Blood On the Tracks

2.10.2014

By Jason Lamphier

How Blood Orange (a.k.a. Devonté Hynes) became an unlikely savior of pop music—and gave us a modern gay classic

Photography by Marley Kate

Did his parents wonder if he might be gay? “I think my parents definitely thought that for a while,” he says. They never asked him, which he interpreted as a form of acceptance — “their way of being like, ‘Well, if he is, that’s fine,’ ” he says. By now, Cupid is awake and Hynes is standing, teasing him with one of his toys. And did he ever wonder? “It definitely crossed my mind,” Hynes says. “You know, I experimented with my friends and stuff. I realized that I wasn’t.” Still, he continues, “I wouldn’t call myself straight. Samantha doesn’t call herself straight, either. She has had female lovers, and I have had transgender lovers. It’s a funny thing...because there are probably people out there that have no understanding of viewing sex in that way.” In an interview with the blog Slutever last year, he explained it further: “Maybe what I’m attracted to is the femininity of a woman, combined with the strong features and beauty of a man. I mean, I’m just guessing here! I’m not sure it’s good to try and dissect anything that you love, whether it be movies, music, or genders.”

Hynes’s frankness and his relaxed stance on the subject of labels call to mind Bowie’s widely publicized embrace of bisexuality some four decades ago.Hynes may be less playful (and surely less theatrical) in his treatment of his sexuality; unlike Bowie, he hasn’t used it as a sort of catnip for the media. But he does exhibit a similar unself-consciousness and mystique, not only in his honest accounts of his exploratory past, but in the way he moves. The video for “Chamakay,” the gorgeous, marimba-laced first single off Cupid Deluxe, found the singer traveling to Georgetown, Guyana, where his mother grew up, to film his first-ever meeting with several family members, including his 92-year-old grandfather. Its backstory makes the already beautiful clip all the more intriguing (heartbreaking, really), but Hynes’s fluid, unrehearsed, at times awkward choreography as he interacts with the locals may be the video’s real draw. His body twists, spins, stiffens, and undulates; it’s by turns limbless and architectural. His curious, flamboyant poses one minute resemble those of a meditating shaman, the next a young boy learning to moonwalk. He’s like an eel rippling through the waves, a flippant queen throwing the shadiest of shade. Whatever the hell Hynes is doing, it works.

His enlightened — and sadly, still quite radical — approach to sexuality stems from his early exposure to queer nightlife, when, in an attempt to flee the bigotry surrounding them, he and his friends would head into central London to gay bars and clubs. “Oh my God, it was just the best,” he says. “It’s still in the music I make, that feeling of being free in a city — liberated. It’s still a feeling I have, just being here.”

Tags: Music
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