Skip to main content

Deepfakes helped Charli XCX imitate the Spice Girls in her latest music video

Deepfakes helped Charli XCX imitate the Spice Girls in her latest music video


A first for AI face-swapping algorithms

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

When mainstream readers first became aware of deepfakes at the end of 2017, it was thanks to a creepy subculture that used the face-swapping tool to insert celebrities into pornography. More recently, experts have worried that the same AI technology could supercharge fake news. But here’s evidence that deepfakes could also be used for mainstream video editing: the latest music video from Charli XCX uses the technology as a special effect.

The “1999” video is a perfect use case for deepfakes. In it, Charli and singer Troye Sivan pay homage to various 1990s touchstones, like Steve Jobs, TLC’s “Waterfalls” music video, Titanic, the Nokia 3310, The Sims, and so on. At two points, the creators of the video used the same basic deepfakes algorithms to paste Charli and Sivan’s faces onto dancers imitating the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys.

“can we use this weird fake celeb porn tool in a legit music video?”

Ryan Staake, the video’s director and head of creative studio Pomp&Clout, says the decision to use deepfakes was part artistic, part practical. Speaking to The Verge, Staake says the crew had a limited window to shoot the video, so they used deepfakes to avoid having to dress up the two singers as every single member of the bands.

A clip from the music video where AI was used to superimpose Charli XCX’s face onto the backing dancers.
A clip from the music video where AI was used to superimpose Charli XCX’s face onto the backing dancers.

“When you start to think about the complexity of getting them in and out of wardrobe and makeup for each of those characters, it would take five times longer,” says Staake. “So in a way, it was a pragmatic solution. But then, we also started playing off the bizarreness and aesthetics of it. It’s one of those things where part of the excitement is just trying to see if it works. Like, can we use this weird fake celeb porn tool in a legit music video?”

Despite its reputation for being a pornography tool, the underlying technology behind deepfakes is part of a wide-ranging, legitimate field of study in AI. Over the past few years, various algorithms have been designed that can tweak and edit realistic video. Researchers have created tools that can alter people’s expressions and turn them into human puppets. The work has also been used in mainstream apps.

Although tools like Photoshop and After Effects can achieve similar results, the machine learning algorithms are often easier for amateurs to use — hence the technology’s popularity and experts’ fears that it will be used for misinformation and hoaxes.

A behind-the-scenes shot showing Charli XCX (center) and dancers imitating members of the Spice Girls.
A behind-the-scenes shot showing Charli XCX (center) and dancers imitating members of the Spice Girls.
Image: Pomp&Clout

Staake says his team used the same basic algorithms that were first shared on Reddit, tweaking them to improve the resolution and editing the resulting footage slightly to match complexions. As is usual for this sort of process, the algorithms require a lot of data of the subject’s face. Staake says that meant getting Charli XCX to “do a range of weird expressions onstage — opening her mouth, blinking her eyes — to create a solid basis for the algorithms.”

The result is largely convincing, and Staake says any imperfections just add to the effect. “I kind of like that it’s just off enough that it’s like, ‘Who the hell is that person?’”

“It’s an utterly amazing tool.”

This seems to be the first time these algorithms have been used in a music video, and perhaps the first time they’ve been used for commercial purposes at all. According to Staake, it’s just the beginning. He says his team has used machine learning algorithms in other music videos (like this one, to generate a postcard effect), and deepfakes will likely become part of their regular editing toolkit.

“We’ve been playing around with it a lot internally, learning how to use it, where it works best,” he says. “I think we’re definitely going to see more of this. It’s an utterly amazing tool.”

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Midjourneys

External Link
Emma RothTwo hours ago
Celsius’ CEO is out.

Alex Mashinsky, the head of the bankrupt crypto lending firm Celsius, announced his resignation today, but not after patting himself on the back for working “tirelessly to help the company.”

In Mashinsky’s eyes, I guess that means designing “Unbankrupt yourself” t-shirts on Cafepress and then selling them to a user base that just had their funds vaporized.

At least customers of the embattled Voyager Digital crypto firm are in slightly better shape, as the Sam Bankman-Fried-owned FTX just bought out the company’s assets.

Mary Beth GriggsTwo hours ago
NASA’s SLS rocket is secure as Hurricane Ian barrels towards Florida.

The rocket — and the Orion spacecraft on top — are now back inside the massive Vehicle Assembly Building. Facing menacing forecasts, NASA decided to roll it away from the launchpad yesterday.

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins1:30 PM UTC
Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle brand is about to go public via SPAC

LiveWire has completed its merger with a blank-check company and will make its debut on the New York Stock Exchange today. Harley-Davison CEO Jochen Zeitz called it “a proud and exciting milestone for LiveWire towards its ambition to become the most desirable electric motorcycle brand in the world.” Hopefully it also manages to avoid the cash crunch of other EV SPACs, like Canoo, Arrival, Faraday Future, and Lordstown.

The Verge
Andrew Webster1:06 PM UTC
“There’s an endless array of drama going on surrounding Twitch right now.”

That’s Ryan Morrison, CEO of Evolved Talent Agency, which represents some of the biggest streamers around. And he’s right — as you can read in this investigation from my colleague Ash Parrish, who looked into just what’s going on with Amazon’s livestreaming service.

The Verge
Richard Lawler12:59 PM UTC
Green light.

NASA’s spacecraft crashed, and everyone is very happy about it.

Otherwise, Mitchell Clark is kicking off the day with a deeper look at Dish Network’s definitely-real 5G wireless service , and Walmart’s metaverse vision in Roblox is not looking good at all.

External Link
Jess Weatherbed11:49 AM UTC
Won’t anyone think of the billionaires?

Forbes reports that rising inflation and falling stock prices have collectively cost members of the Forbes 400 US rich list $500 billion in 2022 with tech tycoons suffering the biggest losses.

Jeff Bezos (worth $151 billion) lost $50 billion, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin (worth a collective $182b) lost almost $60b, Mark Zuckerberg (worth $57.7b) lost $76.8b, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (worth $4.5b) lost $10.4b. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (worth $83b) lost $13.5b while his ex-boss Bill Gates (worth $106b) lost $28b, albeit $20b of that via charity donations.

Thomas Ricker6:45 AM UTC
Check out this delightful DART Easter egg.

Just Google for “NASA DART.” You’re welcome.

Richard Lawler12:00 AM UTC
A direct strike at 14,000 mph.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.

The Verge
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.

Emma RothSep 26
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.