Lillie Eiger/Courtesy of the artist
"It's a funny story, actually," Alex Crossan begins when I ask him about the creation of "Complicated," a sideways love song that deflates the saccharine expectations of romance typical in pop. His collaborators – the British songwriter Nao and EDM producer Skrillex – wrote its skeleton in L.A., but shelved it. So Crossan took it over, cycling through hundreds of iterations with them over six or seven months. "It's definitely the most I've ever worked on a single song," he admits.
Crossan is a 22-year-old electronic producer with a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album, better known under the stage name Mura Masa. In 2017, he released his eponymous debut, a nostalgist's map of London that animates the city's syncretic currents, incorporating, for example, a recording of ambient traffic in Brixton, a clip of a Japanese weather report and a Facebook video of an Indonesian guitar player. Each sliver is in their own way routine, revived as evidence of a rich, variegated existence. But on a surface level, the album is more fun and less intellectual, its songs carefree and assured.
"Complicated" is a summery dance single that preserves the bubbliness of Crossan's debut. Its main thrust is traceable to the calypso and Jamaican dancehall that regularly spills onto the streets of Peckham, the vibrant South London neighborhood where he lives. But it's also influenced by the orchestral arrangements of Radiohead, a recurring favorite of his, as well as the dance music of Skrillex. Crossan has an energetic, omnivorous approach to his workand an outsider's attentiveness. His best memory in recent weeks was walking down the open space of Peckham Rye with his girlfriend. "It was just a jungle," he recalls, a bit wistfully. "There was music hitting you from every angle, so many stories and so many people. I found it overwhelmingly beautiful."
Directed by Yoni Lappin, the video for "Complicated" is a logical continuation to June's "Move Me," which featured London rapper Octavian addressing newfound fame. Where the video for "Move Me" followed a tangle of young people hanging outside at a block party, "Complicated" moves the occasion to a more interior space.
"If everyone thinks back to the best night of their life, they'll realize that the reason it was so good was because of the people they were with," Crossan explains, not particularly sold on big, raucous parties and their requisite crowds of drunk people. "I think that's sort of less special than what's going on in this video, which is a group of really close friends just hanging out."
The "Complicated" video reflects Crossan's appreciation for the real ways our lives unfold. There are small love stories embedded in it — young people lounging on each other or sharing drinks in the bathroom — but they don't guarantee clean, everlasting love. "[Love] is a lot more nuanced than that — it's a lot more interesting," he says. Swap in any word for love, and you'll stumble on what appears to be his music's guiding philosophy.