This summer, James Blake was ready for a change. 

For years, the U.K. singer, songwriter, and producer was perceived by many as a shadowy and mysterious figure. On the cover of his 2011 self-titled debut album, he obscured his face in a haze of icy blue hues, presenting himself as a reclusive artist who preferred to work solo and let his music speak for itself. Most fans knew he was a quiet guy from London with brown hair, but that was about it. And despite efforts to open up and reveal more of himself in the ensuing years, Blake remained an enigmatic persona for much of the decade.

Midway through 2020, though, he felt differently. Locked down in his studio during the pandemic, Blake noticed himself moving in a new artistic direction. He was collaborating more and making songs in ways he’d never even attempted, becoming enthralled with singing over faster tempos. Excited by the change, he wanted to draw a line in the sand and externalize the creative shift in a visual way. 

Blake remembers having a pivotal conversation with video director Ryder Ripps a few months ago. “I feel like a change is necessary, in order to signify to myself that this is a new era of what I’m doing and what I'm creating,” he told Ripps at the time. “I want to break out of old boxes, musically and visually." 

In response, Ripps offered a simple solution: Why not dye his hair blonde? At first, Blake resisted. It sounded ridiculous. Blonde?! Really? But the more he thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed. By plunging his hair in bleach, he was communicating to the world that he was willing to try new things and redefine public expectations.