The video for ‘Promises’, a first-ever collaboration between Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and British singer Sam Smith, serves as a glamorous tribute to the LGBTQ ballroom subculture and the safe-space it’s provided for queer youth since the 1920s.
The video begins more like a mini-documentary with snippets from interviews with four professional dancers — Kevin Stea, Jamari 007, Dashaun Lanvin and Carlos Lanvin– speaking about their experience with the ballroom community. Each notes in some way how the queer nightlife subculture granted them a sense of freedom, using words like, “fantasy”, “inner person” and “celebrated.”
Carlos Lanvin speaks to the freedom the dance style vogue, which gained popularity in ballroom culture during the 1980s, granted him. Lanvin says, “growing up in the Bronx, you have to carry this tough skin. Finding Vogue allowed me to express myself in a way I couldn’t express myself anywhere.”
The four main dancers, who have worked alongside artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, and Beyonce, are co-stars in the video. Their interviews set the mood for a video that conveys what I can only describe as a feeling of pure liberation.
After the introductory interviews, a hypnotizing Calvin Harris-produced beat drops and Smith begins to seduce a late-night lover with the steamy lyrics to ‘Promises’: Are you drunk enough?/Not to judge what I’m doin’/Are you high enough?/To excuse that I’m ruined.”
The video directed by Emil Nava is itself a fast-paced sensory experience. We see flashes of the dancers in club settings,dancing in a parking lot, at a rooftop party and dancing and voguing down a strobe-lighted runway shared with model Winne Harlo where each dancer dons his ballroom personality. The main dancers are joined by several others on the runway.
We see flashes of Smith alone in an emerald room and again alone in a room dotted with red lights with a disco ball dangling above the singer’s head. We later see flashes of Smith and Harris sitting outside on top of a building with a blue sky behind them. Throughout the video we see a ton of glitter, flashing lights, confetti and lots of shiny things, like the full-body glitter suit worn by a dancer on the runway. The video ends on the runway, with Smith and Harris standing while dancers perform behind them.
‘Promises’ is one of three singles Harris released in 2018. It follows ‘Nuh Ready Nuh Ready’ featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR and ‘One Kiss’ featuring Dua Lipa. ‘Promises’ was co-written by Smith, Harris and Canadian singer-songwriter, Jessie Reyez.