Still from "Temptation"

singer-songwriter raveena is normalizing queer, brown love

The video for her new track “Temptation” embraces the nuances of desire outside of the Western, heteronormative gaze.

by Braudie Blais-Billie
24 October 2018, 2:49pm

Still from "Temptation"

New York-based singer-songwriter Raveena makes honeyed R&B straight from the heart. Born to immigrant parents, the Indian-American musician creates a warm, inviting space with her silky vocals and intimate, perceptive songwriting. From 2017’s debut EP Shanti to this year’s love-drunk “Honey,” her soft neo-soul and gorgeous visuals represent the rich interiority of women of color like herself.

Raveena’s latest release “Temptation” invites you into a world of its own: an orange-hued daydream saturated with sensuality, queerness, and fantasy. The accompanying music video — which she co-directed with filmmaker Jackson Tisi — brings this vision to life. “I wanted the ‘Temptation’ video to have this storybook feel,” Raveena tells i-D. “Like this magic, surrealist thing that a kid might open up and read, but they’re actually reading this beautiful story about two queer women.” Her new single subverts the typical fairytale formula to affectionately render the nuances of desire outside of the Western, heteronormative gaze. Kenyan model Giannina Oteto stars alongside Raveena as “Miss Temptation,” the ethereal muse who inspires the singer to leave her bedroom and dive into the lush jungle of possibilities.

This sweet, carefree portrayal of queer love is a refreshing respite from toxic messaging, which ranges from fetishization to the “Bury Your Gays” trope that prevents LGBTQ+ characters from finding happy endings. It’s also a much needed representation of queerness that is non-white. Below, Raveena spoke with i-D about the making of “Temptation,” coming to terms with her own sexuality, and the importance of normalizing sexual fluidity in her own communities.

The “Temptation” video is so lush, dreamy, and rich in color. What were some of the inspirations behind the visuals?
I had this dream come into my head of this story probably earlier on in the summer. I just felt that greens and oranges were gonna become more of a thing this fall. And obviously, green and orange relates to India because it's the colors of the flag. The whole inspiration from it, styling wise especially, was 60s and 70s Bollywood film. Our whole mood board was filled with old Indian Bollywood actresses. I was really into that dramatic cat eye, the hair with the flower, and the kind of over-the-top outfits they wore.

How did this track come about?
I've just been coming into my own sexuality and sense of fluidity more and really opening up that part of myself. I think the song was almost a tool for me to like realize that those feelings were valid and true and that this is actually something I'm feeling and want to explore more. Especially being Indian and coming from a culture that's super conservative and doesn't really validate the feelings of people who are LGBTQ, I think it was really hard for me to put that into words and say it out loud publicly. I think this song was a step into doing that.

Why was it important for you to explore your queerness in your music as an Indian-American artist?
Like I said, that personal aspect was so important. It was kind of me validating those feelings in myself. But as I got more into the video concept as well, I felt like it was really important for me as a brown woman to make a video that embraces queerness in a very positive, organic, beautiful way. I feel like there's not enough of that in the media and I want young brown people to feel totally open and free to be themselves and not have to worry about what their family back home or here in [America] thinks. I know a lot of people who keep letting it cook inside of them because they're really afraid of what people would say. I was really afraid of what people would say, too. I was afraid of what my family would say. I was afraid of biphobia, too. But I think the more people who are just open about it and are free and fluid and embrace those parts of themselves in a public space, the more power to them.

How have things like biphobia or bi-erasure affected you as someone trying to figure out their own sexuality?
It's hard because I've experienced both straight and queer relationships. But I had trouble in myself completely acknowledging and admitting this other queer side to me. I felt like maybe I wasn't queer or bi enough because I wasn't in a relationship with a woman all the time, you know? Like those feelings weren't real. But they completely are. You have the freedom and right to love or have experiences with whoever you want. Even if you haven't explored [queer relationships] yet, your sexuality is real. It shouldn't be a thing in your life you feel stressed out or strained about because it's literally just expressing love for people.

What do you want people to take away from this video?
The thing I love about "Temptation" is that I feel like you get wrapped up in the song and the visuals first, and then you realize what's happening in the story later on. I want that queer part of the story to be so normalized. Like, yeah, this is just natural and beautiful and what should happen — there shouldn't be any second thought about it.