An unusual bit of history trivia inspired electronic pop star Bright Light Bright Light to name his new album Fun City. “It’s from a quote from New York City’s Mayor Lindsay in the Sixties,” says Bright Light Bright Light, calling from his Manhattan apartment. “He took over, and then the city immediately fell to shit. On his first day in office, somebody was like, ‘Are you still glad to be the mayor of New York City?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I still think it’s a fun city!’”
As an immigrant from Wales who has lived in New York City for seven years, the quote struck Bright Light Bright Light as both funny and true, as it echoes his own feelings about “how appropriate it is to try and find whatever joy you can in a very problematic, fractured space.” The current fraught socio-political environment, in America and around the world, is very much on his mind as he releases Fun City (set for a September 18 release).
Running up to the album release, Bright Light Bright Light has released two singles in the spring (“This Was My House” and “Sensation”) and will release another, “I Used to Be Cool,” on June 30. Each of these tracks – as well as Fun City overall – mixes infectious dance music with clever lyrics that celebrate (and advocate for) the LBGTQ+ community. It’s a type of activism that Bright Light Bright Light sees as especially important, given current events.
“This Was My House” was written after Bright Light Bright Light had a conversation with a gay friend whose mother had voted for Trump. “Obviously, he talked to his mom quite a lot about this because it goes against his basic fundamental human rights. He was saying how difficult it is when he goes home now, really trying to make peace with the fact that they voted for somebody, and not meaning any harm with it, but absolutely causing you harm by doing that.” Bright Light Bright Light sighs. “Listening to him talk about it just really broke my heart.”
After meeting with his friend, Bright Light Bright Light wrote “This Was My House” in the time it took him to walk the two blocks back to his apartment. He dictated the lyrics into his phone in a stream of consciousness about “the fact that some people voted for this man fractured the safe spaces that we have. The places where you felt like you could put your guard down and relax. Those don’t operate in that way anymore for a lot of people.”
On the flip side, “Sensation” is about “the feeling of finding your community and finding your family – when you do finally get to connect with the people that are your kindred spirits, and how amazing and euphoric that is, feeling like the people around you understand who you are and they’re not judging you,” Bright Light Bright Light says. “There’s a power in that kind of community.”
Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters guested “Sensation,” which clearly is still thrilling for Bright Light Bright Light. “Jake Shears is obviously a huge voice within the LGBTQ+ world. He blew my world apart when they came out with Scissor Sisters. As a young gay boy in the UK, it made me feel so hopeful. So to have him on that song was super important to me.”
Besides Shears, other collaborators on Fun City include Sam Sparro, Caveboy, and Andy Bell of Erasure, among others. Bright Light Bright Light said it was easy to decide who to invite to help him with the album. “It’s all about people who are interested in being part of the conversation and who have good energy,” he says. “All the people on the record, I would happily go and have dinner and a night out with, because they’re all incredibly amazing people. I’m so proud to be able to say that any one of them is on the record, let alone all of them.”
With his latest single, “I Used to Be Cool,” Bright Light Bright Light takes an even more humorous approach – though it, like the rest of his songs, still has an undercurrent of empathy. “It’s this sort of tongue-in-cheek, laughing at yourself moment of the record,” he says, recalling that he wrote the song when a heat wave forced him to stay in his Manhattan apartment. “I was playing around with the beats and the synths. I talk to myself quite a lot, and I said, ‘Oh my God, I used to be cool.’ And it made me laugh. So I thought maybe that’s a fun line to drop into the song somewhere. I improvised over these beats that I was making, and it all fell together.”
The lyrics for “I Used to Be Cool” were inspired by “the moments when you’re young and you start going out for the first time and you see this person – you swoon over them and you lose your cool,” Bright Light Bright Light says with a laugh. “Being a young gay boy, you don’t even know if they’re gay, too, so you have this absurd fantasy situation where you let your brain run wild. The whole song is my daydream of seeing somebody that I have no information on, imagining your marriage and your house and your life together – and then at the end of it, waking up and being like, ‘Oh…’”
It may seem counterintuitive to have lighthearted lyrics on an album that is intended to get a serious message across, but Bright Light Bright Light says he deliberately uses that approach, because “Humor is a big part of what keeps the queer community afloat. It’s both reaffirming and it’s also like a weapon. If you can laugh at yourself, then other people laughing at you doesn’t really affect you.”
Bright Light Bright Light is also determined to keep an overall upbeat vibe with his music. “I do want to keep optimism as the focal point of the record,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be all turmoil and struggle, because a huge part of the LGBTQ+ community is how it still remains effervescent and celebratory and uplifting even in the midst of the chaos that goes on around it. They make such a point of celebrating who they are, so there’s no way you can bring them down just by criticizing what they are.”
Being an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community has been at the heart of Bright Light Bright Light’s work from the beginning of his career. He began releasing singles in 2006 under his real name, Rod Thomas – but by 2010, he was putting out material under the Bright Light Bright Light moniker (taken from a line from the 1984 film The Gremlins). “I’m really glad that I did that,” he says of taking a stage name. “Weirdly, I could be more myself than if I’d used my first and last name because I felt like that was too intrusive.” As Bright Light Bright Light, he has released several EPs and full-length albums, and toured with the likes of Cher and Erasure.
When it came time to create Fun City, there was no question that Bright Light Bright Light would continue to encourage empathy and empowerment. “I have the opportunity with my album to really make something that might start a conversation between a mother and a child, or a grandmother and a grandchild” he says, “and try and do it in a way which is inclusive and more celebratory.”
Bright Light Bright Light also hopes that Fun City will be inspirational for people across the board. “Even if you’re not LGBTQ+ or a minority, there’s still so much to fight through these days, regardless of your personal situation – especially if you’re an empathetic person who understands what other people are going through. It’s a very draining time,” he says. “So I definitely did want to make sure that album has an uplift, to keep everyone buoyant, while still also having a socio-political message.”
Above all, though, Bright Light Bright Light hopes that people will think that Fun City is, well, fun. “I wanted it to sound equally modern and retro,” he says. “[like] a modern-day version of a really fun dance party that I would have gone to in the ‘90s!”