Sufjan Stevens – “Video Game”

Next month, Sufjan Stevens will return with The Ascension, his first proper album since 2015’s Carrie & Lowell. Stevens has already shared “America,” the massive 12-minute closing song that perversely stands as the album’s first single, as well as the non-album track “My Rajneesh.” Today, Stevens has followed it up with the new song “Video Game,” which might be the most straight-up pop song that Stevens has ever released.

“Video Game” is a warm, glowing synthpop jam with a blippy midtempo beat and a haunted melody. Stevens sings about not wanting to fit into any of the roles that people might have planned out for him: “I don’t wanna be your personal Jesus/ I don’t wanna live in side of that flame.” The song has a frictionless glide to it, and it sounds a lot like the kind of psychedelic dance-pop that was dominating music festivals a decade ago. There’s a real Empire Of The Sun vibe working here.

There’s a “Video Game” music video, and Stevens doesn’t appear in it. Instead, director Nicole Ginelli films the viral teenage dancer Jalaiah Harmon as she moves through a series of colorful CGI landscapes. Harmon, the creator of the “Renegade” dance, also choreographed the video. Check it out below.

In a press release, Stevens said this about “Video Game”:

It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where the value of people is quantified by likes, followers, listeners and views. So many people are seeking attention for the wrong reasons. I think we should all be doing our best work without looking for accolades or seeking reward.

The main takeaway of “Video Game” for me is: your worth (invaluable) should never be based on other people’s approval (ephemeral). Just be yourself. Keep it real. Keep it moving. Do all things with absolute purity, love and joy. And always do your best.

Jalaiah epitomizes all of this and I’m truly inspired by her. So I thought, “What if we could get Jalaiah to star in a ‘dance video’ about not wanting to star in a ‘dance video?'” I’m so honored she agreed. She clearly owns it, and her work here is beautiful, poignant and true.

Her dance shows incredible energy, work-ethic and spirit. She is dancing for herself, not anyone else. Her choreography is sophisticated, nuanced, and fun. She is a star. She keeps it real. She keeps it moving. She keeps it true. What a blessing!

The Ascension is out 9/25 on Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label.