The xx's Romy Is Enjoying Life — and She's Here to Help You Do the Same
The singer discusses the "celebratory, uplifting, queer pop music" of debut solo album 'Mid Air'
Published Sep 22, 2023Romy Madley Croft wants you to enjoy your life and know that she's enjoying hers. The typically private member of the xx, whose presence has largely remained enmeshed alongside bandmates Jamie Smith and Oliver Sim, has pulled back the curtain on her experiences of falling in love, processing grief and finding lasting happiness.
When she speaks with Exclaim! On the eve of releasing her debut solo album, her voice is equal parts nerves and excitement, led with the same quiet intimacy she's honed throughout the years as the co-vocalist of the xx.
"I've been working on [the album] for a really long time, so I feel ready to share it and connect with people over the songs at last," she says.
Since its early September release, Mid Air has delighted listeners with its dreamy pop dance bangers, emotional synths and sense of euphoria. Conceived during the pandemic, the album is a love letter to the queer clubs where Madley Croft found community and sanctuary growing up in the UK. Equally described as a "coming-out album" and a "coming-through album." the artist turns the spotlight on her own personal life as she explores her relationship with her wife and ruminates on losing both parents at a young age.
The decision to step out as a solo artist was not something that happened overnight. Madley Croft has been making music with The xx since the early 2000s, but began spending time in between albums to explore songwriting and sounds outside the guitar. At one point, she was paired with dance producer Fred again.., with whom she wrote songs for artists like Dua Lipa and King Princess. Slowly, Madley Croft began to gain more confidence in herself and started releasing singles of her own in 2020.
"I think releasing 'Lifetime' let people know that I was interested in making a different sort of sound than what people might know from the xx," she says. "Feeling the positive reaction from them gave me a burst of confidence to carry on with this project and to keep going in that style."
The creative partnership with Fred again.. proved to be a winning one, as the pair went on to write Mid Air's hit single "Strong," and he then lent a hand producing elements of the album alongside Stuart Price (who worked with Madonna on Confessions on a Dance Floor) and Jamie xx.
The move from indie minimalism to dance music may seem like a departure, but Madley Croft is no stranger to club culture. She spent time as a DJ growing up in queer nightclubs, where she found freedom, release and connection. "I think there's a lot of emotion in trance, like in the chord progressions, and these big, deep sort of synth sounds," she says. "It connects with me on quite a deep level, and I really love that. It felt just kind of right."
Trance hasn't always been fashionable among dance music fans, but Madley Croft was eager to embrace the genre in its entirety to fully recreate 2000s dance floor nostalgia. In many ways, trance has always been able to center the universality of human emotion in the most straightforward manner, eliciting a physical reaction through dance.
Mid Air is an album that deliberately centres queerness and radical joy. This was a decision made by Madley Croft to lift up her community and celebrate the power of unity. "I've written quite a lot of songs about heartache, and I've definitely been in periods of my life where I was just trying to document that," she explains. "I've always approached songwriting as a way of self-therapy, and I think at this time, I was in a happy relationship. I really wanted to try and capture that feeling and to document it. To create some celebratory, uplifting, queer pop music that I hope would connect with other people and give other queer storylines for them to enjoy as well."
The happy relationship she refers to is her marriage to photographer and director Vic Lentaigne. Together, the two collaborated on the videos for "Strong" and "Enjoy Your Life." Lentaigne's ability to intuit the inner machinations of Madley Croft's artistry made for an extremely authentic and meaningful visual translation of her music.
"It was amazing to collaborate with Vic," the singer says. "I've never felt that comfortable in front of the camera, so building up that trust between us that we had in our relationship meant that I felt more relaxed. With her, I felt more of me letting my guard down in the music." She describes her wife's deep understanding of the songs, and how Vic was able to bring to life her idea of a "hug in a club" for the "Strong" video. The result is a deeply moving video of Madley Croft and her cousin, Louis, as they embrace for the entirety of the song surrounded by the crowd.
The title Mid Air implies a feeling of weightlessness. The songs are catchy, playful and singularly Romy, which makes them something special to behold. Her unassuming nature and quiet modesty find room to run across the album's 11 tracks. When asked about the reaction from her xx brothers, friends since adolescence, you can hear the smile as she responds: "They've been so lovely. It means so much to me that they've just been encouraging me. The nicest feeling is that it just feels like they're my friends rather than my bandmates."
In the same way that Madley Croft's mantra "enjoy your life" extends beyond the music, so too do her efforts to climb outside her comfort zone in pursuit of personal growth. She provides a roadmap for those of us simply trying to do something new, even if it's hard.
"I seem to really like challenging myself and going out of my comfort zone, even though I find it difficult at times," she says. "It's definitely not easy. I've really loved learning more about myself and connecting with more people. I feel very different to how I did before I made this album, in a really positive way."
Mid Air is a celebration of life's little victories, the quotidian moments that tie us all together — whether that be meeting the girl of your dreams or learning to live with loss. The dance floor holds up these moments and shines a bright spotlight on the joy of getting to enjoy these experiences together. She invites us to dance with her, "shoulder to shoulder," and it's an invitation we should happily accept.