Taylor Swift surprised fans this week with a steamy new video, but it’s her handsome co-star who has captured the lion’s share of the internet buzz.
True to form, Swift unveiled her video for “Lavender Haze” ― the opening track of her acclaimed “Midnights” album ― exactly at midnight on Friday. Her love interest in the video is played by Laith Ashley, a transgender actor, model and activist.
Written and directed by Swift, the video shows the 11-time Grammy winner in bed beside a shirtless Ashley, who doubles as a TV weatherman. Later, the two are seen canoodling at a party and on a dance floor bathed in purple strobe lights and fog.
In an Instagram post announcing the premiere of “Lavender Haze,” Swift said she “absolutely adored working with” Ashley, who is Dominican American and was raised in New York.
Watch the “Lavender Haze” video below.
“There is lots of lavender. There is lots of haze,” she wrote. “This was the first video I wrote out of the three that have been released, and this one really helped me conceptualize the world and mood of ‘Midnights,’ like a sultry sleepless ’70s fever dream. Hope you like it.”
Ashley, meanwhile, said appearing in Swift’s video was a “truly magical” experience that he “will never forget.”
“Your storytelling abilities through your music and visuals continue to leave me in awe, inspired, and hopeful,” he wrote on Instagram. “Thank you for being an ally. Representation matters. AND LOVE WILL ALWAYS WIN!”
Ashley’s casting ― which is certainly groundbreaking in a music video released by a pop musician of Swift’s stature ― drew praise from fans and LGBTQ advocacy groups alike.
Though “Lavender Haze” will undoubtedly be remembered as a breakout moment for Ashley, his star has been on the rise for some time.
Having been featured in British GQ and Vogue France, the 33-year-old has been heavily focused on acting lately, landing minor roles on TV series like “Pose” and “Strut.” He’ll soon be seen alongside Rumer Willis in the comedy film “My Divorce Party.”
Speaking to The Advocate in 2021, Ashley said he was grateful for the opportunities he’s thus far been given in Hollywood but stressed that “there’s still a lot of work to be done” about transgender representation in show business.
“There’s training that needs to be done around language; there’s training that needs to be done around trans people in general,” he explained. “I’ve read character breakdowns for TV and film that misgenders the individual ... [and] sometimes, not all the time, it does feel like tokenism ... They’re not really trying to understand. They’re just like: ‘Oh, they’re calling for diversity, so if we put a trans person in as this character, we’ll get funded.’”