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Sufjan Stevens Shares Video for New Song “Video Game”

The Ascension Due Out September 25 via Asthmatic Kitty

Aug 13, 2020 Sufjan Stevens
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Sufjan Stevens is releasing a new album, The Ascension, on September 25 via Asthmatic Kitty. Now he has shared another song from it, “Video Game,” via a video for the song. Nicole Ginelli directed the video, which stars and was choreographed by Jalaiah Harmon (who is described as “the teenage creator of the massively viral ‘Renegade’ dance”). Stevens says the song comments on social media and how we all look for approval from our followers. Watch the video below.

“I don’t wanna be your personal Jesus,” sings Stevens, later also stating “I don’t wanna be your Julius Caesar” and “I don’t wanna put the devil on a pedestal/I don’t wanna put the saints in chains,” before concluding “I don’t wanna play your video game.”

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where the value of people is quantified by likes, followers, listeners, and views,” says Stevens in a press release. “So many people are seeking attention for the wrong reasons. I think we should all be doing our best work without looking for accolades or seeking reward.

“The main takeaway of ‘Video Game’ for me is: your worth (invaluable) should never be based on other people’s approval (ephemeral). Just be yourself. Keep it real. Keep it moving. Do all things with absolute purity, love and joy. And always do your best.

“Jalaiah epitomizes all of this and I’m truly inspired by her. So I thought, ‘what if we could get Jalaiah to star in a “dance video” about not wanting to star in a “dance video?’ I’m so honored she agreed. She clearly owns it, and her work here is beautiful, poignant and true.

“Her dance shows incredible energy, work-ethic and spirit. She is dancing for herself, not anyone else. Her choreography is sophisticated, nuanced, and fun. She is a star. She keeps it real. She keeps it moving. She keeps it true. What a blessing!”

Harmon had this to say in the press release: “This was my first time being asked to create choreo for a whole song. So I was a little nervous in the beginning, but once I really broke the song into parts and listened to the lyrics over and over, I just put moves together that connected to the words and felt natural for me to do. I think I’m still really trying to get used to this kind of success, so I can’t really define it just yet. I just know that when you work hard and you treat others with kindness and fairness, good things come back to you.”

And director Nicole Ginelli had this to add: “I was inspired by how much Jalaiah loves to perform. She brings such a powerful and specific energy, it’s infectious. There are parallels between Sufjan’s story and song and Jalaiah’s story and her choreography. I wanted to make something defiantly joyous, and to show what it looks like to reclaim agency, strength and moves in order to take control of one’s own projections and imagery.”

Previously Stevens shared The Ascension’s first single, 12-minute long closing track “America.” “America” was #1 on our Songs of the Week list. Then he shared the B-side for the “America” single, non-album track “My Rajneesh,” which also made our Songs of the Week list.

With a title like “America,” the first single’s timed release the day before July 4th was no accident and in a press release Stevens said it was “a protest song against the sickness of American culture in particular.”

“Don’t do to me what you did to America,” Stevens sings in the chorus to “America.” “Don’t do to me what you do to yourself.” A previous press release further said the song “is an indictment of a world crumbling around us—and a roadmap out of here.”

Stevens says The Ascension is “a call for personal transformation and a refusal to play along with the systems around us.”

And while “America” may seem written for these times, it was actually written six years ago, prior to the election of Donald Trump, when he was working on his last fully fledged studio solo album, 2015’s Carrie & Lowell. Stevens then re-recorded “America” and used it as a jumping off point for The Ascension. Musically, The Ascension seems much closer to the experimental and disorientating sounds of his 2010 album The Age of Adz, rather than the more delicate folk of Carrie & Lowell.

Stevens recorded most of The Ascension himself, on his computer, and basing it around a drum machine and synthesizers. Stevens calls it a “lush, editorial pop album,” one that finds us all at a “terrifying crossroad.”

“My objective for this album was simple: Interrogate the world around you,” Stevens adds. “Question anything that doesn’t hold water. Exterminate all bullshit. Be part of the solution or get out of the way. Keep it real. Keep it true. Keep it simple. Keep it moving.”

The Ascension is described as the official follow-up to Carrie & Lowell. Stevens has released plenty of music in the five years since Carrie & Lowell, but he hasn’t released a straight up solo album since then. In 2017 he teamed up with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner (of The National), and James McAlister for the collaborative album, Planetarium, which centered around space and the planets. The same year he also released a mixtape entitled The Greatest Gift, which featured unreleased outtakes, remixes, and iPhone demos from Carrie & Lowell.

Stevens also performed at the 2018 Academy Awards, doing “Mystery of Love,” a song written for the film Call Me By Your Name that was nominated for Best Original Song (but didn’t win). In 2019 he teamed up with the composer/pianist Timo Andres to release the soundtrack to the ballet The Decalogue. The same year he also shared the new songs “Love Yourself” and “With My Whole Heart,” in honor of Pride Month.

Back in March of this year Stevens teamed up with his stepfather Lowell Brams for the new collaborative instrumental album Aporia, via Asthmatic Kitty. Stevens and Brams, who co-founded Asthmatic Kitty together in 1999, had been working on Aporia for several years, when Brams would visit Stevens at his New York home. The album was narrowed down from hours and hours of jam sessions.

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