AS THE VIDEO TURNS 20, NIGEL DICK SHARES HIS MEMORIES FROM THE INTERGALACTIC ROM-COM
As far as iconic music-video moments go, it's hard to overlook this one: An astronaut on Mars reaches down to the planet's sandy surface and uncovers a stone tile emblazoned with Britney Spears's face. The ground shakes, and the pop star descends from a platform in a flashy red catsuit as the track's stabbing synths set in. Then, the music cuts out for a brief moment, as Spears delivers the opening line with a sarcastic snap: "I think I did it again."
This week, "Oops!… I Did It Again" turns 20 years old — the Mars-set visual premiered on MTV on April 10, 2000. It ushered in Spears's hotly anticipated second album era; her debut, …Baby One More Time (the girl loves an ellipsis), had taken the pop world by storm the year prior, and Brit wasted no time crafting its follow-up. She had reunited with "Baby" producer Max Martin for another banging single, and this time, the loneliness wasn't killing her. On "Oops," she is the one toying with boys' hearts.
In honor of the video's 20th anniversary, MTV News spoke to its director, Nigel Dick, about how it came together and what its legacy is now. "Oops" marked the fourth video Dick helmed for Spears, following "...Baby One More Time," "(You Drive Me) Crazy," and "Sometimes." But this was their most ambitious undertaking yet: an intergalactic ride with special effects and early-aughts quirks that established Spears as a pop icon-in-the-making.
"Oops!… I Did It Again" became a stepping stone bridging the schoolgirl-gone-wild look from 1999's "…Baby One More Time" to the sweaty, python-wielding visage of 2001's "I'm A Slave 4 U." Here was Spears hinting at the direction she was headed by announcing that she's "not that innocent," though Dick doesn’t remember it being strategized as such.
"Very often, the label rings you up and says, 'We want to project this artist into a different age group now.' To my memory, there was no discussion like that at all," Dick told MTV News. "It was quite simply, 'Britney's got a new single. Can you get on the phone with her? She's got a couple ideas.'"
The two had a brief conversation, during which Spears laid out her vision: "'I want to be in a red suit, I want to be on Mars, I want there to be a good-looking spaceman, and I do not want a rocket,'" Dick recalls her saying. "And the rest was left up to me."
The video was shot over three days in March 2000, in Universal City, California. A crew from MTV's Making the Video was there to capture behind-the-scenes footage, and in a pre-shoot interview, Spears said, "The song is basically about a girl. All these guys fall in love with her, and she just can't help it. When I meet a guy that I'm seriously attracted to, I get butterflies in my stomach, I get a total brain fart, and I don't know what to say."
Once the cameras started rolling, though, Spears was the opposite of the shy, bumbling girl she claimed to be in real life. As Dick told her in Making the Video, "This is Mars. You own Mars, you are the Queen of Mars. This is your city and these are your subjects. You're here to dazzle them." To do that, she needed the perfect look.
THE CATSUIT CRISIS
Spears's skintight, red-hot catsuit was a point of contention in the 24 hours leading up to the video shoot — because, as Dick explained, there was another, supposedly superior costume. "We had picked a gorgeous catsuit, which I loved," he said. "It was much softer material. It wasn't shiny. It was more feminine. And of course, the problem now is that it's been supplanted by this rubber thing, or whatever the material was, which I felt was not very flattering."
Spears decided the day before the shoot that she wanted a different suit, so she called on designer Michael Bush, who had famously created costumes for Michael Jackson throughout the '80s and '90s. Bush actually appears in Making the Video; he has a short conversation with Spears about the look she wants, then promises he's going to pull an "all-nighter" to complete it.
That wasn't the only sartorial-centric dispute on set. Spears's other notable outfit from the video is the white cropped turtleneck and asymmetrical skirt she wears while laying on a glowing, spinning circle. Turns out, that all-white 'fit was another last-minute decision — Dick says that Spears initially wore a much more revealing two-piece that he describes as a "cheap Vegas stripper outfit." And while it probably wouldn’t be too risqué by 2020 standards, Dick notes that the "Oops!" video was filmed not long after Spears's then-scandalous Rolling Stone photoshoot, which accompanied a 1999 cover story that invited readers into the underage star's "heart, mind, and bedroom" (the article opened with cringey descriptions of her "honeyed thigh" and "ample chest").
Taking that into consideration, Dick and Spears’s team convinced her to reconsider. "We went back to Britney's trailer," Dick said, "and looked for something else, and we came up with what you're seeing in the video now."
THE MEN OF MARS
"Oops!" is, at heart, a cosmic crush story, so of course there needed to be some dudes pining for the Queen of Mars's heart. The video featured a gaggle of buff, shirtless guys operating mysterious levers in the background of Brit's lair — in one cute scene from Making the Video, the pop star giggles, "I don't know their names but they're hotties! I don't mind looking at them!"
