“Don’t hesitate if it’s something you want, love / Don’t let it wait.”
While these lyrics from Raveena’s most recent single, ‘Temptation’, may appear to be simple words of wisdom, a look into the accompanying music video proves otherwise. In a world where women of colour (WoC) are often encouraged to view their sexuality as currency, this South Asian musician’s message of sexual fluidity and unapologetic lust is anything but simple. Instead, it’s a bold subversion of the rigid and sexually repressive roles that women are often forced into under an oppressive, heteronormative gaze.
The ‘Temptation’ music video, released at the end of last month, is exquisite. The video captures the love story between Raveena and a mysterious female figure, known in the song as “Miss Temptation”. The narrative begins with Raveena hiding away in an ornately decorated room lusting after her lover, who is seen dancing sensually and cast in shadow. The camera originally keeps close to Raveena’s face but later pans out to show that she is in a room with no walls, and only thin silk sheets separate her from the outside world, where Miss Temptation is presumably waiting for her. At the end of the video, Raveena decides to give in to Temptation, pulling back the sheets and uniting with her lover.
Raveena expertly plays with both light and setting throughout this self-directed piece. During the first shots of the video both women are cast in shadow; Raveena is backlit by the sheets and Miss Temptation is hidden in the underbrush. In the middle of the song Raveena declares, “Let’s make a garden”, and pulls back the sheets to show the lush, green forest just beyond her room, where Miss Temptation waits, bathed beautifully in light. Through positioning the women in darkness alone but in sunlight together, the video directly associates the relationship with light and optimism. After the two women’s first union, in perhaps the most visually stunning shot of the video, the pair are seen lying in a beautiful garden, smiling and glimmering under the sun’s rays as petals rain down on them both from above. Raveena powerfully employs a nature motif throughout the video to radically purport that this romantic relationship between two WoC is natural.
Of course, one of the most radical elements about the video is its message about desirability of feminine bodies of colour. Miss Temptation, played by Kenyan model Giannina Oteto, is dark-skinned and bald – not physical attributes that are commonly associated with beauty within the confines of our Western heteropatriarchy. However, Raveena cleverly and directly subverts this oppressive outlook by switching the viewer’s perspective – the audience of the video sees Miss Temptation through Raveena’s eyes only. Through lyrics such as, “I wish that I had your body”, and, “I’m envious of your curves”, the artist accurately captures the complexities of female romantic relationships, viewing the female form as beautiful or enviable rather than a sexual object. Through this subversion, Raveena beautifully illustrates WoC as both desirable and capable of desire.
‘Temptation’ not only breaks away from the Western heteropatriarchy and white male gaze, but radically subverts layers of racialised homophobia on a global scale. Visibility of queer South Asian women is extremely rare, due in large part to many South Asian countries’ conservative, and at times even violent stance on homosexuality. Notably, India only decriminalised homosexuality this past September, and in many other nations in the region such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, homosexuality remains illegal to this day.
In a recent Instagram post, Raveena addressed her personal history growing up both Indian and queer. “Growing up, South Asian culture and queer culture felt like oil and water”, she noted, “Something that just simply couldn’t mix. I come from a super repressive and oppressive culture towards LGBTQ people, with sometimes dire consequences if you openly love who you want to love outside of the heteronormative story.”
Raveena’s music stands as proof that these two cultures can mix beautifully. Tributes to the artist’s Indian heritage are abundant in ‘Temptation’, from the recurring notes of sitar to a painting of a woman wearing a sari in one of the opening shots. Raveena herself wears several different bindis throughout the video. In this way, ‘Temptation’ stands at the nexus of many cultures – queer, femme, Western, and South Asian – to radically normalise intersectional queerness.
The genius of the ‘Temptation’ video is seen not only in its normalisation of queer love, but also its unabashed celebration of sexual fluidity. One of the most surprising yet powerful images seen in the video is the snake, which was incorporated into several different scenes. After Raveena first admits to Miss Temptation that she is “envious of your curves”, the snake too is seen curving, slithering sinuously on the floor. Later, when the two women finally meet in the garden, the snake can be seen gliding through Miss Temptation’s fingers – the snake stands as a symbol for sexual fluidity; both phallic and feminine, hard and soft, dangerous and vulnerable. The snake’s movements mirror Raveena’s journey throughout the narrative, standing as a reminder against the dangerous binaries presented in our heteronormative society.
True to Raveena’s style, everything about this video says “soft” – through carefully chosen earth tones, a silky wardrobe and, of course, the artist’s smooth, delicate voice, Raveena perfectly captures her ethereal, almost otherworldly vibe, putting the viewer at ease from the very first hum. In ‘Temptation’, Raveena incorporates her trademark softness into her sexuality; through longing glances and careful caresses, the relationship between Raveena and Miss Temptation is inherently sensual, though not overtly sexual. ‘Temptation’ presents a refreshing break from the over-sexualised of many popular music videos today – instead, through a normalisation of temptation, Raveena illustrates that one does not have to have sex to be sexual.
Raveena’s message about the power of softness and vulnerability is not only beautiful, but necessary. The ‘Temptation’ video is an important step in the artist’s hopes that, in her own words: “For little brown girls in the future their queerness will feel nothing short of completely 100% mundane and normal.”