These days, the question atop any televised music mega-event boils down to: What will Miley do? Going into Sunday night's American Music Awards show, it seemed impossible that the singer would top her jaw-dropping spectacle at the VMAs. How could she even try?
But she did. And in a way no one in a million years would have guessed: by singing earnestly in front of a cat floating through space. And by the time it was over, the Internet exploded.
The 21- and 22-year-old masterminds behind the moment that will live on in a million memes, Alex Lee and Kyle Wightman, came together from opposite ends of the globe and quit school to become the makers of some of the Internet's greatest recent causes célèbre. Working under the moniker BRTHR ("brother"), the dudes created Miley's Internet-lauded cat-in-space graphics. We are forever grateful.
"In the beginning we were trying to think of other cats in case we couldn't legally use that one. But, having seen the picture of this sad kitty online, co-director Diane Martel and Miley "were set on using that particular cat. So we reverse image searched it and tracked it down to a guy in Japan and Diane's legal team bought the rights to it."
The cat image BRTHR used is a long-established meme that went viral a million years ago in Internet time. Cyrus selected the photo to be used as the initial inspiration for her stage show, so Lee and Wightman came up with the concept of a "lost kitty in space crying diamonds."
BRTHR enlisted buddy Gustavo Torres to help in post and production company Logan & Sons, who animated the cat's mouth.
"We came up with [the concept] in one meeting. We wanted something that would be weird enough, but bold. … At first we were nervous, but we started anyways and came up with the looks and how it would be sort of lo-fi. We were really into that aesthetic, rendered out all these different planets exploding and came through just a few days before the show."
Lee, a Japanese-American raised in Japan, and Wightman, a Long Island native, first met freshmen year at the School of Visual Arts. Lee asked Wightman to act in a short film of his, and the two became fast friends. With Lee's pet project "Tokyo Slo-Mode" going viral on Vimeo, suddenly the offers started coming in. Not in droves, but enough that the two filmmakers took a leap of faith to quit school and set up BRTHR.
And it has paid off. The company created music videos for acts as varied as Angel Haze and Iggy Azalea to MS MR and Nina Sky, plus projects with Foster the People, Duck Sauce and their latest obsession GEMS are in the works.
Diane Martel, who directed Cyrus's "We Can't Stop" video, took notice of BRTHR's forte with abstract, era-splicing graphics and masterful undulation of motion and sought them out via social media.
"Maybe six or seven months ago, Diane started following me on Twitter. I've obviously seen her work ever since I was a kid. We started talking and she DM-ed me maybe two months ago asking for my number because she wanted to talk about this whole thing with Miley."
And as for meeting the Queen of Obscene herself?
"We met [Miley] twice, both times at the weirdest parties," Lee said emphatically. "She came down for her album party in New York. She's known to bring crazy people. I remember this woman with a beard, and this 8-foot-tall woman Amazon Ashley and lots of midgets."
Sounds about right!