We think we can all agree that sex and pop music go together like peanut butter and jelly; a classic combo that has always been present and fitting since their respective inceptions. However, that representation of sex in pop music hasn’t strayed far from classic formulas that are considered “safe” and “palatable” for the populous at large. Yes, we’re talking cisgender, boy-meets-girl type of relationships, seen in everything from to Sia’s “Fire Meet Gasoline” to recently, videos like Zayn Malik’s “Pillowtalk,” featuring girlfriend Gigi Hadid. That’s not to say queer culture hasn’t had its share of representation in pop, but it’s certainly less visible, and still often times seen by the mainstream industry as progressive to flaunt. (Come on guys, it’s 2016.)
So, when Years & Years released the video for “Desire” last night, their collaboration with Tove Lo, the collective Internet celebrated and praised. Using visuals frontman Olly Alexander described as “magical worlds, symbolism, and pretty lights,” we shift mainly between close-ups of ambiguous sensual touches and men and women clustered around Alexander dragging their hands on him in full-on desire. It’s the last scene, though, that ends things with a definitive period, or perhaps an exclamation point. Alexander walks into a room featuring a half-circle of queer and non-binary individuals, and the music pauses. In that moment, with the focus narrowed in on what happens next, he immediately walks up to a woman for a passionate kiss, then does the same with the man standing beside her. This deliberate moment of silence to place importance on a single action is wonderfully beautiful and drives a not-so-subtle point home.
“I’ve been wanting to make a video with some of my queer family for a long time and ‘Desire’ felt like the right time to do it,” says Alexander in a lengthy post on the band’s Facebook page. “What do we expect from pop music? From our pop stars? What do we expect from the ones that are gay? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I for one don’t want to see a narrow representation of gender and identity on our screens or in our music. I want diversity. We shouldn’t have to feel scared about putting our sexualities and identities on display in all their beautiful, interlocking, multi-layered multi-coloured glory. I want to be proud. Proud to shove it in people’s faces if I want to.”
Here’s to hoping other influential artists continue to push the homogeneous norm in pop culture. Watch the video in full, above.