POP-UP CULTURE

"Drinking a lot makes you simply red." "Edward Kennedy is simply Ted." "Red Skelton is simply dead." "Adult magazines are not simply read." The writer assigned to the video jots down these profundities, only a fraction of which will ever see the light of pop.

Step 3

Dirt digging Woodward and Bernstein would be proud. In search of important behind-the-scenes dish, the Pop-Up researchers phone nearly everyone who worked on the video. "The people who give us the best info are the ones a little lower on the totem pole," says Thompson. "The assistant choreographers, limo drivers, lighting guys—they have less to lose. They're the people who remember if Mariah Carey was eight hours late."

But diva antics can fill up only so many balloons. The researchers must also track down huge numbers of quirky facts. For Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" video, which features a crow, researcher Jennifer Krug called a physics professor to ask about the speed of falling bird poop (40 mph). "I was proud of that one," she says.

Step 4

Writing The secret is not to over-pop-ulate. An average script contains a spare 30 balloons, released at tantalizingly irregular intervals. Likewise, the text of the pops must read like a Hemingway sentence—15 words, max. "People don't want to read when they come home from work," says Low. "The idea is to make it feel like they're looking at the back of a cereal box."

After that, all that remains is to slip by the VH1 censors—which isn't necessarily a rubber-stamp process. Among the dozens of tidbits flagged by network execs as being too personal or offensive: a mention that John Cougar Mellencamp was born with a rare bone disease (spina bifida), and a photo of Jonathan Silverman—TV's Single Guy—to signify anything unfunny.

"I have a lot of red pens," laughs vice president of programming Lauren Zalaznick. And the show's producers make sure she uses 'em. "We always include a few incendiary pops that we know the executives are going to red-flag," says Low. "It gives them something to do." Even then, rockers can always find something to whine about. Meat Loaf, for instance, called in to air his beef: "We made a lot of fat jokes," remembers Low, "but he was more upset that we mentioned he went into bankruptcy in the '80s." As Low should know by now, it's clearly better to pop than be popped.

Originally posted Dec 19, 1997 Published in issue #410 Dec 19, 1997 Order article reprints