He's collaborated with the likes of Britney, Charli XCX, and Camila Cabello, but queer singer-songwriter Jesse Saint John—that blonde L.A. wild child with a taste for bombast and badassery—has finally emerged with some music of his own.
Today, Saint John drops his debut single “Move,” an earworm-y party track that'll make you wanna do just that. The artist sat down with Out to discuss what he's learned from the business, why you need a thick skin, and how his younger self would have appreciated his bold queerness.
What was the genesis of “Move?"
I grew up loving bloghouse music, so moving into my artist project I wanted to be sure to elicit a lot of that energy. Coming from the perspective of a pop writer, I think “Move” is the perfect balance of that alt-dance world and a pop sensibility, and it's the best introduction for my sound as an artist.
Can you elaborate on that? Tell us more about why you led with this single.
I chose to lead with “Move” because it just felt like a great marriage of intense energy and hooky melody—and I know it'll be so fun to do live. It feels dangerous and icy and has this forlorn longing in it that's gonna carry out through the rest of my releases. I'm never quite satisfied.
What does it feel like to step out with your own music as opposed to writing for other artists?
It's funny—it doesn't feel different yet. Maybe later it will when I feel the reaction. Right now, it just feels like another extension of the same creative output I've always been doing. I love writing for others and helping them express their vision and I adore styling and creative directing and making videos for others, so this is just more of that—but for me.
What did you learn most from working behind the scenes with other artists?
I learned to separate the artist from the art. The music and creative industries can be incredibly harsh and you just have to be ready to hear "no" and be told your work is garbage just as much as you're celebrated. And you have to either respect that opinion or take it for what it is, because this industry is so subjective. You gotta get that thick, thick skin.
Top: Skingraft, Metal Cap: Custom. (Photography: David-Simon Dayan)
Why is it important for you to be visible as a queer musician?
Because representation matters. I think if I saw me when I was little, I wouldn't feel so ugly and sad and different. I think all people should be able to look at media and find someone they relate to. It's the industry's responsibility to celebrate and purposefully present diversity and be inclusive on all fronts.
What's the most common misconception about the music industry—and queer people within it?
I think all marginalized people are subject to comparison and are subject to being told their “slot is filled” by another person who has their same surface qualities. There's a detrimental stigma that there's not enough room for all of us and there's a detrimental school of thought that all gays offer the same thing creatively or professionally. It's important for us to celebrate diversity within our own community.
How would you describe your aesthetic and your style of music?
I think my aesthetic and style of music is like accessible eccentricity. It's like a blurring of all outré and left energies and curated to create something that translates to the masses. I'm kinda like the weird freaky art gay that snuck into the pop world and utilized the best of both to get where I want.
Where do you get your confidence from, and what do you hope people get from your music?
I get my confidence from not taking it all too seriously. My work and my craft and my family and my friends and my impact are more important to me than negative opinions from people I don't respect. What I hope people take away from my music that there is no guilt in your “guilty pleasures.” Remove the guilt and swallow the pleasure.
Creative Direction & Photography: David-Simon Dayan
Hair & Makeup: Marlaine Reiner
Stylist: McCall Alexandra
Shirt: Jean Paul Gaultier
Jacket: Kenneth Nicholson