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Behind the Scenes: Keny Grey collaborates with Deaf creators on ASL video for ‘Wow’

It surprised me when Minneapolis musician Keny Grey picked up the phone the first time I called him: his phone has been especially busy since he went viral for sharing his phone number just a few weeks ago. After quitting his job in December to pursue music full time, Grey started documenting his endeavor on social media. On January 2, he posted a TikTok inviting viewers to call him on his personal cell phone so they can have a story to tell someday if his music career takes off.

“I thought maybe a hundred people would text me, and that’s how it looked for the first few hours,” Grey said. “Then they started rolling it one after another after another. By the end of the night I had received hundreds of phone calls and thousands of texts.”

Grey spent the next few days connecting with people. Eventually reaching over two hundred thousand likes on his post, he picked up the endless phone calls and was met with strangers’ words of encouragement and snippets of their lives. When I expressed amazement at his dedication to speak with the seemingly infinite queue of voices he laughed and said, “Well, it’s my full time job now.”

The decision to switch his career trajectory was a gradual one that was amplified by the extra time spent reflecting over the past year.

“I was working at home and my music gear was right there. I’d be on my work laptop and looking over at it and realized something had to change,” Grey said. “We’re only getting older and nothing is guaranteed, so I saved up money for a while and took the leap.”

“Wow” is the first single Grey has released since taking the plunge into the music industry full time. The video came about as a product of collaboration with friends new and old.

“A couple years ago me and the videographer [Khalid Siver] met at a skate park and ended up chatting,” Grey said. “He needed a ride home and mentioned he made videos. We skated together for a few years and then that friendship turned professional with this video.”

The video features Grey playing the guitar and performing the song’s lyrics in sign language alongside clips that look like Facetime calls of other people signing the song.

“When I first started signing in my music it was just so I could share it with my grandparents,” Grey said. “Now I use ASL in my music to have accessibility for everyone and to showcase cool Deaf creators. It’s very important to me to have Deaf representation if I’m going to be using ASL in my videos.”

Grey’s increased social media presence over the past two months led to him connecting with the people who eventually performed in “Wow.” Grey got to know Giovanni Maucere, a Deaf TikTok creator, through the platform and enlisted his help to direct the ASL portion of the video. Featured prominitely is Alexa Paulay-Simmons of Netflix series Deaf U, another of Grey’s social media connections brought forth by his persistent earnesty in developing relationships through digital platforms.

“I’ve never met any of the other people in the video in person, they’re all friends from social media,” Grey said. “Getting to work with these people who I’d been getting to know online felt like everything was coming together.”

“Wow” is a love song, with lyrics about an easy and fulfilling romance, but it’s taken on new meaning for Grey as the song has become a new symbol for this exciting new chapter of his life.

“It’s kinda perfect in a way, there’s this lyrics ‘I feel like I made it,'” Grey said. “Which is about finding someone you love but it feels right for how everything’s been going. There are so many types of love and the love I have for the music is reflected in the song itself.”

Behind the Scenes is a biweekly, and occasionally more often, feature spotlighting Minnesota music videos. To submit your video for consideration, e-mail fridayfive [at] mpr.org.

Related video: Interpreter Shelly Lehner on translating Prince’s lyrics to ASL