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

In an era of what some of have called “gay-baiting pop,” in which chart-topping divas like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and Pink (and even newcomer rapper Macklemore) almost seem to be cashing in on recent struggles for LGBT rights — pulling out increasingly outrageous, campy ensembles and releasing sloganeering gay anthems to advertise their open-mindedness and advocacy — a sophisticated, almost unintentional nod to queerness like Cupid Deluxe feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s a document of one artist’s struggle with anxiety, newfound fame, relationships, and his past, but it often sounds buoyant and liberating.

“It’s like a bat in the room fluttering around, and you’re confused as to what it’s doing,” Hynes says of the album. “But I like it that way. I am all over the place, and it sounds like someone who is all over the place. It’s definitely an accurate portrayal of me.” In aiming to present a deeply personal statement, Hynes has crafted a work that’s universal.

The day Hynes woke up in the hospital, he booked a show for that evening in Brooklyn, reviving his old persona Lightspeed Champion (he says he was still in the hospital an hour before the concert). A few nights later, he and Urbani performed as Gayer, a rap-metal band they formed recently that features Hynes shredding on the guitar while Urbani screams; they both rap. On New Year’s Eve, he gave a surprise solo performance as Blood Orange playing only songs that didn’t make the final cut of Cupid Deluxe, as well as one of the dance-pop songs he wrote for Britney Spears that never made it onto her new album. In response to the fire, his girlfriend’s mother set up a “Help Dev!” Go Fund Me site with a goal of $5,000. While he may not be a hitmaker quite yet, the $24,302 it raised before Hynes asked that it be closed shows that the artist clearly has a devoted fan base.

A lot of his music is gone, his Michael Jackson memorabilia is gone, his puppy is gone. But when we meet up again in the beginning of January, Hynes seems optimistic. He’s wearing a black turtleneck with a long-sleeved white T-shirt over it, washed-out jeans, and his token “New York”–emblazoned cap. He looks like a tourist beamed in from 1984. He’s still charming and full of laughter, and he interrupts our conversation at one point, when Nu Shooz’s post-disco classic “I Can’t Wait” comes on, so he can listen closely to its intro (the song sounds like it could be a B-side from Cupid Deluxe).

He’s been crashing at Urbani’s place in Brooklyn, but in three days they’ll both fly out to Los Angeles, where they’ll be staying for the next month. Hynes will spend some of his time in the studio with Jessie Ware, writing songs for and playing instruments on the U.K. singer’s upcoming album. He also plans to begin rewriting his score for a contemporary dance interpretation of Charlotte Perkins Gilmans’s 1892 feminist short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which he lost in the fire. Mainly, though, he’ll be “disappearing,” he says. He still doesn’t have a smartphone (just an iPod so he can listen to music), and though he could use the money, he won’t be adding many show dates to his schedule this year. He tells me he’s thinking about applying to the summer program at the Watermill Center, a laboratory for studies in the arts and humanities founded by Robert Wilson.

“I was already feeling very scared about mortality in general, and after this it was just like, Anything can happen — at any time. I could have been in that apartment. Luckily I wasn’t,” Hynes says. “I just have to do things to make me happy because… what else is there?”

Tags: Music
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