While the video is overt in portraying queer romance, Avery tells Billboard that he didn’t want to turn the video into something that it’s not; he simply wanted to show one part of his experience as a black gay man. “When I was growing up, I only saw queer people of color in somber documentaries, or with exactly one line for comic relief,” he says. “My truth is being normalized, and I can have a plot where I have a crush on my dance instructor or I can get my heart broken, or I can own a business.”
Billboard spoke to Avery just after the release of his new video about how the clip was made, his distaste for being referred to as an R&B artist, and how he hopes to push the music industry toward more inclusive practices.
Congrats on the new video! When you were filming, what was the vibe you were aiming for, what were you trying to capture?
To be honest, I'm not usually a music video person when it comes to my own stuff. I've never really been one of those artists who will write a song and then immediately start thinking about the visuals. I actually wasn't even going to do a video for "Want 2," but my friend Shawn came to me and showed me the initial bones of his story, and I loved the idea so much that we sat down that week and wrote down the whole treatment. I don't know, I feel like I'm showing my body in a different light than the media always places around it. I wanted to show off my sexual confidence while playing subtle cues that lead to consensual intimacy.
I couldn't help but notice that it seemed to reference some of your former single art -- everyone is wearing monochromatic primary colors, and it's very much your old style. Is that right, or was this a La La Land reference I didn't get?
No, you totally have the right idea! With the first music video I did, I liked it a lot and I did it with a lot of close friends, but it didn't really feel like my visual style. And that's because I hadn't really come into it yet. So I feel like this is the first time my visual style is being displayed on video. People are pretty much telling me it's a video version of my Instagram feed. [Laughs.] But I'm also so proud that everyone in the cast is entirely queer, and there's a lot of variety and different body sizes, and I'm so happy I got to work with my choreographer Mackenzie [James], because he's the first person to really find my music online. So it's a cute little moment, I was like, "Oh, I need some choreo, well I better reach out to him!" He was one of my first-ever fans.
I appreciated that the video was so openly queer without feeling like it was pushing a message about equality or acceptance or any of the other buzzwords some videos try to emphasize. Was that an active choice on your part to try and do that?
Yes! OK, I'm so happy I'm getting to represent queer people of color in this style, because when I was growing up, I only saw queer people of color in somber documentaries, or with exactly one line for comic relief. Which is fine, but it's not everything that we are! I am in a time where my truth is being normalized, and I can have a plot where I have a crush on my dance instructor or I can get my heart broken, or I can own a business. And I think videos like this help push that narrative forward of showing that queer people of color have other things that they can do that are also amazing, and have normal lives! [laughs]
You are not an R&B singer, but that’s a label that occasionally gets put on you. How does that make you feel, as a queer black person trying to make it into the pop scene?
I don't know what it is, but my whole life, I ran away from R&B music because... like the first thing I tell people is "I'm a singer," and they're like "Oh so, what kind of music do you sing? R&B?" Like, why would you immediately assume R&B? I grew up listening to the Pussycat Dolls, Gwen Stefani, Nelly Furtado, and like... I like R&B as much as the next person, and I listen to more R&B today, but that's not me. I just love pop music, and it's so frustrating to get categorized in a box where I can't explore, and where black people can't do other things beside what people have been telling us we're good at our whole lives.
I feel like that speaks to the bigger problem of representation — it's not just about getting ears listening to queer people and black people, it's about getting a variety of art from those voices, too.
Exactly, it's like we're being told: "OK, we'll have you here, but you're going to do this one small thing that we know will do well," instead of really pushing boundaries and trying to normalize other music from people like us. And there's so many cool opportunities! Like, I love pop music, and I consider myself a pop musician, but a lot of the time, for me genre doesn't even exist. It's so cool to blend styles, and I feel like it's so limiting to put yourself into one category only.
I think currently, in our state in the music industry, I think people like me, or MNEK, or VINCINT are actually helping break that stigma. It's like, "We can do whatever we want." But until there are more artists like us giving representation, and showing up in the media to say that we exist, then nothing will change. If we don't have more artists doing different kinds of work, then it will just be the same old stuff, and people will have to accept it. Like, do you really just want more of the same?
That's why I loved the fact that you got to work with so many upcoming queer artists in Jesse Saint John's video for "Wiser," like Kim Petras, Leland and Lil Aaron. What was that experience like for you working with your peers?
It was so fun. Jesse and I have known each other for a while. He's one of the first people I actually met when I moved to L.A., because we connected on Instagram beforehand. He'd been a good friend, and we hung out a lot beforehand. He was a really big help in my performing at the Billy Ball, and getting me some of my first show opportunities. He is a pinnacle of light in the gay music community, so it was so fun to work with him on the video. I had no idea what I was expecting, but I knew it would be in the portrait-style.
It was so cool to work with so many queer people. Everyone was queer, and was so differently queer, which was unbelievably cool. I was in the whole day, and pretty much all I did was crack jokes to distract Kim. We were being so ridiculous. She's so awesome, that was my first time meeting her and she was so funny.