VivziePop interview feature image by Matt Winkelmeyer via Getty Images
Within the demonic realm known as the internet, one indie animator named Vivienne Medrano (aka ViziePop) spawned onto the scene. Her crowdfunded animated pilot, Hazbin Hotel, instantly became a phenomenon when it dropped and pioneered a new wave for indie animation.
The 2D, hand-drawn adult musical comedy is about an optimistic queer princess of Hell opening up a hotel to rehabilitate sinners. It was surprising to see how well the plucky little short managed to bring theater geeks and animation nerds together with its naughty tone. (To this day, the video has racked up 96 million views.)
Given its idiosyncrasy and success, it’s no surprise that A24 picked it up to produce as their first animated animated series. An indie internet sensation adopted by undisputed indie production company royalty? Hell yeah.
Upon watching the first five episodes of Hazbin Hotel, I was delighted by the colorful detail in design, the raunchy humor, the worldbuilding, and the expansive range of show tunes brought to life by her Broadway cast — including Erika Henningsen, Stephanie Beatriz, Blake Roman, Amir Talai, and friggin’ Keith David.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, I chatted with VivziePop about bringing her helluva musical series to life.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Rendy: First of all, thank you for having Keith David sing “you’re a power bottom at rock bottom.”
VivziePop: Yeah, that’s a good lyric.
Rendy: I’ve been watching the screener for that episode again and again because the “Loser, Baby” number… I need it. It’s such a great song.
VivziePop: That one’s usually the favorite. It’s also the top song for most people behind the scenes.
Rendy: How does it feel to have this phenomenon of a passion project finally unleashed onto the world?
VivziePop: It doesn’t feel real. Production took so long, and then we’ve kind of had it done for a hot minute, so I kind of forget the world hasn’t seen it yet. The fact that it’s finally being released is unreal to me. I’m so excited.
Rendy: Between the pilot and the show, what differences arose having this bigger, larger production and a sort of new animation style?
VivziePop: Well, I learned so much from the making of the pilot because it was such a scrappy project. It grew as it went. It was, for lack of a better word, amateur. Because I was amateur! I was learning so much and I was very, very fresh. I didn’t really understand the pipeline. But it was so fun. We were a group of people working together to make something happen, even if it was a very uphill battle.
It was a completely different process when it came to the series. But I’d made another show called Helluva Boss in the meantime and that one taught me a lot about a more structured pipeline.
Every animated show is different and has different needs. There’s no way to just mimic another show’s pipeline. So it was still a big learning curve to figure out what those needs were for Hazbin. But it was really nice to have that experience making Helluva Boss, especially since it’s a similar show. I’m very thankful for the entire development period.
Rendy: What were some of your biggest influences for the musical numbers? I see you have a little bit of Beetlejuice, a little bit of Chicago, a little bit of Hairspray.
ViziePop: Yeah, the musical styles are all over the place. Sam Haft and Andrew Underberg, our writing team, were so good with any genre I would throw at them. The characters are diverse in their musical styles and their genres. If certain characters are singing, they’re not going to sing something that sounds like Broadway — they’re going to sing a pop song or a more contemporary ballad. It’s going to be different depending on the needs of the character and the scene. They were so good at doing all these different types of music while still having it work together as part of the same soundtrack.
Rendy: What other musicals have influenced you?
VivziePop: Well, definitely Chicago. That’s a show about a lot of villainy people. But also Little Shop of Horrors. That was a huge one for me as well. And then my favorite as a kid was Annie. I actually got to be in it as a kid and it’s just a classic with really good music. I based Alastor’s voice off of the soundtrack.
More recently, I really loved Something Rotten. It was a big influence as well, because its humor is so goofy. Beetlejuice came out after Hazbin, but it’s obviously so similar. That was less an influence and more just like, oh I eat this up. It’s perfect.
Rendy: How did you find the balance between the sincerity and the sinfulness in the show’s overall tone?
VivziePop: I think it was easy because we have characters like Charlie who are just so lovable and warm. She’s a very good person even if her kingdom is a nasty place in many ways.
The main theme of the show is redemption, which will always exist in a grey area. It varies depending on who wants to be redeemed and who needs to forgive and for what. It’s complicated, so I wanted the show to have a lot of heart and a lot of questions and a lot of emotion. I don’t want there to be easy answers. I want it to be kind of the thing the show is always thinking about and grappling with.
Rendy: How was it developing the relationships between your queer characters during the writing process? How did you delve into the complexities of these characters who are very damaged, but still seeking a sliver of hope?
VivziePop: I really love writing romance. It’s actually one of my favorite things to write. Romance and angst and tragedy. I feel like I’m better at that than humor, even though I really like writing comedy.
And I like doing relationships in all different forms. Vaggy and Charlie are a pre-established relationship, so I wanted them to be very domestic and normal and casual. They’re very comfortable with each other. I didn’t want it to be an “in your face kind of
honeymoon stage” because realistically, when you’re with somebody for years, you’re not necessarily doing that all the time. It depends on the kind of person you are, but for them, I felt like they were past that. They’re very comfortable with each other. They’re together and that’s their every day.
And then with characters like Angel and Husk, they start the story kind of at odds with each other. But, over the course of season one, we see their relationships start to develop. I’m really excited for people to see where that goes. It’s definitely one I feel needs a lot more time to see these characters evolve and get even closer to each other.
Rendy: What were some of your favorite sequences to direct?
VivziePop: Oh wow. Well, the easiest answer because it’s out, is the whole of episode four. I co-wrote that one. And it’s an episode that has existed since the earliest development time for the Hazbin series. While we were still making the pilot, I knew that was an episode I wanted to exist. It holds a lot of emotional weight. It’s definitely the most emotional episode this season and I’m very excited for people to see it.
Rendy: What role did music play in developing these characters and showing their relationships to one another?
VivziePop: Music is amazing when it comes to that. I mean, even the score accompanying a scene can create the emotions. The importance of music in any show is the same for musicals. There are so many musicals where the songs just make me sob. I love when music can do that. I was like, “Yeah, we need some moments that try to get people to cry.”
I love that. I live for that. I live for making myself cry. So when it works, I’m so happy.
Rendy: What was one of the biggest takeaways for you creating and developing this show over time?
VivziePop: Learning to let things go. I mean, that’s with both my series. I think every creator has an element of perfectionism. For me, I don’t feel like I’m a perfectionist in the sense that I need everything to be perfect or it won’t move forward. It’s more I don’t like to look back. I have a hard time watching my old work because I’m just like, “no.” I didn’t stop because it wasn’t perfect, but I’m not going to look back.
But I’ve learned to embrace the hard work everyone was doing and accept any kind of imperfection we weren’t able to fix. Ultimately, I’m so proud of what we accomplished and I can feel that pride as I watch it.
Rendy: What do you hope people takeaway from the show?
VivziePop: My big hope? I feel like the show is about redemption and second chances and about supporting and loving people and accepting flaws. That’s a sentiment we need more of in the world right now, especially the climate we have with social media especially.
I just feel like it’s a good thing for people to have in their life: a reminder that characters can be flawed and you can be flawed and you can also change. We can always grow.
The first four episodes of Hazbin Hotel are now streaming on Prime.