Mark Kanemura Unpacks His Epic ‘Cut to the Feeling’ Dance With Carly Rae Jepsen at Outside Lands 2018

Carly Rae Jepsen‘s “Cut to the Feeling” is one of the most beloved singles in her catalog, but the pop star opted to share the spotlight during her performance of the song at Outside Lands with a dancer who’s been dancing to it — and fiercely — for a year and counting.

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Friday (Aug. 10), Mark Kanemura — who wowed viewers on the fourth season of So You Think You Can Dance before he joined Lady Gaga’s touring entourage as a principal dancer — joined Jepsen and her band to close out her set and turn “Cut to the Feeling” into a full-out grand finale.

In his viral videos soundtracked by “Cut to the Feeling,” Kanemura typically rocks a rainbow Speedo, rainbow cape and piles of wigs in every color. He brought all of his best props to Outside Lands, where he managed to not only keep a whopping seven wigs on his head before he made his way to center stage, but do so as flawlessly as he did in the privacy of his own apartment.

Kanemura hopped on the phone with Billboard the morning after the performance to talk about how Jepsen’s Outside Lands surprise came to be, why it’s important to dance in front of your mirror and more.

I don’t even know where to start: how did this happen?! I’m sure Carly had seen your incredible videos, so let’s start from the beginning. How did you get in touch with each other?

I had actually worked with someone from her record label, and I was obviously posting a bunch of videos using her music. She had reposted a couple of them. They had hit me up, and it was just like, “Hey, Carly wants you to join her onstage at Outside Lands!” I literally texted them back in all caps, like, WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? IS THIS A JOKE? I’M DYING. I’M DEAD. It was pretty wild. (laughs)

It was such a positive, beautiful performance and one everyone seemed to feel the same way about! It was also a difficult one. You had how many wigs on? I think I counted seven or eight.

I think it was seven, yeah. Honestly, there was just so much happening! My flight was really early in the morning so there was just this crazy mixture of being tired and hungry because I couldn’t eat all day, I was just so freaking excited and nervous. This was going to be my first time performing this live, and also, I’d never heard the song live before. I’m such a big fan of Carly and the song, to hear the song live for the first time as you’re onstage performing it, I was just like, This. Is freaking. Wild. Then there’s the element of all of the wigs, and obviously the wind that’s just blowing — yeah! (laughs) It was wild.

Were you able to have a moment with Carly after the performance?

It was actually before the performance when we met for the first time. We had gone over and discussed what was going to happen. What I thought was so refreshing about meeting her was that, right off the bat, she was very, very vocal about her gratitude about all the love that I had been showing the song, which I thought was very sweet. She was just kind of like, “You know what, what do you wanna do? Do you want to do the whole song?” She kind of left it up to me. I told her, “Well, I have all my props and stuff; I think maybe towards the end?” She was like, “Awesome. What I’m going to do is just let you have your moment.” I was like, wow, crazy! “I’m gonna hit it with my singers, and you have your moment and you shine.” We had a moment before and afterwards she was just so excited and happy, which was great to see.

It’s not like you’re a stranger to a high-pressure situation given your work with So You Think You Can Dance and your work with Gaga, but what was great about performing at a festival? What was different about the energy?

This song that had meant a lot to me throughout this past year and being able to perform it with the artist that created it — there was that energy going into it. The way I was feeling about all of this is kind of the same feeling I got when I got the call to come and dance for Gaga. I had that same excitement again which I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’ve kind of transitioned from dancing into teaching and choreography, which is still very exciting, but it’s just a different skill set. I haven’t had these kind of nerves and excitement in a really long time! 

You couldn’t tell, though! Now that you’re embracing more of an educational role, do you have any advice to share? It’s one thing to dance in front of a mirror or your phone, as you do at home, and you brought that before a live audience. For people who want to embrace that confidence at the club, a festival or elsewhere, how can they channel the vibe of your performance?

I think you start small. I do think it starts at home in front of your mirror, getting comfortable with yourself and getting comfortable with your movement. But then I also think the next step is having a supportive group of friends or family members around you who will cheer you on and encourage you just as you are, and allow you to explore and express whatever it is that you want to explore and express. Those are the key things that helped me get really comfortable with myself and getting comfortable in front of other people that will help lift you up. Especially in situations like this — I called my sister and a few of my really close friends and my mom, and they all had the same response. Everybody was just so emotional about it and so excited, just sending so much positive energy and love my way. When you surround yourself with people like that, it makes it easier. And before you know it, you’re out at the clubs — or dancing onstage with Carly Rae Jepsen! (laughs)

San Francisco truly embraces its LGBTQ community. Did that local love inform your performance, too?

The fact that it happened here in San Francisco is obviously very special, but honestly, I think this comes out naturally through the things I do, this overall feeling and expression of pride and celebrating and accepting and expressing who we are as human beings. For it to be put on a platform like this was really wonderful. When I do things like this, I do think about teenagers, specifically, kids and teenagers looking at this like, “Wow, this is cool to see this person freely embracing and expressing who they are! I can do that, too!” That’s what I keep in the back of my head, just in general, with the things I do.

How did you spend the rest of your day at Outside Lands yesterday? Did you hang out a the festival at all?

My sister and I were just so emotionally wiped. (laughs) We got fries after that, which was great. We stayed for a little bit, but we just left and went back to her apartment and played with her dog. Honestly, my heart — I thought I was going to pass out after the performance, but my heart was just racing. It was just such a happy, happy, happy moment that I’ll never forget. It did take me a while to fall asleep last night!

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