There are very few people that can claim to have stamped the collective visual consciousness the way Ukrainian director Tanu Muino has. Her colorful and undeniably memorable iconography is what led her to be nominated alongside Lil Nas X for best music video at the 2022 Grammys for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).”
Muino’s career has skyrocketed these past few years, despite the cultural, physical and emotional stagnation caused by the pandemic. The Odessa native has produced some of pop culture’s most notable music videos for big names like Lizzo, Cardi B and, most recently, Harry Styles, for his new single “As It Was.”
Muino also recently shot and directed Foals’ “2am” music video in Ukraine earlier this year.
“It’s my favorite to shoot in Ukraine! Because it’s my team,” she says. “It was the beginning of January and things were calm. You could still go outside and it was the normal, usual Ukraine life… Everybody was so happy. Things are different now for sure.”
It’s now been a little over a month since Russia began its military invasion of Ukraine. Muino says she’s “in a way gotten used to” — or, rather, accepted — the reality of the nightmare. She routinely checks in on her friends and family who are still living in her hometown of Odessa, keeping as focused as one could under the stress.
“It’s about keeping positive for me,” she explains, “I’ve been working to help our people because I can do it. Most people can’t do it, but I am in the position where I can do it.”
Muino updates her social media regularly, involving her network of friends from all over the world and utilizing the reach of her social media platforms to share credible links and donation sites. “I need to translate what’s happening, what’s reality. I try to simplify it for normal people, civilians, to understand and know how to help.” Given her unique status, she’s also been helping members of her Ukrainian creative team to find work and living accommodations.
Muino remembers spending the first few weeks after the initial attacks glued to news reports and when that quickly became too unbearable, she turned to music, like she always has.
“It’s hard and it’s been taking more time than usual to create something,” she says. “Most of the [artist’s] ideas are a lot darker than usual but I’m trying to keep working, keep making treatments and just trying to get my mind off this news.”
Although Muino feels like it’s been years since she found out about the nomination, she remembers being at rehearsals for Rosalía’s dance-filled “CHICKEN TERIYAKI” music video when she first heard the news.
“It was actually Hodo [Musa], Lil Nas’ creative director who just sent me the [livestream] when they were announcing and she sent me a screenshot and was like ‘Oh my God, girl! You are nominated!’”
In just a three-minute runtime, the music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” packs in layers of stunning visual symbols and motifs depicting medieval and modern-day themes. The video’s conceptual details were collaborative efforts between Muino and Lil Nas.
“It’s very important to have connection with the artist,” says Muino on the video’s creative process. “The opportunity to create together is the goal. Lil Nas wrote [‘Montero’], he knows what messages are hidden inside, what the most important parts are, to get to really feel what the artist is feeling.”
“Everything was new for me,” she continues between laughs, explaining her side of the project. “It was my first visual effects video and I remember telling Frank [Borin] like, ‘I could never do this!’ All of the effects we used — I mean you have to write what will happen each second, second by second. Lil Nas and Hodo made it a very comfortable and inspiring experience.”
Despite the initial anxieties of working with computer-generated imaging for the first time, Muino credits the experience for her new-found appreciation for technology. “I like to shoot real locations but sometimes you cannot find or build something like the ‘Rumors’ video [by Lizzo ft. Cardi B], you just cannot do it. It’s impossible.”
Muino found further ease in Paris-based VFX studio Mathematic, which is credited for all of the elaborate designs included in the almost fully CGI music video. “I was so lucky to work with the Mathematic team. They are so creative! With minds so open. I would start talking and they would just immediately recognize and understand what I was thinking about.”
As Muino continues her directorial stride across the globe, she’s quick to pour her gratitude back into the thing that empowers her the most, “My biggest inspiration in life is music,” she says. “All of my videos are inspired by the music, by the artists involved in the creation of that music — for me I get these songs and I get to create new treatments and it’s been helping me to get my mind off things, to not be stuck in such a dark place.”