Christian Lopez Predicts the Coronavirus Future in ‘Who You Really Are’

Written by Chris Parton
Christian Lopez Predicts the Coronavirus Future in ‘Who You Really Are’
Christian Lopez; Photo credit: Robby Klein

Like almost everyone else, roots-pop talent Christian Lopez has seen his life flip upside down as fans hunker down through the coronavirus outbreak. Unable to tour, independent artists like himself find nothing short of their livelihoods at stake, and yet the craving for creative connection remains.

Oddly enough, Lopez captured that exact dynamic in what now seems like an eerily prophetic video for “Who You Really Are,” premiering on Sounds Like Nashville today (March 19).

Filmed in an empty theater in his West Virginia home town, the dramatic clip was shot last year, well before COVID-19 was an American concern. But it now feels like a crystal-ball look into the quarantined future as Lopez sings to an empty hall, a devastating, deep-thinking plea to take this opportunity and run with it, ditching our rat-race pretense to rediscover our authentic selves. With passionate, almost angry acoustic guitar strumming, a pumping beat and anthemic sweeps of orchestral strings, he searches for the connection that once seemed so easy to find — all while visions of the way things used to be flash before his eyes.

“Releasing this song and video at this moment in time feels symbolic to me,” Lopez says. “Regardless of the crowd, empty or full, I’m doing this because it’s where I’m meant to be.”

Steve Jawn, the video’s director and co-founder of The 10:10 Creative in Nashville, further explains how the clip’s meaning has evolved since the pandemic hit, tying it to something far bigger than was originally intended. … He hopes to inspire Lopez’s fellow artists to keep their creative fires burning, since the rest of us need it more than we realize. Read the insightful essay below.

“Who You Really Are” is a song title I first saw late one summer evening in the subject line of an email. Singer-Songwriter Christian Lopez sent it my way with the hopes of partnering up to create a music video for the tune. About a month later, we did just that. The music video was set to release this week (the same day as the song launched on all digital platforms) but then the US began shutting down pretty much everything.

 The Coronavirus (COVID-19) had reached the home of the brave. Across the United States, concert promoters, colleges, work places, Broadway shows, elementary and high school systems began canceling in an effort to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Suddenly promoting a music video felt less important. By chance, Christian’s acoustic tour had him coming through Nashville the day his single launched. My wife Dani (who produced the video) and I gathered with Lopez and his girlfriend, actress Skylar Shaye, at our home in Nashville. Instead of planning a video launch, we talked about life and how crazy everything has been since Kobe Bryant, his daughter and friends, lost their lives in that tragic helicopter crash. We had also just personally lived through a monster tornado that tore through so many neighborhoods in Music City. Now, that tornado was being backed up with the global pandemic. After a few hours of stories about the recent events, concert cancellations, life in LA vs life in Nashville, Better Call Saul and reminiscing about our video shoot for ‘Who You Really Are’, we waved goodbye to Christian and Skylar who were heading to LA for his next show (that has since been canceled due to the club closing as a safety measure).

Later that evening, I pulled up the video to watch and to listen to the lyrics again. The video began to haunt me. This visual has taken on a new life since we filmed it in late 2019. When we set out to create the video the idea was to capture Christian as pure as possible, singing his song on the stage of a theater that had meaning to him. The location was The Apollo Civic Theater in his hometown of Martinsburg, West Virginia. The theater, rumored to be haunted, was built in 1913 and since then has hosted vaudeville acts, movies, concerts and a summer theater camp that Christian attended when he was young. The opening shot shows the seats of the theater from a stage POV. The seats are empty, the lights drop and Christian approaches the stage. The camera begins to circle him in cinematic 360 fashion, as he takes a stool, begins to strum and sing. As the world moves around Christian, slowly the seats begin to fill with people until the theater continuously gains an audience with each passing shot. Eventually the crowd begins to dissipate, leaving him on stage. Alone. Alone in the city that raised him. A performer with no audience. That’s when it hit me. Did we unintentionally predict the future while filming this visual? Or, another way of looking at it, did the ghosts residing inside the walls of the Apollo Theater show us a glimpse of what is now our current day scenario?

A horrific virus is claiming lives and threatening our culture. It has already impacted every type of gathering including one that is sacred to me (and the world) – Live Music. I couldn’t help but wonder what the chances where that we would create a music video that now seems to tell the story of a songwriter, taking the stage to sing despite the fact that citizens are not permitted to attend live music events. He longs for and visualizes the way life used to be. The crowd. The hand claps. The cell phone lights. They’re all just memories now. Lopez sings out to some type of God “Whoever you are/Whatever you do/There’s always someone searching for you/ I wanna know who you really are!” Or maybe he’s singing those words to us. The audience that is no longer in the seats. WHO ARE WE? Really? Then again is it possible that these vocals are directly from God herself? It’s possible that she’s calling on us, her people, her creations, to show her how we are going to cope with devastation and threats of illness. She angelically screams to us “I wanna know who you really are/Let it go, let it break your heart/Is it too much, is it too much, is it too much?/Show me who you’re trying to be…”

Suddenly my chest began to feel tight. Late night anxiety was settling in and I needed to take a break from viewing the video which has gone from being this beautifully shot performance piece to a complex view of current day society. Before I could sleep, I needed to hear the song one more time. Head to the pillow, ear buds in, I closed my eyes and listened. This time I was reminded of what a gift music truly is and what a gift it can continue to be while the world quarantines itself and we all practice social distancing. As a filmmaker, my projects usually require actors, crew and locations. All things that have been put on hiatus. But a musician, you just need your voice, your instrument, your lyrics and your device. Social networking has found itself to be the biggest leader of practicing social distancing while still keeping us connected. I took a mental note to message all of the musicians in my life (at a reasonable hour) to remind them to continue to share their glorious music with all of us.

I woke this morning and found videos being shared from Italy. Townspeople were sitting out on their balconies singing songs, unifying them while on lockdown. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma began filming himself performing what he calls “Songs of Comfort”. His offering to the world as a way to escape the stressful headlines. I began to realize that releasing the music video could actually be important. It’s times like this when film and music can inspire us, or at the very least, give us a brief mental break.

As I prepare to copy and paste this piece I’ve just written into an email heading directly to Mr. Lopez, I want to encourage every musician to share your gift with the world in these times of trouble. Use your mobile device or do what our brothers and sisters in Italy are doing, open your window, strum that guitar and sing as loud as your lungs will let you. Fill our streets and our screens with beautiful music full of hope and promise that, we too, shall overcome. So, wash your hands, clean your keyboard, clean your phones screens, press play and allow our video and this song to be a source of inspiration, because the world wants to know now more then ever, Who You Really Are.

-Steve Jawn