It’s been three months since Taylor Swift released her record-breaking, insomina-inducing album Midnights, which promised to trace “the stories of 13 sleepless nights” throughout her life. But even now, Swift is working hard to make sure the remainder of us don’t get any sleep either. On Thursday, she announced she’d be dropping the long-awaited music video for the album’s opening track “Lavender Haze” at—you guessed it—midnight. The Easter egg-filled video features Swift lost in a “sultry sleepless 70’s [sic] fever dream,” dancing through purple fog and floating in a lavender lake, all because she’s fallen hard for her hot, half-naked music video lover: Laith Ashley, who hasn’t gotten any shuteye either.
“I’m running on almost no sleep,” Ashley tells ELLE.com, just hours after the video is released. “I’ve been on my phone going crazy over the video. I’m still in shock.”
Ashley is a trans model and actor who it’s possible you’ll recognize from his many magazine appearances, the pit crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race, or his guest role on Pose. Ever since Swift teased this music video back in October, fans and advocates have praised the casting, especially at a time when trans rights are being attacked across the country. On Instagram, Ashley wrote, “Thanks @taylorswift for allowing me to play a small part in your story.” He continued, “Thanks for being an ally. Representation matters.”
Below, Ashley shares how he first came upon in regards to the project, the dance move that made it to the ultimate cut, and why, ultimately, he sees this video as a celebration.
Let’s start from the start. How did you first connect with Taylor about this project?
After I heard about this chance, I assumed it was a joke. I assumed someone was attempting to play a prank on me. I used to be like, you’re freaking kidding. She doesn’t know who I’m. Why would she pick me to be in her music video? My manager was like, no, that is real, that is serious. I used to be like, holy crap, okay, cool. I used to be so nervous. I obviously don’t know what to anticipate with something like this. I used to be just telling myself I even have to be ready, my skin needs to be on point.
So that you knew this was for brand spanking new music, but you weren’t given much else.
Initially I assumed that it was about her redoing a few of her old music. In a while, I learned this can be a recent album with recent music. Either way I’d’ve been excited but I used to be like, that is recent stuff, that is going to be amazing. Her storytelling abilities are only incredible. She has this ability to attach with everyone through her music and lyrics, after which when she comes out with these visuals which are so thought out—I do know the Swifties get crazy with all of the little easter eggs and trying to seek out all of the symbolism throughout the visuals, it makes it fun.
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Did you find yourself talking to her before you bought on set? What was the method like?
I didn’t. After I did get on set, I knew that she was tall, so I used to be like, is she going to be towering over me? [laughs] As you saw within the video, I’m just about in bed all the time, and considered one of the primary ADs was like, this might be the best gig you’ve ever had, you get to sleep all day. [laughs] While we were lying in bed waiting for motion to be called, she filled me in on what my role can be. She made me feel included, in addition to everyone else who was a part of the party scene. As you saw within the photo she posted on her Instagram, we were all sitting together, and he or she had the monitor in her hand, and he or she was literally showing us what we looked like. It was amazing. I’ve done other music videos before, and frequently when you’re talent on another person’s music video, they usually have full control of it, they’ll take a look at the monitors. You’re there as a model. You’re solid to be a part of the video, nevertheless it’s their music video, so that you don’t must see the monitor. But she was really kind to take the monitor and produce it around to all of us and allow us to get a sneak peek of what it was going to appear like. She was so sweet.
Did you ever learn the way she considered you for the video?
No, and I desired to ask, but I didn’t wish to overstep any boundaries. I used to be like, you understand what, if she desires to tell me in a while, she’s going to. Interestingly enough, I rewatched her with other love interests in previous videos, and I used to be just so afraid to the touch her. [laughs] Like I do know we’re acting, but I all the time says it’s the trans masculine urge to simply be overly considerate of a lady’s body and her boundaries. So I used to be nervous and awkward and smiling the entire time, because I used to be so nervous.
Well the nervousness doesn’t translate on screen. I do wish to ask more in regards to the party scene, and this one dance move, where you dip her back. I used to be like, wow, the coordination that’s happening here.
[laughs] I actually asked if I could try this. We were dancing with one another and spinning around, and I asked, can I carry you? And he or she said, yeah, in fact, and he or she jumped on me. I asked, can I move you around? She was like, go for it. And I dipped her back after which back up, and we did that a pair times, and he or she was having an amazing time. I used to be like, great that is awesome, I hope it looks great on camera. And so they ended up using that part.
It’s also you because the weatherman, right?
Yeah, yeah. When she told me I used to be going to do this, I used to be excited. I used to be standing in front of this blank screen, they usually told me that they were going to superimpose the map of the USA. They were like, it’s gonna be raining loads. So tell us the way it’s gonna be raining. I’m like, okay, so it’s gonna be raining from California to Recent York! Precipitation in our nation, ladies and gentlemen. Ensure that you simply bring your umbrellas. It’s gonna be raining cats and dogs. I’m just saying all these items and making all these movements and gestures, after which after, they were like, oh we’re not recording sound. [laughs]
What did you’re thinking that while you finally heard the song and the album got here out?
When the album got here out, “Lavender Haze” and “Midnight Rain” were the 2 songs that stood out to me essentially the most, and with what we were doing within the video, I assumed that it was gonna be considered one of those two songs. Either “Lavender Haze,” due to the lavender fog in every single place, or “Midnight Rain,” because I used to be the weatherman talking in regards to the rain. Those were also my favorites—and “Anti-Hero”—from my initial listen.
There was a lot discussion about your role and the trans representation on this video, especially in contrast to the anti-LGBTQ bills we’re seeing across the country. What do you hope people take away from this video?
I all the time say I don’t wish to be put up on any kind of pedestal or be the one individual that’s representing a complete community, since the community is so vast and diverse in and of itself. To say that I represent the entire LGBT community can be unfair to the LGBT community. But so far as visibility for trans people, this is large, and it’s so vital. Even on Instagram, I’ve gotten 1000’s of messages from young trans people and trans people of all ages saying how vital and the way huge it’s that somebody with the platform that Taylor Swift has, especially within the times that we’re in now, used a trans man as her love interest. And he or she had multiple trans people within the party scene. There have been people of all different backgrounds, sexualities, and identities.
So far as laws, if we take a look at what’s happening now, the most recent bill in Oklahoma, for instance, that bans gender-affirming care until the age of 26, there was rhetoric that every one this anti-trans laws was really about protecting the kids. But banning care until they’re 26 years old proves that it was never about children. The horrible things that individuals say about trans people—and these are those who have political power—have real-life, real-world consequences. That’s our lives.
If you happen to just take a look at the rise in violence against the LGBT community, especially trans and non-binary people, it’s increased tremendously within the last two years, for this reason anti-trans rhetoric. It’s January and already 124 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced. This just proves that that is about criminalizing our existence and never wanting us to exist, but we exist despite all this propaganda. We’re just human beings. We would like access to liberties and freedoms, identical to everyone else. And we deserve them. We’re here, and taking away our access to health care, to housing, to employment isn’t going to make us disappear.
Growing up, what would a video like this have meant to you?
I’d have seen myself being successful as myself. Growing up, there weren’t any images of trans people on television or in media, really. If there have been, they were often being mocked or humiliated or made fun of or being solid aside, which might make one feel like, oh, you’re not speculated to be this, that is unsuitable, I want to cover. This is a celebration of diversity, of acceptance, of liberty, and freedom. And we want to see more of that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison is a senior author/editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the web, you possibly can most probably find her taking a nap or eating banana bread.