Last night Texas rapper/singer Kevin Abstract released the video for his new single “Empty,” which depicts a high-school girl stumbling into her football-player boyfriend’s room only to catch him the middle of a sex act with another boy. It’s the second clip from Abstract’s forthcoming album American Boyfriend and Kevin’s directorial debut, with help in its story and concept from producer Michael Uzowuru, whom we last saw in the credits of the Frank Ocean album Nights. (The video for last year’s “Echo” featured the same numb, motorcycle-helmeted boy wandering around deserted subways and merry-go-rounds months, it should be noted, before Ocean’s subtly motocross-themed Boys Don’t Cry zine surfaced.)
I caught Kevin Abstract on the phone on the eve of the “Empty” launch, and he told me that the notably ersatz touches in the set design (like wood paneling on the walls in the bedroom) are meant to evoke Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. To me, the deathly high-school melodrama propelling the story here shows traces of The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola’s woeful flick about a family blighted by its teen daughters’ succession of suicides. “Empty” quite deliberately carries both films’ sense of the darkness lurking in the hills outside of big cities. Kevin, a Corpus Christi native who bounced around the Texas city’s outlying towns growing up, is fascinated by the suburbs. When I ask about the video’s air of things not being what they seem, he suggests that deception is a piece of suburbia’s very core: “It looks very nice and amazing and perfect on the outside, but then when you go into these homes you see that a lot of these families are broken and have problems of their own.”
What’s fascinating about “Empty” as a song, in the shadow of a video that moves from sexual confusion and infidelity to death at lightning speed, is that the song avoids judgment and zeroes in, instead, on the comfort we seek and sometimes lack in dark times. Settling into less than desirable lives sucks, but “Empty” focuses on what drives us to do it rather than how bad of a decision it can turn out to be. It’s a knack Kevin sharpened on 2014’s MTV1987, a collection of ruminations on his fears of tripping through the pitfalls that ensnare the unambitious after high school. So far, the new material looks to expound on the theme with tighter musicianship and a coolly multimedia breadth. But fans who have been waiting a calendar year for a proper American Boyfriend release date aren’t in the clear just yet. Prodded about when we can expect it, Kevin says, “I get to make the rules, so I’m not tripping. I’d like to have it out sooner rather than later.” He should take his time. A change of life could be around the corner.