Leave it to Bright Light Bright Light to provide a groovy tune, kitschy visuals and necessary levity during a less-than-carefree summer.
Since his 2012 debut album, “Make Me Believe in Hope,” Bright Light Bright Light (whose real name is Rod Thomas) has established myself as a purveyor of pulsing, electro-pop anthems that lean into glittery nostalgia. His latest single, “I Used to Be Cool,” proves once again that disco can be introspective, too.
The song’s video, directed by Tyler Jensen and viewable above, plays out like a queer, gender-swapped version of Fountains of Wayne’s 2003 hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” with deliberate winks at 1980s movies like “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” In the video, Thomas is hired as a house boy by a hirsute hunk (played by model Christian Bendek), who spends his days lounging around his country estate in a speedo.
After an afternoon of pool cleaning, a horny Thomas gets swept away into a neon-colored alternate reality where he is seduced by his boss. Viewers, however, are left to decide for themselves whether this streamy rendezvous was just a dream by the time the video ends.
“I wanted it to be something you could listen to on Fire Island by the beach and would feel like that ‘Yas!’ kind of moment,” said the Welsh singer-songwriter, who is based in New York. “I’d just moved to Manhattan and it was baking hot. I’d been listening to a lot of old, warm-sounding disco records ― stuff like Blondie, Sister Sledge ― and all of a sudden, I went, ‘Ugh, I used to be cool!’ It made me laugh, so I improvised around that lyric.”
Released Tuesday, “I Used to Be Cool” is the third single from Bright Light Bright Light’s fourth album, “Fun City.” Due out in September, the 12-track collection finds Thomas collaborating with the likes of Sam Sparro and Erasure’s Andy Bell. The album’s first single, “This Was My House,” was both a 1990s house throwback and fan service for Madonna devotees: Donna De Lory and Niki Haris, who sang backup for the Queen of Pop on albums and global tours, lent their voices to the track.
Thomas, 37, enlisted Elton John for two tracks on his 2016 album, “Choreography,” and he spent much of 2019 as the opening act for Cher’s Here We Go Again Tour. On “Fun City,” however, his goal was to provide a platform for less-heralded artists who either identify as LGBTQ or whose work resonates with a queer audience.
“Because my songs are about the LGBTQ community, I really wanted everybody on the record to have some link to that community, to show that representation is important,” Thomas told HuffPost. “All of these people have shaped my musical tastes and given me such joy over the years, so I think having them all together makes it feel like the circus has come to town, that kind of thing.”
Of course, there’s a cruel irony in dropping an album that emphasizes community at a time when fans are required to practice social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak. Once COVID-19 became a global pandemic, Thomas was forced to scrap a tour schedule that would have incorporated several LGBTQ Pride festivals and other queer-inclusive events on both sides of the Atlantic.
Still, he has found creative ways to foster a sense of unity among fans, notably by DJing a weekly dance party, “Romy & Michele’s Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance,” now staged virtually.
If all goes well, Thomas hopes to take his new show on the road next year. And he believes the jubilant vibe of “Fun City” will resonate even deeper than before.
“It’s important to understand that we all share this experience of being ‘the other,’ and there’s no reason for us to be ‘the other’ — other than the fact that somebody decided we are,” he said. “This is our celebration.”