Celeste Li was thriving as a part of the RCA Records marketing team when she decided to pivot to music video direction. It’s not always easy to switch industries, but the 25-year-old pulled it off flawlessly. Her directorial debut, Flo Milli’s “Beef Flo Mix” is a viral phenomenon that’s gotten millions of views across platforms.
We spoke with Celeste about how she helped make the video happen, what it’s like being a Black woman in the music industry, and more. Read our conversation below.
Girls United (GU): We know that you worked at RCA Records before your decision to start making music videos. Can you walk us through what your job entailed?
Celeste Li (CL): I was a part of the marketing team. [We] oversaw virtually every aspect of an artists’ development. From coordinating press activities, to making sure albums were on schedule, I had my hands in a bit of everything. It was a pressure cooker…but it was an amazing opportunity to grow as a professional within the industry.
GU: What fueled your decision to start making music videos?
CL: I’ve had a deep appreciation for the arts since I was a yute. When I listen to music, my brain is inundated with visuals, so I create mood boards. At the time, when I would see treatments come in for artists. I was like, “Wait, I do that already, and I can probably do it better.”
I’m wrapping up my graduate program at The New School, where I’ve been studying Media with a focus on Digital Filmmaking. Between my time at RCA and my academic pursuits, the dots started to connect.
GU: Melina Matsoukas has worked on videos for some of the biggest names in music, such as Beyoncé, Solange, and Rihanna. Teyana “Spike Tee” Taylor also has started directing music videos, and runs a production company. But with that, Black women who direct music videos aren’t discussed as often as they should be. Why do you think that is?
CL: The short answer? Racism and misogyny.
In the past, a majority of [the] individuals afforded the opportunity to execute creative projects (and any work for that matter) were almost always white males, [s]o it’s no surprise that there’s a gap in representation and respect within the film community. We will continue to make strides, and I hope that we can reclaim what has always been ours.
“I’m extremely grateful to have been a part of this, to have something to show my future kids, and to have my name on the bill to show whoever is watching it that a woman did that.”
GU: Your debut video, Flo Milli’s “Beef FloMix”, has over 2.6 million views. Can you tell us about how the video came to be and how it feels to have such a huge response to your first release?
CL: I made the decision to quit my job and pursue [music video direction]. I flew out to Los Angeles on my last day of work, so it was a very bittersweet experience. We worked with AVONNI, an amazing production house who fostered an environment that made me feel confident in the process.
There are so many hands involved in making a record successful, so I have to give credit to Flo, the crew, and every single person that helped bring it to life. I was a bit overwhelmed when we hit one million views, so to have exceeded that was even more overwhelming. I’m extremely grateful to have been a part of this, to have something to show my future kids, and to have my name on the bill to show whoever is watching it that a woman did that.
GU: What has the music industry taught you thus far?
CL: To be bold and to get comfortable being uncomfortable. As I continue to advance in my career, the more I realize that it’s an endless trail of uncomfortable conversations, painful realizations, and dedication to discipline. I think the nature of the industry has empowered a lot of egos. But there’s ample room for improvement if the right people decide to fight the good fight. I like to think that I’m equipped to deal with chaotic situations. It’s forced me to not take things personally.
For me, the key is to not lose your light, maintain human decency, and never belittle your ideas. It doesn’t matter what your title is at work, your opinion is valuable, and your outlook can’t be replicated. Believe in that.
“Most importantly, I’m being intentional with my time and energy, creating content that is true to my personal vision, and leveling up in all aspects of my life.”
GU: Are you working on anything that you can share with us?
CL: I directed Flo’s latest video for “In The Party” that dropped last week! I just finished my first screenplay and will be directing and producing my first short film, One Fish Two Fish. I’m super excited for this one because it’s my first solo project where I have full artistic freedom and control. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to make it right, [and I’m] hoping to shop it to festivals.
Beyond that, I’ll be done with my Master’s in December 2019, and I have been keen on advancing my directorial skill set. Most importantly, I’m being intentional with my time and energy, creating content that is true to my personal vision, and leveling up in all aspects of my life.
Keep up with Celeste Li by following her on Instagram.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos courtesy of Celeste Li.