How MGMT ‘stole’ a Filipino song

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Joey Frank, one of the directors of the “Me & Michael” video talks about what inspired MGMT to ‘steal’ a True Faith tune. Screenshot from ABS-CBN STAR MUSIC/YOUTUBE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Before MGMT released their first album in five years, “Little Dark Age,” the indie electronic outfit already shared three songs: “When You Die,” “Hand It Over,” and “Me & Michael.”

The chorus of “Me and Michael” was supposed to say “me and my girl,” but the band decided it was too boring. This particular track, described as a “dusky summer jam,” was shared along with a video, with the video’s narrative showing how the band decides to steal a melody from Filipino rock band True Faith and proclaimed it their own. 

Last January, I received a message from Patrick Wimberly (one-half of Chairlift and producer of the new MGMT album).

“I’ve been working with MGMT a bunch lately, helping them out with a video. Part of the video is being filmed in Manila. The director Joey Frank is coming alone and might need some help!”

I tried to connect with Joey Frank but he was too busy shooting the video the first day. Finally, on a Sunday night, he tells me to meet him “at the True Faith show in 19 East.”

This was the beginning of a strange and wonderful journey down the rabbit hole that was to be known as “Me and Michael”/“Ako at si Michael.” When I got to 19 East, I asked Frank how he knew True Faith. He answered, “Oh I'm shooting a collab between True Faith and MGMT," and I went, “WHAT?!”

I love True Faith a lot (I even directed a video for them), but they’re the last band I’d think of if you told me “A Pinoy band is collaborating with MGMT.” I’d consider someone like Eyedress, who released stuff abroad, or Taken by Cars, who debuted around the same time as MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular” and have similar audiences. True Faith are OPM lite rock godfathers who released their classic “Perfect” even before alternative was called alternative, a pre-Eraserheads band who have been covered endlessly by today’s top pop artists.

Turns out the collaboration was perfect — the concept being True Faith getting ripped off by the New York duo because they “didn’t know stealing from the internet was wrong.” When True Faith released “Ako at si Michael” a full week before MGMT did, some hardcore Pinoy MGMT fans even started calling foul. And when MGMT finally released the video, where they speak in Tagalog at the very end, the internet went nuts (in the Philippines, at least).

CNN Philippines Life talked to Joey Frank, one of the directors of the “Me & Michael” video, to know what inspired ‘stealing’ that True Faith tune.

How did you suddenly find yourself in Manila?

I flew to the Philippines the day after wrapping the shoot on the main MGMT video, knowing that we needed a really good version of “Me and Michael” with True Faith. My first days in Manila were recording “Ako At Si Michael,” and even though it wasn't touristic, it felt like a great introduction to the city.

Were there specific things you were looking for when you came to Manila?

Unfortunately, the stay in Manila was only 72 hours. The most important thing was to record the True Faith version. We had a question of lyrics in English or Tagalog. Ultimately, Medwin [Marfil of True Faith] did both versions and we decided on a third Taglish version that would pull from cool sounding phrases in both and maybe just a little more subtle and weird. Ultimately everyone thought this third version was the best.

I was really surprised and impressed that most of the stuff in the True Faith video was improvised and on the fly. What were your favorite things that you chanced upon for the shoot?

That green drink that Patricia drinks was actually very delicious. Thanks to Quark for filming Medwin with those large men's shoes. I wanted the feeling of a “Michael” to be more than human and those huge men's shoes could be from a mythical Michael.

How did you find Patricia Henson, the main talent? Or the other cool talents like the twins and the girl with the shades, for example?

Patricia was cast because she looked the part of the type of beautiful person you might find in a karaoke video from the late ‘90s. She had more experience in modeling, but was the right sort of actor for the role. One of the main locations we shot was in Solutions nightclub, a gay bar with a cool look that friends were using for a fashion shoot. The name “Solutions” also made me excited because this scene was going to be the conclusion or solution of the MGMT video.

What were the similarities and differences with shooting the MGMT video and the True Faith video?

Not any similarities in production style, but both MGMT and True Faith are comprised of very smart and playful guys who get the weave of humor and sincere emotion that it takes to make popular stuff.

We were connected through Patrick Wimberly from Chairlift at the last minute, but how did you find your crew and your talents?

Mela Sison, who lives part time in [New York] with friends of mine, along with Andy Barce who manages True Faith also helped get everything organized and the shoot that we do at 19 East which was awesome. It reminded [me of] my documentary experience working in Brazil to make the feature film “Manda Bala” (“Send a Bullet”).

How did you and MGMT come up with the concept of MGMT “ripping off” a foreign band?

Ben [Goldwasser] and Andrew [VanWyngarden] were interested in making the origins of “Me and Michael” vague. Andrew had heard of the band True Faith through a friend and hoped they could do a version. There was an original discussion of making the whole thing a hoax, including several memorial videos to various deceased “Michaels,” an idea pushed by Randy Lee Maitland.  

At some point it occurred to me that rather than making it a hoax, lets find a different way to integrate the True Faith version into the plot. I thought, “Let's make a True Faith version and have MGMT steal it — and have that plot be condensed into a plot for the MGMT video instead of trying to pull a hoax on the fans.” We still ended up releasing the True Faith version before the MGMT so there was a week of confusion. There's also a Russian version out there.