Devonté Hynes on Making Music With Mariah Carey & BBC Series

For W’s annual The Originals portfolio, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, music, food, dance, fashion, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. See this year’s full class of creatives here.

You’ve released albums under the alias Blood Orange, produced songs for the likes of Solange Knowles and Kylie Minogue, and composed a score for Luca Guadagnino. While you’ve covered Philip Glass before, two recent projects—performing with the London Symphony Orchestra at the hallowed Barbican Centre and hosting “Composed With Devonté Hynes,” a classical music series on BBC Radio 3—hint at different dimensions to your artistry.

Classical is so ingrained in me, but it’s not about me finally putting it front and center. It’s more that I’ve finally been given opportunities to do so. You know, you can’t do a BBC show unless the BBC asks you to. The London Symphony won’t play your music unless they ask you. Just the fact that I was allowed to do either of those projects—I was so ready. During my second day at the Barbican, they invited some young composers to come to the sound check. One of the questions they asked me was “How long have you been involved with the Barbican?” And I was like, “Two days.” I didn’t think I would ever be doing anything in the Barbican. When I was a kid growing up in Essex, England, it just seemed like I would have no chance.

“Composed With Devonté Hynes” connects the dots between orchestral artists like Alice Coltrane and Arthur Russell, whose low-fi disco, in particular, feels like a precursor to the cerebral funk of Blood Orange.

That is such a huge compliment. Thank you. Yeah, you know, he’s big for me. One of those musical pillars in my life that have just never budged. Even if I gravitate away, he definitely always seems to come back in some form.

Devonté Hynes wears a Louis Vuitton Men’s jacket and hat.

Another avant-garde tastemaker you’re associated with is the fashion designer Jonathan Anderson, who invited you to model next to a kitten for Loewe’s fall/winter 2023 precollection campaign, shot by Juergen Teller.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Jonathan and Juergen, both separately and together. They’re both very sweet. Juergen shoots quicker than you could ever imagine. It’s really inspiring. I’m a bit looser now with things, if I like the people. There was a time when I probably would have said no. But now I just feel like I only care if the people are interesting to be around.

On the topic of the old Dev, you collaborated with Mariah Carey on her 2018 album, Caution. Speaking with Carey for W’s Holiday issue last year, I was struck by the deep well of music wisdom at her fingertips, whether she’s referencing Chaka Khan rarities or deconstructing TikTok’s sped-up listening culture.

To this day, she’s the one person who, whenever we work together in the same room, I have to be really on it. She’s so musically intelligent that I have to try and keep up. I have to be very present. She also has an encyclopedic knowledge of music—way wider than I think people imagine. She always says things to me like: “I’m a studio musician: I was born in the studio; I grew up in the studio.” I should probably reach out to her about working on some tracks now.

I always felt that, as with your contribution to Carey’s catalog, “Want Your Feeling,” a 2014 Jessie Ware album track you produced, didn’t get the attention it deserves.

I actually really love that song. I’ve known Jessie for a long time. Maybe people don’t know this, but there is a song called “Losing You,” which I did with Solange. But I sent it to Jessie first, for her first album, because we knew each other. It didn’t work out, but it’s cool. She’s one I don’t see a lot, but we talk from time to time. It’s funny, because it’s getting to that point where these friendships have lasted a long time. We’re getting up there.

Givenchy coat, vest, pants, and boots; his own cap.

Prada jacket; Levi’s SecondHand jeans; Loewe shoes; his own cap.

Enough time has passed, certainly, for the indie sound of the 2000s and 2010s—a music era you helped define with songs like Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing”—to now be the nostalgia du jour of today’s 20-something scenesters.

It’s pretty wild. I’m kind of into it. I feel like this happens every decade. I remember being younger, and my big obsession was the ’80s. You can see where the influences and references came from, but it’s always kind of filtered. It’s never a direct copy.

I imagine there are tons of new hungry acts who are now craving a taste of Blood Orange.

I’ve always worked only with people who I’m friends with, or who I can see myself being friends with. It’s kind of the only way I can do it. There are a few things I do musically that, from the outside, might give off the impression that I’m headstrong. But it’s really just because I’m super sensitive. I like the idea of making music with friends because it’s just how I grew up making music. There’s a special thing about just hanging out. Maybe it’s from being in bands.

Still, it must seem like a full-circle moment now that your influence is coming into focus and your career has the Barbican’s blessing.

I feel like stories—in media, books, films, TV—have made people think that moments, whether they are traumatic and horrific ones or incredible and grandiose ones, are like a crescendo, as if it’s the end of the story. The reality is, life just continues and these things just happen. Perhaps later you reflect on them, like, That was a crazy moment, but I was inside it, so I couldn’t really see it. I’ve now made music for so long, but always in a way where I’ve just not expected anything. Not in a negative way—I just do what I do, and if it happens, it happens. When I played those Barbican shows, I had never recorded any of my classical things. For me, what was mind-blowing was that for two nights, people showed up despite not having heard any of the music. That’s way more touching than playing any particular venue. That people come to hear music that they haven’t heard is a wild thing. It’s as simple as that.

Devonté Hynes wears a Gucci jacket, top, and pants; Loewe shoes; his own cap.

Devonté Hynes wears a Gucci jacket, top, and pants; Loewe shoes; his own cap.

Grooming by Ren Nobuko for Fenty Skin & Fenty Beauty at Bridge Artists; photo assistants: Jordan Zuppa, Mike Sikora; fashion assistant: Tori López.

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