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  • Vasili Papathanasopoulos



Known for his projects across music, film, dance and performance, Keiynan Lonsdale is no stranger to sharing his multi-facted art with the world. For our inaugural digital cover, we sat down with Lonsdale to unpack his latest body of work, The Heart Defence Mixtape.

Photographs by Vasili Papathanasopoulos.

Styling by Victoria Knowles.

Pants, Romance Was Born. Tank, Dion Lee. Boots, Emporio Armani. Jewels, Bulgari.

Five days following the photoshoot for MILKY’s inaugural digital cover with musician, actor, dancer and model Keiynan Lonsdale, we reconvene over zoom. Since we last met, not even a week earlier, we’ve both celebrated birthdays and the Christmas season has passed. “Do we have a similar birthday?” he asks me, before learning we share the same birth date. Sagittarius’ are known for their strong work ethic, and we both admit to using the holiday season as a chance to catch up on work. “It’s the kind of chill time where, you're probably similar, but you're like, ‘oh, now I can finally do that work thing. I can finally take care of this thing that's gonna be good for my work because I have a break.” I myself spent Christmas morning catching up on some editing, and in less than 24 hours Lonsdale will travel to NSW’s Glenworth Valley to host a transformative dance session at the four-day festival.

Lonsdale is a multi-faceted creative force. Traversing music, film, dance and fashion, the artist first captivated audiences as Oliver Lloyd on ABC1’s television drama, Dance Academy. Following the shows third season, Lonsdale tried his luck in Hollywood where he landed roles in The Divergent Series and Love, Simon, and appeared across DC’s ‘Arrowverse’ as Wally West in programs including The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. It was in 2014 however that Lonsdale introduced the world to his musical output. A string of standalone singles led to his 2020 debut album, Rainbow Boy. Featuring the singles Rainbow Dragon and Gay Street Fighter, the body of work earned him a GLAAD Award nomination for ‘Breakthrough Artist.’ “They're all different parts of me,” he muses, “and I'm just very, very fortunate to be able to dance in all these different artistic spaces. I used to find them to be a little bit competing with one another. And now I realise that it's all one and that they feed into each other because it's just creativity and it's play.”

Tank, Michael Lo Sordo. Trousers, Michael Lo Sordo. Scaff, Stylists Own. Shoes, Jimmy Choo. Jewels, Bulgari.

It’s interesting how he notes each creative avenue merges into one, how the power of presence and performance flows from one to the other. He speaks of how walking in a runway show is a collaboration with other artists, which can feed into how he approaches styling and presence in visuals and on stage. From there the dancing enters and informs his physicality and how he takes up space. That then flows into his performances as an actor, and how he may hold his body for different characters and scenes. There’s almost a dichotomy to the process, one that sounds mechanical and fluid at the same time. The way each direction of his creativity revolves around the core idea of space and time and how we exist within it, not in a theoretical way but in a physical sense. It’s the combination of all these things that keeps his creativity flowing. “The ideal day for me if I'm not like completely fixated on one thing, it's being able to just jump around. Like sing and then start dancing and then create a character and then like play with clothes and looks and just really bring the whole vision to life in all these different ways. It is my favourite thing to do.”

“I definitely used to feel more pressure. I think around the first album I felt a lot more pressure, but as I've gotten older, I realised that pressure doesn't really, it doesn't help. It sort of blocks me from being able to work.”

A body of work that celebrated Lonsdale’s queer identity, Rainbow Boy saw the musician undertake a vast sonic exploration as he weaved genres together to create a dynamic collection of songs. As he documented and presented his experiences as a Black queer man, there was a bubbling pressure to be a pillar of representation. “I definitely used to feel more pressure. I think around the first album I felt a lot more pressure, but as I've gotten older, I realised that pressure doesn't really, it doesn't help. It sort of blocks me from being able to work.” Growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s, queer representation had yet to enter the mainstream. Whilst artists like Elton John and Freddie Mercury paved the way for pop music in earlier decades, R&B and hip-hop music lacked that representation - and in some respects still does. “I feel like we were still missing a lot of songs, especially in the mainstream [of RNB], that really exposed a lot more of our depth and vulnerabilities… if they're only going so far and they're not exposing enough of our stories, then we're sort of missing out.”

