TVNZ’s Breakfast team has embraced viral dances in lockdown, and people are loving it. Stewart Sowman-Lund talks to Matty McLean about the birth of Breakfast’s Child.
The Breakfast team established early on that Jenny was the Beyoncé of the group. “We just follow her lead,” Matty McLean says. “Now, Jenny-May and I are just battling it out for who is going to be Kelly and Michelle.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking he might be referring to the hosting dynamics on TVNZ’s daily morning show, but the Destiny’s Child comparison has arisen from somewhere much more surprising. Since the start of lockdown, McLean and his colleagues Jenny-May Clarkson and Jenny Suo have been going viral on social media with their short, joy-infused dances, which have now been viewed close to 1.5 million times.
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The dances might be less than 15 seconds long, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to learn. They’re all based on “dance challenges” – an internet phenomenon that helped push TikTok into the mainstream – where people film their own versions of short dance routines. And they’re full of complicated footwork.
“I always thought I had rhythm until I started to try and learn choreography,” McLean says, bemused. “I have so much respect for dancers now because it is insane. The first clip Jenny-May sent me was literally 15 seconds so I thought that would be easy. No, it took me hours.”
It was Clarkson who first had the idea to start filming short dance videos, after she saw the hosts of The Today Show doing it in Australia. “She approached me and asked if I was keen to give it a go and I said yes. I’m just up for anything,” says McLean. “I say yes to things without considering whether they are a good idea – and case in point.”
The trio tried filming the dances before Breakfast went live at 6am, but quickly realised that wasn’t going to be sustainable. “We were way too stretched, timing-wise, and the poor hair and makeup team had to wait in the wings so they could touch up our makeup before we went live because we’d be sweating and out of breath,” says McLean. These days, they only get to practise together once or twice, with the final version filmed after the show wraps at 9am.
McLean says he’s getting better now, or at least he thinks he is. With rehearsal times reduced, he has been practising in his wardrobe, prancing back and forth and documenting his difficulties for his loyal Instagram followers. “Each time I’ve done one of these videos it’s been easier to learn the choreography – but that’s not to say it’s easy. I was still in my wardrobe for about an hour and a half last night trying to learn the bloody thing.”
However, McLean is still working on nailing his dance face – he reckons he looks pretty miserable. “I’m so focused on making sure my legs and my feet are doing the right thing that I don’t even think about my face. I don’t smile at all!” Suo, on the other hand, has mastered the dance face, but disputes any comparison to Destiny’s Child. “I know that Matty likes to call us Breakfast’s Child, but I think we’re more Alvin and the Chipmunks,” she says. “That’s what I channel pre-dance.”
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With Covid leaving the Breakfast team temporarily split in half, each group working different days, John Campbell and Indira Stewart have been left out of all the dance fun. And while the pair’s recent weather antics may suggest they’d be up for a boogie too, McLean says one of them would never consider it. “There’s no point even trying to ask John. We have music in and out of the breaks on the show and he won’t even lift a finger,” says McLean. “He will sit there stone-faced – his whole body just goes rigid when we start dancing.”
That’s a bit of a surprise to me, considering Campbell famously has excellent taste in music and a physicality in interviews that would lend itself well to dance. “He’s all hands,” says McLean. “And so expressive in so many other aspects but you’ll never see him do any kind of dancing. I would love to see him in the privacy of his own home listening to Diggy Dupé or something… If anyone has been to a gig that John Campbell has been at, can you please let me know: does the man dance?”
McLean hopes that after lockdown, Indira Stewart – known already for her singing talents – will join the supergroup. “She’s quite excited, as are we, for a time we can all get back together and maybe she’ll step in and be our Beyoncé,” he says.
With all this locked down dance practice, you might expect to see McLean sashaying onto the Dancing with the Stars stage when it returns next year. TV reporters have historically had a pretty good run on the show. “Had you asked me two weeks ago I would have said ‘dream show to be on, would absolutely walk away with the trophy’,” McLean says. He’s less confident now: “I would be the David Seymour of our season.”
So, at least for now, McLean says Breakfast’s Child will continue spreading the positive vibes across social media. “If us being idiots for five minutes a day can put a smile on someone’s face then awesome, I’m all for it.”