy.” “It was so much information, and we only had a little bit of time to let it settle in our bodies before we had to show up and be super-professional on the day of the shoot,” Moroni says.

A Night to Remember

“All of the pieces not only had to stand strong on their own, but also flow together as one,” Smith says. “The cohesive story amongst the tracks encouraged me to create interrelatedness within the movement.”

From the start, Smith says she was inspired by the idea of opposing the “traditional” high school prom. “I wanted to illustrate Olivia’s desire for a strange waltz, and finding the beauty in the bizarre,” Smith says. Her movement combined a fusion of her technical background: contemporary, ballet and jazz sprinkled with jazz funk and hip-hop elements. “Unless it’s a requirement, there’s no reason to give yourself choreographic parameters within a particular style,” she says. “If you don’t have to make the rules, you don’t have to follow any, either.”

The world of SOUR Prom fully crystallized once the cast entered the set. Moroni, who attended a performing arts high school and did not experience a normal prom, was slightly dazzled. “I kept asking people, ‘Is this really what it feels like when you’re in a normal high school?’ It was fun to live that reality for a while.”

And despite the tight shooting schedule, the fun on set continued. “Energetically, it was so much more fun than a regular music video because the dancers were on for longer than we were off,” Moroni says. “The numbers were created to feel alive and continuous. I got to see what it feels like to perform more live-concert–style work.”

Crowning the Prom Queen

The film’s finale, which was shot on the University of Southern California’s football field, was perhaps the trickiest number for Smith to nail. The choreography for “good 4 u” involved Olivia, her band, USC’s drum line, and a cast of dancers and cheerleaders.

“I constantly went over the pathways in my head, especially when heading into the giant circles surrounding Olivia for the overhead drone shots,” Smith says. “Thankfully, no one collided, and it all worked seamlessly. Olivia’s reaction was ‘I’m obsessed,’ and I was finally able to exhale.”

“This was a true result of teamwork,” she says. “Without everyone running together, hands held tightly toward the finish line, we would have never gotten it done.” Their teamwork paid off—the video has been viewed over 13 million times since its premiere on June 29, 2021.

“The biggest reward as an artist is to grow and level up with not only good people, but also those you care for,” Smith says. “SOUR Prom was truly a gift from start to finish, getting to create such a powerful piece in pop culture and with such a genuinely driven and talented artist like Olivia.”

Rodrigo’s reaction after seeing the full cast of “Good 4 U” perform the number for the first time

Photo by Nick Walker, courtesy Felice Smith