This Tessa Thompson-Directed Music Video Oozes Sapphic Yearning

In Arooj Aftab’s music video for her song “Raat Ki Rani” off of her new album Night Reign, queer fantasy is more real than reality.

The music video marks Tessa Thompson‘s directorial debut and drips with subtle queer erotics and sapphic yearning throughout. As singer and composer, Aftab has crafted a delicate and lovely gossamer of a song with a particularly striking harp line and soft, soothing percussion. The music and lyricism are only heightened by this cinematic music video, which stars Aftab and features a story by Thompson, Kishori Rajan, and David Alexander.

The story follows two women who are seemingly previously unknown to each other. They meet during a photoshoot and experience an instant, almost otherworldly connection scored by the lilting lyrics. This music video is for the queers who fall in love with strangers, who understand the power of simple, intentional eye contact and how it can almost be more intimate than a kiss. One of the women is literally a stand-in for the other, and even though they don’t look alike, they’re dressed the same, evoking a sense of gazing into a mirror and of a merge between the women. The music video blooms into a fantasy space, the scenes of the shoot shot in black and white while scenes shot in color depict the two women frolicking along the waterfront in NYC. The decision to add color to this initial fantasy sequence signals a collapse between fantasy and reality, as if the fantasy is what is actually more real. I think about this a lot when it comes to desire and suppressed queer desire especially: Sometimes the lives we live privately in our minds and in the depths of our desires are more authentic than the lives we live more outwardly.

two women on the waterfront in nyc

The movement between color and black and white gets murkier from there, the music video intentionally obscuring what is “really” happening and what’s just fantasy or something in between. At six minutes, it’s technically on the long side for a music video, but it’s so immersive and such an impressively layered text that it almost feels like watching a narrative short film that just happens to be scored by a song rather than featuring dialogue.

two women about to kiss in the Raat Ki Rani music video in black and white

Intimacy and the erotic can be conveyed without so much as a kiss. The two women’s lips linger close but never quite touch, the yearning between them defined by a closeness and mirroring that’s subtle and seductive. One thing’s for sure: Tessa Thompson should direct more things! It’s wild that this was her first project as director EVER! Also, after being nominated for Best New Artist and winning the award for Best Global Music Performance at the 2022 Grammy Awards (and thereby becoming the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy), Aftab continues to impressively evolve as a new kind of jazz artist. “Raat Ki Rani” and its accompanying video make just one highlight on her fourth studio album, Night Reign.

Our digital content creator Tima sat down with Aftab for a rapidfire interview about the music video’s themes as well as the connections between queerness, jazz, and resistance. Check it out for a peek behind the shimmering curtain of the “Raat Ki Rani” music video:

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. “ In it, two women — one played by Aftab — meet during a photoshoot and experience an instant, almost otherworldly connection.” correction – Arooj appears in the music video, but not as part of the central couple. Not all brown women look alike : )

  2. I had no idea what to expect from the music having never heard of this artist but I love it! Super cool video and now I’m off to listen to the album on repeat– Spotify tells me I can see her on tour in my city in September, how fun! Thanks for the rec. 🥰

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