An air of mystery has always surrounded the music of The xx, the British indie trio known for sparsely arranged electronic songs and their all-black attire. But in his first solo outing, the band’s bassist and vocalist Oliver Sim is opening himself up to the world, revealing he’s been living with HIV since he was 17.
His new single, “Hideous,” states it plain in its closing moments: “Been living with HIV since 17 / Am I hideous?” It’s a moment of radical honesty that shifts the track from synth-laden self-doubt to cathartic confessional, paving the way for a new era in Sim’s life and career.
The 32 year-old queer musician recently took to Instagram to share a note about his HIV status, the conception of the song and his forthcoming solo album, Hideous Bastard, which he says is largely about “fear and shame.”
“Two thirds in, having a good idea of what the record was about, I realized I’d been circling around one of the thing that has probably caused me the most fear and shame,” he explains. “My HIV status. I’ve been living with HIV since I was 17 and it’s played with how I’ve felt towards myself, and how I’ve assumed others have felt towards me, from that age and into my adult life.”
Sim goes on to share that, after playing the song for his “protective and wise” mother, she encouraged him to start conversations with people in his life about being HIV positive. Difficult as it may have been to discuss at first, he says the process allowed him “to feel a lot freer,” strengthening his relationships with those people, as well as his relationship with himself.
View this post on Instagram
It also brought him into the orbit of legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Jimmy Sommerville, best known as part of trailblazing 1980s pop group Bronski Beat and The Communards, and as an outspoken voice in HIV advocacy over the years.
The two struck up a friendship, and Sommerville agreed to lend his unmistakeable falsetto voice to “Hideous,” playing something of a guardian angel who beckons Sim to “follow my voice,” ultimately heralding that he, “Be bright, have trust / Just be willing to be loved.”
The music video for “Hideous” makes the lyrics literal, casting Sim as a garish yet glamorous monster looking for love in a neon-hued retro-futuristic pastiche. According to the musician—who is, in fact, quite gorgeous, we might add—the melodrama is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, sharing with the New York Times that he thinks it’s “hilarious” the track opens with the line “I’m ugly.”
View this post on Instagram
“[Sommerville] reminded me not to take myself too seriously, no good comes from that! ‘Am I Hideous?’ feels far less like a question I’m asking the world now. I know the answer. As scary as it still feels, I’m excited to share this music with you.”
“Hideous” is just a taste of what’s to come in Sim’s forthcoming solo album, Hideous Bastard (due out in September), and its corresponding short film, directed by Yann Gonzalez, which premiered this Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival.