Since he first started performing as Perfume Genius in 2008, Mike Hadreas has paired his songs with stunning music videos.
With his new album No Shape, out this month on Matador, we spoke with Hadreas about his most iconic videos and how his relationship with them has changed over time.
“When we were first making music videos, I felt very self-conscious,” says Hadreas. “I was anxious and I didn’t know what was going on and wasn’t sure how things were going to translate. So, you just see me sort of blankly staring into the camera, which I think added a certain vulnerability to the video.”
While writing the song, Hadreas had visions of “pulsating, faceless dancers surrounding me.” That fantasy became the core of the video, directed by Charlotte Rutherford (who also shot the video for 2014’s “Fool”).
“’Grid’ was the first video where I felt like I was letting loose a bit,” confesses Hadreas. “I still felt super-awkward, but I think that awkwardness ended up working well.”
Hadreas’ confidence grew with his ability to separate himself from his risk-taking stage persona, a separation exemplified in the video for “Queen.”
“When you start to feel self-conscious, you try to develop a new way of being and feeling that will keep you safe,” he says of the powerful anthem. “This weird second parallel personality can be something fun and defiant and I think gay people have developed some really magical ways to cope with the world that aren’t just genuine, but pretty badass.”
“Queen” exemplifies this defiance with eye-catching imagery from Hadreas and queer director Cody Critcheloe, like Hadreas as a street hustler, trashing an office, riding an elevator with a herd of piglets and cruising an Elvis impersonator in the bathroom. “I really wanted it to just be me stomping around in an office boardroom for four minutes,” says Hadreas, “but Cody had his own ideas—including the pigs.”
“Slip Away” (2017)
The videos for No Shape represent Hadreas’ growth, still employing grandiose imagery but with a tighter narrative. “I wanted to build a certain kind of world for this album, and what I landed on was this idea of looking at a beautiful, mysterious landscape and finding it all to be an illusion,” he explains. “So the video for ’Slip Away’ embodies that, with this enchanted forest that turns out to just be a stage set.”
He also wanted to honor a deep friendship between a man and a woman that was as epic as a romance, but not in any way sexual. “That dynamic gets made fun of a lot, but those types of relationships were very powerful for me growing up.”
“Die 4 You” (2017)
While the “Slip Away” video embraces No Shape’s euphoric threads, “Die 4 You” personifies its more somber overtones.
“I wanted to do a chair dance in the spirit of Janet Jackson,” says Hadreas. “I wanted to make excruciatingly slow movements and be dancing not for a man or for a woman, but for this amorphous blob that we ended up calling ’Fleshy.'”
The video was shot by Floria Sigismondi, who’s also directed videos for Björk, Rihanna and Leonard Cohen—as well as episodes of The Handmaids Tale and American Gods.
Speaking of gods, Hadreas says setting “Die 4 You” in a cathedral wasn’t incidental: “I’m always trying to conjure up some power that’s just for me and queer people that’s as old and ancient as any of the stuff religious people are worshiping.”