Lil Nas X | VMAs

Concert / Dance / Television

Lil Nas X knows how to make an impact. His hit ‘Old Town Road’ was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts for 19 weeks – the only song to achieve that in the history of the charts. So it was only natural that he would be duly honored when the MTV Video Music Awards came to pass. Lil Nas X was nominated for nine Moonman awards; he won Song of the Year for ‘Old Town Road ft. Billy Ray Cyrus [Remix].’ 

However, the artist’s Song of the Year award wasn’t the high point of the VMAs; that came during the performance of the song ‘Panini’. Rolling Stone online explains: “The performance opened with a cheeky bit that imagined a future where Lil Nas X was not only President of the United States of America but releasing the 3,162nd remix of ‘Old Town Road,’ featuring artists like Young Sandwich, the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin and Old Thug. After a snippet of ‘Old Town Road’, the rapper launched into ‘Panini’, embracing a Tron-like aesthetic as he lip-synced to the tune and moved through some intricate choreography with a cadre of back-up dancers.”

Technology, in the form of wireless 900MHz wireless pixel control, was also part of the production. “We needed to be able to control two universes of wireless DMX across the costumes of 28 dancers,” explains Lighting Programmer Ryan Alexander. Those dancers—and their costumes—created part of the tableau of the Lil Nas X performance.

The VMAs are a live event, and nothing could go wrong. So Alexander and the lighting team turned to RC4 Wireless. “This project was conceived and built very quickly. We weren’t approached until just 10 days before broadcast,” explains James David Smith, CEO and Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless.

RC4 Wireless has several lines of products, including their proprietary RC4Magic 2.4GHz and 900MHz products. “We launched our RC4Magic-900 system for lighting at Super Bowl XLIX, and it’s been a workhorse at high-profile live shows ever since,” explains Smith. “It was designed from the ground up to perform flawlessly in the densest wireless environments on the planet, with range and data security like nothing else.” 

The RC4Magic-900 series DMXpix was Alexander’s choice for bulletproof wireless at the VMAs.  Alexander adds: “The 900MHz products worked great. After getting it set up and having no issues in rehearsals, I was able to see the true power of 900MHz when I turned on the system at the VMAs. I was able to get a clear signal from FOH with all the other wireless flying around the room.” 

For the ‘Panini’ performance, Alexander was controlling around 2,000 LEDs with only two universes. “Programming was simple. I configured each wireless DMX device with a unique address,” Alexander explains. The RC4 Patented RC4 Custom Pixel Profiles provide lighting designers with a simple and understandable way to expand the number of pixels they control with a limited number of DMX channels. “The core of CPP,” explains Smith, “is to move data redundancy away from the lighting console and into the little DMXpix pixel controller. Now the lighting console only handles core patterns, and all the replication happens in the costume, prop, or set piece.  Thus, the look is the same but the channel count can be vastly reduced.” 

During the process, Alexander did have to turn to RC4’s legendary technical support team and received expert advice from Smith himself.  Alexander confides: “RC4 customer service was amazing. Jim helped me out a few times along the way.” Smith adds, “Nothing is more important to me than my customers, the people who use RC4 gear every day to create incredible art and beautiful shows. Whether you’re a high school, a church, Cirque du Soleil, or Lil Nas X — our goal is to always provide the best possible support in a timely and comprehensive manner.” 

In the end, Alexander concludes: “I was blown away by the reliability of the RC4 system. I have never used a wireless system with such a long-range. The 900MHz works great and I would highly recommend it.”