Jacket, Emporio Armani. Pants, Emporio Armani. Shoes, Jimmy Choo. Jewels, Bulgari.

“I mainly think about it in the ways of like what I would've wanted and what I still want. Like, I still want to hear these songs, you know?”

When working on his latest offering, The Heart Defence Mixtape, Lonsdale pushed aside any expectations in order to create a sincere body of work that bridged the gap. I ask him does the thought of being a pillar within the community exist in his mind whilst working on music over the last year? He responds thoughtfully, “I mainly think about it in the ways of like what I would've wanted and what I still want. Like, I still want to hear these songs, you know?” Across the mixtape, he embarks on a journey through love and all its frustrations and heartbreak. Through baring his own personal stories and musings on the topic, as well as lust and hurt, there’s an organic representation of the human experience laced with an unwavering sense of continued growth that embeds itself within. “I think I've just lived more life since Rainbow Boy and it's allowed me to ground into some different messaging in particular around love and relationships,” he says before getting candid about the dynamics of same-sex relationships. “I think I felt from same-sex relationships and dynamics that we were not really holding a lot of space for all the depth that we carry, and a lot of avoided behaviour and just mistreating of one another's hearts and that sort of being glorified and seemingly glamorous and seemingly fun and the right thing to do. I definitely fell into that space as well. I think we're all aware of our history as same sex lovers and we understand where a lot of our traits and traumas come from, and we're still learning and growing.”

Contemporary music has opened up more space for queer representation, with artists such as Troye Sivan, Lil Nas X, MUNA and King Princess to name a few joining Lonsdale as modern trailblazers. His commitment to showcasing the depth and vulnerabilities present within same-sex relationships is evident through touching and considered lyricism that not only touches on romance and seduction, but also an analytical view on his own treatment and how he treats others. “There's times where I'm really not displaying the best of what I can be as a guy and as a lover, and so that's in the music. There's times where I'm accepting lesser treatment as well, when I sometimes go through low self-worth. So you hear that in the music and then you hear sort of the fight against that and the desperate sort of yearning to be better, to have something safer, to have something more.” I ask him if baring such personal thoughts with the world is ever an intimidating thought. His response plays into the idea of music as therapy. Writing music is his way of working through and processing emotions, and releasing it serves as a way of letting things go and shedding the past. He then says with a coy smile, “Even if they reveal immense and personal truths, they’re still songs. They're still cryptic at the end of the day. You don't know if I'm writing about my perspective or another person's perspective, you don't know which exact parts are completely pulled from my reality.”

Blazer, Romance Was Born x Paul Yore Blazer. Shorts, Song For The Mute. Boots, Emporio Armani. Jewels, Bulgari.

"It actually unlocked a new space for me that I didn't know that I'd ever be able to have. And so that then shifted the way that I saw myself as an artist and as a vocalist."

Heartbreak can often lead to a transformative period. Some people get a new wardrobe, some a haircut. Some find a new career path and others find a new sense of self-worth. For Lonsdale, he found a new voice. Not only in what he had to say and share with the world, but also in the tone and light and shade of his vocals. “I’ve been probably more broken hearted than I expected in ways and that's changed the way that I sing even as well… quite literally it's changed. I was kind of like silent for like four days and just like crying and not eating. And then I remember I got this urge to start writing and putting my feelings into a song and there was a pain in my voice. It actually unlocked a new space for me that I didn't know that I'd ever be able to have. And so that then shifted the way that I saw myself as an artist and as a vocalist.” The Heart Defence Mixtape delivers some of Lonsdale’s most engaging and dynamic vocal performances. From crooning melodies and rap-leaning flows, to experimental free styling in the recording studio, there’s no doubt the musicians latest offering is a documentation of his transformation in more ways than one. 

