There’s something very bittersweet about a childhood bedroom and the memories that it unlocks when you find yourself back in there as an adult. You might be exchanging awkward giggles whilst wiggling toes, sharing the bed with your partner. Or breathing in the familiar scent of the wash powder. Or tossing and turning on an airbed in the now office space that your dad had always wanted. Or, with eyes adjusted to the dark, you may lay wide awake amid a sad situation that has pulled you back here.
For many, there is both happiness and sadness in the return to the place that we slept as a childhood.
At consequence of the pandemic, Ben Platt found himself back in his childhood bedroom. Here, the walls are lined with icons of the early noughties and the shelves are stacked with CDs that first tempted the taste of a pop palette, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, and George Michael; those famed for giving us music to release our emotions and move to.
“I was living in this really interesting in-between space,” starts Ben reflecting on 2020. Now speaking from his home in LA, he explains how he very suddenly had found himself in a long-distance relationship and revisiting his award-winning role as Evan Hansen for the anticipated movie adaptation of the musical, Dear Evan Hansen.
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“I was reverting to my teenage self and feeling nostalgia and remembering where I'd come from. This was mixed with the fact that I was in a new relationship, which is kind of my most formative relationship that I've been in in my life.”
Despite this he says, "[being at home] made me feel kind of more evolved and have more perspective.”
“I felt more mature and older than ever. I was torn between two things: the past, and feeling entirely like a different person to that and moving so firmly toward the future. The mix of that is what was so inspiring to me.”
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As a result, his second album 'Reverie' (August 13th) was conceived. It is a collision of the many sides to Ben Platt. Tales of romantic turbulence are told with emotional availability, spotlighted with dramatic production and showered with unapologetic pop sensibilities that feel wonderfully euphoric.
Enthused, Ben says; “'Reverie' refers to sort of a daydream, and when I think of daydreams, it's often subconsciously. They’re often about something that you aren't necessarily processing in your normal life, or that you aren't able to name yet in the kind of literal way. It’s like you are kind of dreaming in a way that's out of your control.”
There’s something enchantedly trance-like to Reverie. The vocal often becomes distorted and the tempo gracefully rises and falls like a beating heart. Slick, silky soundscapes leave amble space for exploration, allowing listeners to dive in and explore Ben’s imagination, his anxieties, and his hopes and dreams.
It is punctuated by a three-part interlude; ‘King Of The World’, that was originally written as a single track but evolved into “bookends” for the record.
“Part One is about examining youth, [part two is] about love and finding a person, and then [the third is] about mortality, and eventually, obviously, death in a way,” explains Ben. “I think it allowed for my theatricality and emotionality of narrative to feel like it was threaded throughout, without having to have it be so fully present in each song.
“I was able to check in with something that’s orchestral and sort of abstract, and then move to more pop structured, lighter places in between.”
‘Childhood Bedroom’ officially starts the record and is a perfectly packaged piece of pop. It’s a carefully managed shot of serotonin, with squeaky clean keys and a crystalline vocal.
Beside it sits ‘Leave My Mind’; a track that came to Ben as he remembered the past broken relationships and heartbreak endured in the room. “There were many things about [that relationship] that weren’t healthy, and a lot of that’s in the song,” Ben explains, summarising it in the line; "you took my weed and two years of my precious time…"
“The theme of the song is like, you've taken everything you can, please don't take my mental well-being as well,” he says, before laughing: “But also he did also really like to take weed from me!”
“I really loved the idea of equating the kind of superficial literal idea of you keep coming over and taking stuff and smoking my weed, and then taking it to that grander scale of like, you've taken up my mental capacity and my emotional space…”
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In contrast, single, ‘Happy To Be Sad’ was written for Ben’s current boyfriend and is a rousing yet fun electro-pop anthem dedicated to lovers pulled apart by distance.
“My favourite songs are always the ones that are born out of some sort of conceptual lightbulb in terms of my being able to express a certain phenomenon or experience or something that I feel is universal in a way that hasn't quite been expressed,” he says.
The first half of the record could easily soundtrack the prom scene that finishes an 80’s come-of-age movie set in an American high school. It is an unexpected but wholly invited hand reaching out with the offer of a dance, that comes with the anticipation of a passionate, head-spinning, ground-shaking love affair.
In ‘King Of The World Part 2’, Ben equates the journey of life to a boat ride and references perhaps the most infamous one of all – Titanic. Exploring this further, he says that when embarking on a new relationship; “We all know we're hurtling towards this crash, and regardless of that, we do it anyway. And we know, we all fall for the same things and go through the same patterns.
“It just felt like a beautiful framing to me.”
The track marks the start of the second half of the record, where he goes out on “a bit more stylistic and emotional limb.”
“It's sort of where things start to permutate…” he says.
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The second half is soulful and eloquently controlled. ‘Dark Times’ is the album’s most intimate ballad and sounds the most familiar to the songs we became acquainted with in his 2019 debut, 'Sing To Me' Instead. Piano-led, it tells the story of a teen nervous about loving the person that they do; ‘I’ll see you in the mirror when you’re older,’ soothes Ben whilst recounting his first heartbreak with candid poignancy.
As an interviewee, Ben is thoughtful but assured, he is humble but gracious. We talk about how beautiful and moving it was that ‘Imagine’; a song that illuminates the magic that can be put in your life simply by having a certain person by your side, encouraged listeners to share videos of those closest to them with the chorus as a soundtrack.
“[the record ends] in this obvious statement of mortality in the final ‘King Of The World Part Three’, which is hopefully just to say that we know that this is all temporary. We're all headed to the same place, so let’s do what we can to make it as beautiful and as meaningful as we can while we're here,” Ben explains proudly.
Perhaps it is fair to say that Ben is more widely known for his work as an actor for stage (Dear Evan Hansen, The Book Of Mormon), TV (The Politician) and screen (Pitch Perfect, and soon Dear Evan Hansen), winning an impressive amount of accolades for his work.
Having spent so many years embodying Evan Hansen; an anxious high schooler carrying a heavy secret, Ben admits that he felt “…so much of the success I was experiencing, and validation I was receiving was because of that character. As beautiful as that was and as grateful as I am for that experience, and as many doors as that opened, I did kind of lose touch a little bit with myself during that time.”
He continues, “I was so focused on Evan’s emotional life and fully realising his story and his feelings that I didn't really have time to invest in my own.”
However, releasing his own music has “ended up being an incredibly cathartic and really beautiful way to transition out of that.” – How lucky we are that he invited us in for the ride.
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'Reverie' will be released on August 13th.
Words: Tanyel Gamushan
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