Music and sport go together like Olympic medals and Team USA.
Just imagine watching an Opening Ceremony on mute — or an athlete on the medals podium without their national anthem playing over the loud speakers.
Even Taylor Swift knows you can’t have one without the other. And that is probably the reason why the singer recruited Team USA rhythmic gymnast Nastasya Generalova (along with three other gymnasts) to be in her latest music video for her smash single, “Shake It Off.”
Not long after, Mark Ballas released his new video, “Miss Incredible,” with an appearance by five-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Nastia Liukin.
We got the behind-the-scenes scoop on both videos when we spoke to the two athletes about the crossover craze of athletes taking over the music world.
Behind the Scenes of “Shake It Off”
When her gymnastics coach approached USA Gymnastics rhythmic junior national team member Nastasya Generalova, it wasn’t your everyday request. He wanted to know if she would take part in a video shoot where she’d share screen time with pop/country icon Taylor Swift.
Days after the video went live the 14-year-old Rio 2016 hopeful called the experience “so much fun” and one she “will never forget” — especially as it brings her sport into the spotlight more. “Rhythmic gymnastics is not a very popular sport in the U.S.” So if it results in more girls wanting to do what she does, she said, “I’d be so happy.”
The whole event — which was so top secret, she said, “we couldn’t tell anybody!” — lasted four days. “And because I am under 18 I had to get a work permit, and show my grades from previous years to prove that I wasn’t a bad student.”
In addition to herself, it also featured teammate Brigita Budginas, senior national team member Aliya Protto and Kristina Elkin. “The first day we just listened to the song,” she said. “Then we had to come up with a group dance. It was complicated because we are all individual gymnasts, so to do a routine together was difficult because we weren’t used to doing things together at once.”
Before they could even start shooting, Generalova and her fellow gymnasts had to go through hair and makeup and costume fittings, and then it was time to meet Swift. “In the video she had to try to fit in with us, which she did not — on purpose, to show that you’re meant to stand out. So she wanted to know, should I do this? Does this look cool? She was really outgoing and kind — not to mention beautiful.”
In the behind-the-scenes video, Swift called the sport of "ribbon dancing" one of “discipline. I am so transfixed with ribbon dancing and I am so awful at it. It’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen. I will get it wrapped around my ankle. I somehow get knots in the ribbon. I end up tripping over it half the time. I’ll just run back and forth across the mat and they’re so good at it that it’s really interesting for them to watch completely butcher their sport.”
When the girls weren’t showing up the singer they got to talk to her about “how we train and how we have such flexibility.” And she even left the gymnasts with a lasting message, and gift. “She talked to us about always standing out, like her song says, and told us that we were made to not fit in.”
Then a couple days after the video aired, an “unexpected surprise package” from the singer was waiting for Generalova at her house. It was filled with Swift swag, including a calendar, music speakers, shirt and other goodies. “Taylor was an amazing person when I met her and she keeps surprising me!”
Behind the Scenes of “Miss Incredible”
Nastia Liukin and “Dancing with the Stars” pro Mark Ballas have known each other for years. And despite the running rumor that she is always set to join the cast of the hit dance show — “never say never,” said Liukin — they have yet to work together professionally before. That is until “Mark called me a few weeks before the shoot and asked if there was any chance I would be interested in being in his video,” she recalled.
The video was for “Miss Incredible,” the second song off Ballas’ EP, “Kicking Clouds,” and was created to feature an array of women — from a trumpet-playing beauty queen to a young woman battling cancer. Ballas wanted to honor impressive women in their element as a tribute to the incredible woman who raised him.
In “Miss Incredible” we see Liukin pull off a double back handspring step-out, after showing off her impressive five Olympic medals (which she keeps at her parents’ house in Dallas). Picking them up, she said, before the video shoot was almost as difficult as dusting off her old mat skills. “It was a little bit of a process,” she remembered. “I had to fly from New York City to Dallas to get my medals, then to LA the next day,” where the shoot took place. Since it was filmed in a studio, Liukin said “there was limited space and mats, so there was only so much I could do.”
And with it being almost a year since she had done any flipping, Liukin — who said she “had never really viewed myself as ‘Miss Incredible’” said she was “flattered” to be included in the video as an accomplished gymnast. However, “I hadn’t done much gymnastics before that! That’s the only part I was a little nervous about,” she said. Luckily “the basic elements of gymnastics are like riding a bicycle. But that’s not to say I wasn’t a little sore the next day!”
When not flipping on film, Liukin, 24, spends her days hitting the gym less and the schoolbooks more. She is currently at New York University studying sports management, but still manages to make time for her sport. Earlier this year she worked as a correspondent for NBC in Sochi, Russia, during the Olympic Winter Games. “It’s definitely a little bit of a struggle at times to keep up with being a full-time student and also fulfilling all of my work obligations at the same time,” she said, “but I’m making it work.”
Now she’s working to graduate by May 2016, which would leave her with just enough time to prepare for Rio the following August, where she’ll once again be working with NBC — this time to cover gymnastics at the summer Games.