It’s easy to get swept away by the valentine imagery of the music video for “Ease My Mind,” the second single from Ben Platt’s new album, “Sing to Me Instead.”
The dreamy, black-and-white clip finds Platt enjoying an intimate dinner and cuddling in bed with a boyfriend (played by actor Charlie Carver) before the men part ways under cryptic circumstances. Sonically, “Ease My Mind” is lush, bluesy and piano-driven, but a straightforward love ballad it is not: The song’s lyrics also recount Platt’s experiences living with anxiety and his quest to find comfort in a romantic partner’s embrace.
The other 11 songs on “Sing to Me Instead” also explore conflicts between the heart and the mind. Many trace the highs and lows of Platt’s love life, from the playful infatuation of “Share Your Address” to a plea for commitment on “Grow As We Go” to an impending breakup on “Hurt Me Once.” Others, like “In Case You Don’t Live Forever” and “Run Away,” are melancholy musings on mortality and family. The 25-year-old has a soulful voice and proves to be a consummate storyteller throughout, laying his emotions bare with refreshing candor.
With years of stage experience and two films in the “Pitch Perfect” franchise to his credit, Platt knows a thing or two about a textured narrative. He told HuffPost he views “Sing to Me Instead” as a natural extension of the talents he honed as the misfit teen protagonist of Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” the breakout role that earned him an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony.
“I had experiences playing Evan Hansen that emotionally and mentally took me to places I hadn’t been as a human being,” said Platt, who wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the debut solo effort. “I felt like I’d accrued enough experience that I had something that I wanted to say. I really wanted to be my own creative team in some way.”
“Sing to Me Instead,” which came out last week, is Platt’s most personal project to date and the first to fully break from his theatrical roots. It also marks a significant bid to establish him as a pop singer-songwriter in the vein of Adele or Sam Smith.
When Platt first signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 2017, his songwriting experience consisted of one-off rewrites of show tunes and radio hits for family weddings and bar mitzvahs. Although most Broadway crossover acts favor show tunes in their repertoire, he wasn’t interested in following that traditional route.
“If I was going to make music, it had to be something that felt scary in a different way,” he said. “The only thing that really fit the bill was to make something completely original.”
Collaborating with hitmakers like Ben Abraham and Jennifer Decilveo in London and Los Angeles, Platt began crafting songs he hoped would grant audiences a tiny peek into his psyche. There was no question “Sing to Me Instead” would also reflect his life as a gay man; many of the album’s lyrics feature male pronouns or are otherwise addressed to the men he has loved.
After the “Ease My Mind” video was released in February, a number of outlets were quick to deem “Sing to Me Instead” a “coming out” project. But Platt — who came out to his friends and family at age 12, and whose television credits include playing a love interest for Eric McCormack’s Will Truman on NBC’s “Will & Grace” revival — is weary of that classification.
“It was never something I was actively keeping to myself,” he said of his decision to not make a public statement about his sexuality. “I was always promoting work that was dependent upon me disappearing into a character. If I wanted to speak out for anything and in support of the community, I always felt like I could do so.”
Platt is mindful of the fact that mainstream pop has a diversity problem, and his LGBTQ fans have already expressed their enthusiasm for “Sing to Me Instead.” Ultimately, he’d like listeners to be willing to interpret the queer-inclusive aspects of his music as one element in a broader, more “universal” message of the album as a whole.
“Seeing what that representation means, especially to queer youth, is the most beautiful, unexpected gift in all of this,” he said. “Hopefully we’re moving in the direction where we’re in the same boat and nobody’s given pressure to make announcements or proclamations about who they are, and we can just observe people’s stories for what they are.”
Looking ahead, Platt plans to strike a balance between his acting and musical pursuits. In May, he’ll kick off a 12-date concert tour, with performances lined up in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. His latest film, “Run This Town,” premiered at South By Southwest last month. And he returns to television this fall for his first leading role in Netflix’s “The Politician.”
“I like to say it’s ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Election’ meets ‘Dangerous Liaisons,’” Platt said of the Ryan Murphy-produced series, which also stars Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow. “It’s a black comedy kind of political satire that tries to examine authenticity versus feigned authenticity, and very singular and twisted in a way that only Ryan can do.”
“Sing to Me Instead” is a sterling effort, but it remains to be seen whether it will successfully extend Platt’s musical success into the non-theatrical realm. For now, anyway, he’s less concerned with figures as he is with offering “good, benevolent messages” and “allowing people to open up to themselves and the people in their lives,” pointing to the many YouTube covers of his material that have already emerged.
“I try to just collect all of those moments in my pockets,” he said, “and let that be what is leading me forward.”