It’s safe to say you haven’t seen a nail salon-inspired music video quite like this. Chinese-Vietnamese-American director Maegan Houang came up with the music video concept for the electronic track “I Can’t Be Your Superman” by Skylar Spence. The song itself has nothing to do with the nail salon, but Houang gravitated toward the salon setting for the music video after listening to the lyrics.
“When I first listened to the song, I was moved by the idea of not being to help someone you really care about. Not necessarily a love interest, but a friend or a family member. I wanted the video to resonate with that idea, but also be interesting to watch,” says Houang. She adds that Vietnamese-owned nail salons are an especially underrepresented Asian-American experience in the media and wanted to bring the nail salon into the light.
In the video, five gang members (played by Phi Truong, Eddie Yu, Jared Egusa, James Tang and Jinkai Huang) enter a nail salon to demand protection money from the nail salon owner. When he comes up short, they beat him. A lone nail tech retreats to the back of the nail salon and creates a mixture of chemicals to try to save the owner. She throws the chemical mixture onto the gangsters, which cues the surrealist dream sequence of dancing nail techs and gangsters-turned-giant fingernail mutants.
Along with telling a story within a Vietnamese-owned nail salon, Houang experimented with the idea of overexposure to salon chemicals. “I picked the nail salon because I'm interested in the nail salon working conditions at some places and how workers can be exposed to different chemicals on a regular basis,” she says.
Acetone won’t burn your skin the way it does in the music video, nor will mixing all of the chemicals in the salon turn you into a mutant, but Houang makes a point. Salon workers are around chemicals all day long, and misuse of these products, overexposure with skin contact, or prolonged inhalation of nail dust or odors can lead to health problems. That’s why it is extremely important for nail salons to properly ventilate the salon, follow the proper procedures, and wear gloves and masks. That is, after all, the subliminal message of the dream sequence, which showcases dancing nail techs transforming the lead nail tech into someone masked like them.
“This video was not possible without the help of my cast and crew,” Houang says. The music video was produced by Ben Kuller with giant fingernail heads made by special effects artist Eric Fox. The nail salon scenes were filmed after hours at Elite Nails in Norwalk, Calif., and in case you missed it, VietSALON Magazine makes a cameo in the dream sequence — the mutant fingernail gangsters are reading VietSALON Magazine surrounded by the dancing nail techs.
“I Can’t Be Your Superman” has a great tone and vibe. You can check out more of Skyler Spence’s music here.