Furthermore, the way he created changed. “On Rainbow Boy, I worked predominantly with one producer, Louis Futon. Whereas for the mixtape, a lot of the times I wasn't in the room with the producers. I was writing from home. So it would be like sometimes 2:00 AM that I would jump into my like, studio room and just start riffing ideas. And some of them were to already preexisting tracks that producers had sent me in hopes that, you know, I would create something to, and that was really awesome. I mean, I've done that for a lot, a lot of years. But I guess the main change in the creative process for me was that I freestyled more on the mic. Normally I record my ideas into my phone into voice memos and then I write lyrics from there. But a few of the songs on the mixtape, I actually just sort of, sometimes I went line by line as I was recording into the mic straight away, getting the melody and the lyrics at the exact same time, and that was really different for me and fun.”

Suit, Emporio Armani. Shoes, Jimmy Choo. Jewels, Bulgari.

One of the most striking elements of The Heart Defence Mixtape is its rich sonic palette. Moving away from the more diverse sonic realm of Rainbow Boy, the mixtape finds its home within a more contemporary RNB setting that weaves in threads of 90’s nostalgia. “Michael and Janet Jackson were always like the first main musical influences. Usher was a really, really big one, and [made] me being excited to become a singer one day. I listened to a lot of Boyz II Men growing up and a lot of Destiny's Child [laughs].” All those influences compliment the world Lonsdale is building, one that brings feverish energy, and also more sensual and relaxed moments. Scintillating rhythms and melodic patterns unfurl throughout, oozing with charisma and bouncing production. Each song presents itself as a carefully crafted piece of art, perfectly crafted to wrap around Lonsdale’s captivating and commanding vocal performance.There’s songs to dance to, songs to cry to, songs to reminisce to, and songs to feel empowered to. You could say the myriad of emotions experienced throughout the human existence was on Lonsdale’s mind whilst creating the mixtape. “I actually also started thinking about, you know, if I go on stage and I am angry, what am I gonna be happy still to sing? If I go on stage and I'm sad, what am I still gonna wanna sing? If I go on stage happy, what do I wanna sing?” The answers to those questions led him towards RNB. It allowed him the space to decide in the moment which side of the energetic spectrum he wanted to reside in. What would offer him euphoric joy when he needed it. What would offer him comfort. It comes back to those formative influences and how they’re embedded within his own artistry. Like the sass of Destiny's Child and the soul of Usher. “Then I had artists like Musiq Soulchild. I think I really related to him because aside from him just being really smooth and beautiful to listen to, he had a lower register. So I could sing his songs [laughs].” However beyond those influences, Lonsdale retains his individuality and cements his own place as a formidable force.

"I’m conscious and I'm aware that there's an audience there of people that are receiving the music"

Whilst the pressure to be a pillar of representation has eased, the importance and connection his music creates is not lost on him. Lonsdale remarks, “I’m conscious and I'm aware that there's an audience there of people that are receiving the music and appreciating and I guess I forget sometimes, like when I can put music and lyrics to the feelings and the experiences that were once confusing, I suddenly feel more clear. I feel like I'm out of the storm. And I guess because I live with the songs for so long, I forget that can be an experience that I'm providing for the listener. So it's nice when I remember that or when they remind me. It's a really nice reminder because I remember that it's sort of about coming out of this confusing hazy storm of emotions and sort of continuing on the path with more clarity. So it's very special, and at the same time it's sort of just what I'm going through.”

Pants, Romance Was born. Tank, Dion Lee. Boots, Emporio Armani. Jewels, Bulgari.


Photographer: Vasili Papathanasopoulos

Creative: Katerina Papathanasopoulos

Stylist: Victoria Knowles

Makeup Artist: Kristen Zinghini

Videographer: Laurence Morassut and Katerina Papathanasopoulos

The Heart Defence Mixtape is out now!


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