For about two months while quarantining together in Los Angeles, Cody Simpson and Miley Cyrus were watching RuPaul’s Drag Race every week.
“Basically because Miley’s such a huge fan of it, and it got me into it,” Simpson explains to BAZAAR.com. The 23-year-old singer appreciated the art form, but he was a newbie to the hit reality series. “I liked the culture. I liked the way it’s been incorporated also into music and art, and specifically into rock music. I hadn’t really seen a full episode of RuPaul, so I got into watching it every Friday.”
Then one night, he decided to try a bit of drag himself. “Miley was organizing her makeup in the bathroom, and I come in, and I’m looking at the lipsticks and things. And I asked her to make me up. I thought it’d be fun,” he recalls. “It kind of turned into her fully doing me up, and I really enjoyed it. I really liked the experience, and that’s when we first started talking about, ‘Let’s do this, let’s incorporate this into an actual visual, into a music video.’”
And that they did. The couple collaborated on the video for Simpson’s new song, “Captain’s Dance with the Devil,” in which the singer cycles through a number of campy, avant-garde ensembles, from a sailor’s costume to a pair of leather pants (and nothing else) to fishnet tights, a red lip, and an assortment of jewels.
Cyrus, who occupied the director’s chair, wrote the treatment for the visuals. Their mood board included Jean Paul Gaultier ads and makeup inspiration from Kate Moss. The aim, Simpson says, was to include “hypermasculine and hyperfeminine looks in the same video worn by the same person, which is very interesting—something that not a lot of people do often.” He adds, “We wanted to explore all ends of the spectrum fashion-wise and sexually too.”
Given social distancing measures and lockdowns, the duo had to make do filming in the house and using clothes from their own closets. “We just had a ball combining wardrobes, combining props,” Simpson says. “And we really had to force ourselves to look into our immediate surroundings and environment to use things that we owned and had in our house and in our closets, and try and make something as interesting as we could.” And they pulled it off: Simpson flaunts Chanel jewelry, an Yves Saint Laurent coat, a Vivienne Westwood dress, a Gucci bag, and Comme des Garçons outerwear throughout the video.
Working together as both a couple and fellow artists was a seamless collaboration for the pair, who first went public with their romance last year. “[Working] with someone that I’m very close with gave us both the freedom to explore and improvise without feeling judged,” Simpson says. “I gave her complete freedom in directing it, and she gave me complete freedom in characterizing and developing the multiple kind of personalities that I play in the video. It was great.”
This marks the duo’s first major artistic undertaking together, partially due to shelter-in-place guidelines and spending so much time indoors together. “It was just the perfect time to produce something like this, because typically we’d otherwise be quite busy with our own work. So it wouldn’t typically allow the time for us to have multiple months together to just hang out and create something.” Simpson says. “And I think that one morning we woke up and both had become so bored with doing absolutely nothing together and watching seasons of TV shows, and we were like, ‘We got to get off our asses here and make something cool.’ That was kind of where the birth of the video occurred.”
For the track itself, Simpson was inspired by his recent poetry book, Prince Neptune, to create a narrative about a sailor longing for freedom. (The final lyrics are, “Death is the only freedom for a man.”) The meaning is open to many interpretations. Simpson took it as a metaphor for a teenager coping with drug addiction. Cyrus read it as, “This captain’s struggle with conventional masculinity,” hence the duality of hyperfeminine and -masculine aesthetics in the video.
There are real-life connotations for the song for Simpson as well. When he wrote it, the same week he wrapped up the book, he was in the mindset of “freedom and liberation,” he recalls. “I just stopped working with some people that were kind of pushing me down in a much more conventional, commercial path. Which in some senses may have been good for me in a commercial sense, but I would have been sacrificing much of what I stand for artistically or have grown to stand for artistically. But in doing that … and I see that happen all too often, and sure it’s great, ’cause people make a lot of money, but at the same time, what are you giving up for that?”
For Simpson, who started out his career as a teen pop singer—think an Australian Justin Bieber—that liberation is a welcome change.