The main object of Spears's affection, though, was the astronaut played by Eli Swanson, an Abercrombie & Fitch-type model who was chosen by Dick and his team from a lineup of hopefuls. But he's not even the real star of the show, in the director's opinion.
"I like the guy in the control booth. I love the fact that he's real. He's not a super-hunky, spaceman type," Dick said of the Rivers Cuomo look-alike who speaks to Swanson's astronaut through a headset. "It's like, it's just another day on the job at NASA. Yesterday, he was looking at the Backstreet Boys on Saturn, and today, he's got Britney on Mars. These are things you come up with and you're always frightened that the label is going to go, 'See that guy grooving at the desk? Take him out.' But it all stayed in."
BRITNEY'S JACK-ROSE MOMENT
Swanson got his moment to shine during the song's delightfully dated bridge: a quirky bit of dialogue in which Spears's boy toy gives her the "heart of the ocean" necklace from Titanic. "But I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end," Spears sweetly says. He answers, "Well, baby, I went down and got it for you." Her response to this impossibly acquired gift of the most symbolically romantic treasure of the late '90s? "Aw, you shouldn't have."
"I'd obviously heard the song before I spoke to Britney about what the video was going to be like," Dick remembers. "I said to her, 'Well, hang on, there's a bit in the middle about the Titanic? What are we going to do about that? Are we supposed to suddenly cut back to 1912?' And she said, 'Oh, you'll think of something.'
"So you throw together this little sequence and nobody ever questioned it," he continued of Spears and Swanson's scene. "Everybody just said, 'Yeah. That'll work.' For me, I had no idea why that sequence was in the song at all, but it’s lighthearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
One of the biggest stories from the "Oops!" video, as Spears super-fans surely recall, is the injury she sustained while shooting scenes in the all-white outfit. As legend goes, a piece of the camera hovered above Spears fell on her head — though there are varying degrees of the seriousness of the injury, which Dick is happy to set straight.
"Firstly, nothing like that should ever happen on set," he said. "I was extremely upset that in a scene like that, where the gear is over Britney's head, that it was not properly secured. I don't believe I've ever worked with that camera assistant ever again.
"The second thing is, no, the camera did not fall on Britney," he continued. "If it had, that would have been the end of my career. A part of the camera which fits on the very front, the matte box, was what fell on her because it was not properly secured. And it's still quite heavy; not to minimize the effect of it. It has threaded screws in the top left and top right corners. I believe one of those hit her in the head."
Dick said that the medic on set advised Spears to rest in her trailer for a couple hours, to make sure she didn't have a concussion. The crew powered down, but, "being a trooper," Dick said, "Britney came back and got on with the work."
Wardrobe disagreements and minor injury aside, Dick remembers the "Oops!" video as a fun three days, even when it came time for Spears to face her fears and hop into a harness for the spinning sequence. "That was a bit of a tense moment," Dick conceded. "You need time to practice with that stuff when you're wearing the magic outfit and you've got a harness on under your red Mars suit and whatnot."
Throughout it all, though, Dick describes Spears as a consummate professional and a passionate dancer who didn't slack when it came to executing choreographer Tina Landon's intense routine.
"She rehearsed for like, five days. And it wasn't, 'Oh, we'll show up at two in the afternoon, have a couple of lattes, and then we'll do a bit of dancing,'" Dick said. "They were there at 10 in the morning, and I would go and see a run-through at five at night. They looked like hell because they'd been sweating all day, their hair is ratty, their T-shirts have stained. I mean, it's fucking hard work. It's Olympic-level athletics at that stage."
Not only that, but Spears did it all in that tight latex suit — and she apparently still remembers how tricky it was. In an Instagram post commemorating the 20th anniversary of the song's release last month, Spears shared a behind-the-scenes photo from the "Oops!" video on Instagram and wrote, "I remember that red suit was so freaking hot… but the dance was fun. And it made the shoot fly by!"
"OOPS!" LIVES ON
A few years back, an uncut version of Spears's close-ups from the "Oops!" video started making the rounds on YouTube. One upload of the vid boasts over 23 million views, and it shows Spears performing the entirety of the song from just the waist up. It may as well be in the dictionary under "charisma."
"The thing you have to remember is, you can't fake that," Dick said. "All the videos I did for her, I felt captured something magic about her. I think the beauty, in inverted commas, of Britney was that she truly was the girl next door. She obviously had this great passion for dancing and she seemed so happy all the time, which is why I think people loved her so much.
"People's perception of a video being charismatic, wonderful, whatever, comes later," he continued. "Many times I've been asked on set, 'Are we making an award-winning, iconic video here?' And my response is always, 'I haven't got a fucking clue.' You do the best work you can on the day, and people's perception of it then develops, and all you can do is sit back and watch."
"Oops!… I Did It Again" went on to become a TRL staple and earn four VMA nominations, while the song itself secured a coveted Grammy nod. Twenty years later, it's still a charisma-fueled, fan-favorite video that ushered Spears into the new millennium while capsulizing her growth as an artist and as a woman. That is just so typically Brit.