When Brandon Stansell was scouting beach locations to film his new video, his manager offered a suggestion: El Matador beach in Malibu, California. They liked the spot, where performer Blair St. Clair (with whom Stansell shares management) had also filmed her latest video, for its natural beauty and because it was usually deserted.
“He was like, ‘Oh, you should definitely go there. It’s beautiful and no one’s there,'” says Stansell, calling from his home in Los Angeles. “And when we got there, there were like 200 people on the beach.”
You’d never know it to watch the clip for “Top Shelf,” the upbeat new single Stansell released in June. In every shot of the video, which was directed by Trent Atkinson, the singer-songwriter appears to be performing completely alone, framed against a gorgeous backdrop of rocks, sand, and sea.
“Even in the shots where I’m in the brown T and there’s the white triangle behind me, there were people sunbathing on either side of that,” he says, laughing at the memory. “I’m singing this song, and I’m like, ‘I know this is not why these people came to this beach.'”
It’s a departure from Stansell’s previous video for the song “Hometown,” which was centered on the fraught relationship between a young man and his mother after he comes out of the closet. Stansell, an out gay man, has been exploring those heavier themes through much of his previous work, but wanted to show off his lighter side with “Top Shelf.”
“People who know me would tell you that I’m pretty lighthearted and jovial. At least I would like for people to say that,” he says, laughing. “But like a lot of queer people, we have this other side to us that has much more weight to it because of the experience that we’ve had to get to the places that we are. It’s important for me to show both sides of myself.”
The “Top Shelf” video also allows Stansell to bring out a candid, unrestrained sexiness that’s usually reserved exclusively for straight women and men. He cites examples such as Britney Spears and, within country, almost every male singer who refers to an encounter with a nameless “girl” in his song.
“No one ever accuses them of using sexuality to advance their careers. It’s such a double standard,” says Stansell. “I was like, you know what, fuck it, we’re gonna do this. We’re gonna have a lot of fun with it and we’re gonna make a fun, sexy moment on the beach.”