Last week, Years & Years re-released its late 2014 single "Desire," remixed with Tove Lo now featured on vocals and a new music video. Upon its initial release, "Desire" was the British pop-house trio's "breakthrough" single, hitting No. 22 on the U.K. charts and charting moderately around Europe, and paved the way for "King" and "Shine" to smash worldwide in nearly every territory except America. This new "Desire" version not only feels like the act's potential key to greater stateside success, but to opening up a larger discussion about sexual fluidity and overall desirability depicted in music videos as well.
Y&Y's new "Desire" video is unabashedly sexy. It begins with a fully clothed Olly Alexander being rubbed and massaged by a mix of men and women in baggy clothes and baseball hats, before the act's frontman runs into an underground world where that same scene becomes amplified with full-on makeouts, stringy clothing, tribal makeup and spankings with umbrellas. The 25-year-old opens the second half of the video by passionately kissing a glamorous female in a gown before swapping her out for a tall man in a soldier-inspired jacket and short shorts.
Along with the new video, Alexander posted a letter where he explored the overall topics of the video—which were described by some of the media as "striking," "outrageously filthy," "powerful" and "revolutionary," to name a few—which prove why its sexuality is necessary. Some of the best points are below:
"Most of the pop videos I've seen that have any male and female interaction are usually centered around a romance, and that's great, I am all for romance, but let's face it there are a lot of other sexualities and identities that are well deserving of some shiny pop video love. 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...
"I wanted the video to feel sexy. Everyone has a different definition of what they find sexy, so why do we so often get given one version of what sexy is time and time again? Is there a rulebook for men and women on how to feel sexy or what sexy is? For me, whoever it is, two women, two men, a group of gender-queer people, it’s all cute...I LOVE POP (obviously) so, why is it that in 2016, a pop video featuring people expressing their sexuality who aren't cis-gendered or heterosexual, feel at all unusual or progressive?"
When we consider some of the most iconic "sexy" videos of all time, they all showcase a heterosexual version of sexy: Madonna and her model beau rolling around in the sheets in "Justify My Love," D'Angelo's sculpted six-pack in "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," the almost-orgy in Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U." But all of those videos star gorgeous, cis-gendered people who hardly stray from what was already considered desirable at the time. None of those videos included anyone who looked like the lanky Olly, the middle-aged graying man in the middle of the makeout sesh, a bald woman with no makeup, boys with nail polish, or even an ounce of cellulite—like the aforementioned woman who was spanked with an umbrella.
But here's what is most important about Years & Years' new video and its accompanying essay: the dedication to seeing what is "queer" as the norm.
“Sex isn't progressive.”
When male rappers have hordes of bikini-clad women twerking and making out around them in music videos, it's considered sexy. But when a young gay man does that in a sea of queer people—some of whom are presumably straight—it's labeled as, Alexander says, "unusual" or "progressive."
But sex isn't progressive. In fact, sex and desire (natch) are one of the few things that anyone, regardless of sexuality, can connect with on some level. While most artists would embrace being "progressive," Olly & Co. are wondering why they're being labeled as such these days.
Unfortunately, there might be a long way to go before queer performers can be accepted as "sexy" or even as "raunchy" as their heterosexual counterparts without eliciting some bombastic response. Until then, the pop world can hopefully count on Years & Years to continue pushing their daring visuals and ideals until they, too, become the norm.