As The xx’s third album, I See You, continues to generate singles of a melancholic nature, we’re given an increasing long bread crumb trail leading us toward their grand narrative vision for the album. With the video for the first single, “On Hold,” — directed by Alasdair McLellan, the photographer perhaps now best known for shooting the cover of Adele’s 25 album — The xx established their youth-oriented visuals for I See You. In this all-American tale of a high school breakup, the video is set against the backdrop of Marfa, Texas—where most of I See You was recorded. Though The xx may also favor teen characters for “Say Something Loving,” they go directly against the heteronormative archetype presented in “On Hold.”
They had said of a pre-Trump America, regarding their decision to make the “On Hold” video in Texas: “We have a lot of love and respect for the people of the USA, having played hundreds of shows across the country over the past years. We hope this video reflects just some of the warmth and acceptance we have encountered there.” But maybe these sentiments have rightfully changed in a U.S. run by a flaming narcissist who takes his complex out on the masses. In any case, this could be, in part, the reason for the location of “Say Something Loving” taking place in London, where homosexuality is probably more “embraced” at the moment than here (England has come a long way since exiling Oscar Wilde). Once again directed by McLellan, the video opens in black and white on the raised eyebrows of a teenage boy clearly missing something from his life (love, duh). McLellan then cuts to an arcade where Sega Rally offers Donkey Kong asking, “How high can you get?” The ennui of “basic” tableaus of London, like the train tracks, a stodgy building that indicates we’re in the Wandsworth borough, plumes of smoke from a power plant, etc., are featured in color, along with band members Romy Madley Croft, Jamie Smith and Oliver Sim against a vibrant blue backdrop. Conversely scenes of London youths by themselves remain frequently in black and white during the first half.
On the 14 bus bound for Fulham Road, a slew of them ride, miserable in their aloneness. But as they each start to connect with one another, McLellan cuts to the standout pink tones of a nightclub where the potential soul mates dance to the rhythm. Scenes of the arcade in color now get interspersed, with the majority of the teens featured still being portrayed as single entities unattached to another human. And, precisely because of heteronormative conventions, viewers likely anticipate that, if any of them do come together, they’re going to be straight. This expectation is shattered around the 2:27 mark, when the montage of same sex-oriented teens begin to kiss and show affection toward one another.
A cut to the stars in outer space (love and the stars are very on-trend right now—see: Lana Del Rey’s “Love”) are commingled with the now much happier characters of this narrative as we’re given the sense that they feel limitless in their ability to love and be loved. It also nonchalantly challenges the established benchmark of what we think we’re supposed to see when it comes to a couple. Naturally, it makes sense for The xx to prefer to use gay and lesbian lovers in their video as both Croft and Sim are openly gay (while some juries remain out regarding Smith’s a.k.a. Jamie xx’s sexuality). And accordingly, the trio has made an extremely significant video in incrementally destroying the notion that a song like “Say Something Loving” could only be directed at the Yates-ian relationships of straights.