The xx star has shared the visuals for his second solo single, Fruit, directed by French filmmaker Yann Gonzalez. Here, the pair talk therapy, late-night TV, and Dario Argento
Oliver Sim, songwriter, bassist and vocalist from The xx, has teamed up with French director Yann Gonzalez, a stalwart of France’s thriving queer cinema scene best known for his neo-Giallo film Knife + Heart (2018). A month after the release of Sim’s first solo single “Romance With A Memory,” the pair have collaborated on a music video for his new song, “Fruit”.
The video features Sim appearing on a hazy, washed-out talk show: when the host asks him “if you could meet yourself as a kid right now, what would you say?” he begins to sing, with a stand-in for his younger self watching him, entranced, on television. Sim begins the performance wearing a brown suit before gradually shedding it for a glittering top he’s wearing underneath, symbolising a transition from masculinity to femininity. While the song is a celebration of queer identity and self-acceptance, both the video and its sonic qualities have a somewhat eerie, off-kilter quality, sounding at points like the score to a horror film.
Gonzalez and Sim had been pen pals for a couple of years before they worked together, ever since Sim emailed Gonzalez at the beginning of the pandemic. They bonded over a shared love of horror cinema, their queer upbringings, and a mutual respect for each other’s work. Sim reached out “as a fanboy”, while Gonzalez was “overwhelmed” to hear from him, he and his husband having initially bonded over The xx’s music. After a long-term correspondence, they each ended up feeding into the other’s creative practice: “I was watching a lot of Yann’s films when I made ‘Fruit’, so there is an interplay of the music being inspired by what he does, and what he eventually made being inspired by the music,” says Sim.
Both the song and the music video are more overtly queer than Sim’s work with The xx, a band more readily associated with cool austerity than flamboyance. “In the band, me and Romy had always made a decision not to use specific pronouns in our lyrics; we wanted the music to be as universal as possible so people could imprint their own meanings onto it,” says Sim. “I still stand by that, and I believe in our intentions, but there was also a frailty and insecurity behind it that I wanted to break through, particularly now I’m doing my own project. ‘Fruit’ is the first song where I use a male pronoun, and that feels like a good thing. When it came to visualising the record, I got in touch with the queerest man in France, because I was a huge fan. His work is hilarious, scary, meaningful, emotional, and ridiculous as well. He had a sense of free-ness that I wanted.”
Below, Sim and Gonzalez break down the visual references, inspiration and technical qualities of ‘Fruit’.
Oliver Sim: I am deep in therapy – I love it, love it – and I’ve done a lot of inner child work. That’s what this song is really about, and Yann understood that and visualised it. In the video, the little boy watching TV is very much me. TV taught me everything I know. I used to stay up late and I remember watching TV with my hand on the living room door in case anyone walked in. I’d be watching Eurotrash (I’m probably showing my age here), Queer as Folk, Graham Norton, all those late-night TV shows. I was just trying to get something naughty or queer that I didn’t really want my parents to know I was watching. So that whole image, when Yann wrote it, resonated with me a lot.
Yann Gonzalez: I’ve never been to a therapist, but a few weeks before Oliver asked me to do this video, I went to a hypnotist, and it was a really emotional session. Of course, the first thing you do with a hypnotist is meet yourself as a child. And so I met myself as a child, and we were playing together with him on my shoulders. It was so joyful and I was bursting into tears at the same time because it was such a deep and exhilarating experience. I think this influenced the emotions I got from Oliver’s song and how I wrote the video.
Yann Gonzalez: There are many effects in the video and most of them are in a retro style. My main influences are from the 70s and 80s, but we were also inspired by 90’s talk shows, children’s programmes that used to play in France, and some of the early videos that The Strokes released. There’s also an element of dreamy sci-fi films, Spielberg for instance, and a bit of Poltergeist (1982).
The video is a blend of many eras, colours and tones. If I had to define the feeling, I would say it’s more timeless than retro. We shot on 35 mm film because it allows for a texture that gives more emotions and humanity, which was important to me. We also used some old video cameras from the 90s that were used to shoot TV shows from that era. So it was a combination of film and old video cameras.
THE INFLUENCE OF HORROR CINEMA
Oliver Sim: Jamie xx produced this track and his studio is like a museum of incredible old synths from the 60s and 70s. I just love those kinds of synth drones that you get in a lot of films by Dario Argento [an Italian ‘Giallo’ horror director] and we consciously tried to replicate that. The synth drone that goes throughout the song – and there's a bit of it in ‘Romance With a Memory’ as well – I just think it’s beautiful but so eerie and so haunting. I hear it and it visually takes me to a lot of the horror films that I love. This song is celebratory and it isn’t necessarily eerie in itself, but I love that it has this element of impending doom.
Yann Gonzalez: I never thought of Giallo for this film, but Argento is in my DNA in a way. I can’t escape it! But the main feeling of the song is joy and celebration, for sure. It’s not a scary song at all, it’s a song of exhilarating feelings. Of course, there’s an eerie feeling here and there, but to me, it’s like a soul exploding on the screen.
Oliver Sim: I worked with Celestine Cooney for styling. I have so many memories of my mum cleaning the house and putting on her VHS of Stop Making Sense [Talking Head’s iconic 1984 concert film]. For me as a five-year-old, David Byrne was literally a cartoon character – this strange man with a tiny head and enormous shoulders. I knew I wanted to play on the idea of hyper-masculinity with a femininity underneath which is gradually revealed – that’s very much what the song is about. I worked with Celestine Cooney on the styling, who helped me to visualise this idea. And then Dior really, really came through with the suit. We did quite a few fittings with them and I kept saying ‘make it bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger!’ Then we had this beautiful, glittery, very femme top underneath, which was so tight it was almost like a second skin.
Often people play with femininity simply for the sake of being avant-garde, and there’s very little meaning behind it, which is something I wanted to avoid. But to me, this video has a story and a lot of meaning behind it. And in The xx, we do have such a uniform, and everything we do as a band has to be in harmony with one another, so it was fun to abandon that and just to work off my own interests.
THE TAKEAWAY MESSAGE
Yann Gonzalez: I would like people to embrace the joy and the dreamy aspect of [the video].
Oliver Sim: This song is very personal for me. But often my instant reaction to stuff that is overtly earnest is kind of… not a repulsion exactly, but it does make me think, ‘Oh god, this is so insincere’. So when it comes to this video, I want people to be entertained and I want it to have a layer of fantasy and showmanship. More than anything, I hope people have a good time watching it, and if anything resonates more deeply then that’s great.
Oliver Sim has also announced a series of international solo shows in May. Get tickets here.