Vivek Shraya is still in love with music: “How liberating it is to be an artist in my 40s”

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      The long-form music video for “He Loves Me Until He Hates Me,” off Vivek Shraya’s Mint Records debut, Baby, You’re Projecting, is both a love letter and an act of resistance. 

      Shot on film, the clip moves through different chapters as it follows the story of the make up and break up of a toxic relationship, key moments soundtracked to other songs from Shraya’s record. It’s visually captivating—warm and dreamy in director Gabriela Osio Vanden’s cinematography, and filled to the brim with pop culture references to such ‘90s touchstones as The Bodyguard, Sex and the City, and Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine.” And it goes deeper: like a line-dancing sequence featuring all women of colour, that, for Alberta-born Shraya, reclaims the choreography from its typical white male associations. Altogether, it’s a profound tribute to the art form of music video. 

      If it was 1999, “He Loves Me Until He Hates Me” would be No. 1 on MuchMusic’s Countdown

      “As a ‘90s kid, I remember music videos just feeling immense,” the multidisciplinary artist tells the Straight, speaking on the line from Toronto. “You would stay up and you would watch every video that came out and you would talk about it with your friends—and especially narrative videos.” 

      Shraya recalls how impactful it was to watch a video like TLC’s “Waterfalls,” which visualized the song’s lyrical commentary on the AIDS epidemic. 

      “He Loves Me Until He Hates Me” also includes an important parallel to Madonna, who remains a consistent source of inspiration for Shraya. In the video, Shraya meets her love interest, a controlling creative director (Jason Purcell) who is a “literal embodiment of the male gaze,” at a photoshoot. It’s a subconscious reference to Madge, whose music videos feature a common theme of a director or photographer watching or taking photos of her. 

      “I wasn't really thinking about her work, specifically,” Shraya adds, “but it was interesting seeing how often that popped up in her work and being like, ‘Oh, yeah—there it is in my video.’”  

      Now in her early 40s, Shraya feels like much of the pressure she felt to conform to as a musician—“to try and assimilate or even try to write a catchy song”—has diminished. She had an itch to make something long-form, so she did, in spite of the mounting pressure for artists to produce TikTok-friendly content. 

      “This—creating a 12-minute music video, where most people probably only watch the first 30 seconds—feels a little wild,” Shraya says with a laugh. “But I think sometimes you have to make art that you're inspired to make.” 

      Misogyny, as well as gender, race, and racism, are themes that Shraya explores across her prolific body work, which transcends the boundaries of music, literature, theatre, and film. On Baby, You’re Projecting, in a glittering musical landscape that moves with compelling pop melodies and swells like your favourite power ballad, specifics are zeroed in on in a way that Shraya’s never done before: through a break up album. 

      “In a lot of ways, the album is very much a post-Me Too album,” Shraya explains. A song like “Good Luck (You’re Fucked)” addresses male fragilty, this rhetoric where men complain about not being able to compliment a woman without being named a predator. Then, on “He Loves Me Until He Hates Me,” Shraya articulates the ways in which a man’s adoration doesn’t actually feel good—like when everyone on the outside tells you how lucky you are to be with this person, while the interior of the relationship is rotting to its core.  

      “It's also, in a lot of ways, a very queer album,” Shraya adds, recalling that when recording her debut, 2002’s Samsara: The Sketches, a producer asked if she was sure she wanted to use a male pronoun in a song. It feels really great, Shraya continues, to be able to have a song on Baby, You’re Projecting called “He Doesn’t Listen to Me.” 

      It also feels great to celebrate her relationship with music. Back in 2020, Shraya launched her debut play, How to Fail as a Pop Star (which CBC Gem is now adapting into a comedy series). The theatrical work follows her journey trying to make it as a pop artist in Canada, while not quite succeeding. 

      “There's a lot of heartbreak for me in that play, and also in that story and in that desire,” Shraya says. “And we don't allow ourselves a lot of room for disappointment in our culture, which is the reason why I made that play, because I think so much of our culture is about resilience and you pick yourself up... as opposed to being like, ‘No, actually, this is the thing I wanted and it didn't work out.’” 

      She adds: “Something I've been circling around in this conversation is actually how liberating it is to be an artist in my 40s, how freeing it is. And I think the number one thing that I learned was that, you know, after sort of publicly mourning this dream that I actually still really love… It’s like, that particular dream might not be realized, but my relationship with music will continue. And it was very hard to make the album, emotionally, because of the things that I was going through at the time, and the things that I was tackling. But I’m so proud of the album. It really feels like a new chapter for me…

      "I still love music. We're still together.” 

      For Shraya, the way she measures her real success as an artist is not by stream counts, best-of lists, or awards—though she certainly has many of those accolades. It’s whether or not the work has realized its intention. And, in that sense, Baby, You’re Projecting feels like some of the most successful songs she’s ever written. 

      “I know that every artist is very passionate about their latest work,” Shraya says. “But I think, for me, it's especially exciting, because I really felt the loss of this dream. And again, just because one dream has died, doesn't mean that my love for music and my relationship with music has to die as well.” 

      Shraya laughs. “Just getting started.” 

      Vivek Shraya premieres her longform video for “He Loves Me Until He Hates Me” and performs at the Fox Cabaret on Wednesday, May 17. Baby, You’re Projecting is out now.