Let’s be real here: I knew Romy Madley Croft played for our team when I first saw her. I try not to be stereotypical when it comes to who looks like they are a little queer (hipsters and Europeans fuck that up for me constantly), but I was born with a significant amount of gaydar that generally doesn’t steer me too far off course. In case you’re not on a first name basis with Ms. Madley Croft, she’s the frontwoman of British trio the xx, who have gone from indie darlings to must-see mainstream in the last few years. They’re one of those acts that you know it’s an xx song when you hear it. They’ve got such a specific style, Romy’s voice so identifiable, that their success isn’t really a surprise, at least not to fans.
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But back to Romy. So with the success of the xx, beginning with their self-titled debut album in 2009, I was instantly interested in the woman behind the best electric-tinged mellow pop I couldn’t stop listening to, including who she might be writing such brilliantly melancholic love songs about. But the band (which also includes percussionist Jamie Smith and frontman Oliver Sim) were quite shy about discussing much outside of their musicianship — until Romy did a joint interview with her girlfriend, Rachel, for a UK magazine in 2010.
“I outed myself to the whole world on my friend’s tiny little blog,” she told the New Statesman. “I forgot that everyone could see it. I’m proud of having a girlfriend; it just doesn’t have anything to do with my music.”
Two years later, the xx released their highly-anticipated sophomore effort, Coexist, and at age 23, Romy seems to be much more open to talk about being gay. She talked with Out Magazine over the summer, saying the album was inspired by the band’s “transition into adults. Lost love, gained love—things like that. I’ve had a few more heartbreaks for sure.”
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And when she was asked about her sexuality, Romy explained “It’s not something I really talk about. I mean, I am [gay]. But if I was singing about a guy, I would probably be singing a similar kind of love song, really. I feel like we never explain our songs directly — what they’re about or who they’re about. But I never want to be so secretive that it’s like denying it. It’s the same as everything about us: We don’t want to make a big deal out of everything. We’re not shouty.”
Which is actually kind of an understatement. I saw the band Sunday night at Portland’s Roseland Theater and when Romy or Jamie took to the mic to thank the audience, their voices were so hushed it was hard to hear what they were saying. That was the only time they spoke at all, Romy saying, “It really means a lot to us that you are here. Thank you.” She seemed shy and gracious, which adds even more of an allure to this person who writes songs with lyrics like “Light reflects from you shadow / It is more than I thought could exist / You move through the room / Like breathing was easy / If someone believed me / They would be as in love with you as I am.” Paired with her soft and yearning vocals that have a tinge of a whisper attached to each stanza, it’s impossible to not be filled with a little bit of excitement that it was likely written for and about another woman.
“It’s interesting seeing the almost bizarre range of people at our gigs,” Romy told Out “You’ve got somebody in their twenties, and then their brother and then their dad. And then, you know, like some sort of estranged auntie. Everyone’s there — gay, straight — having a good time. In Middle America, we saw all these jock guys in the audience, and we think that’s great. I was pleasantly surprised we were reaching people in that way.” This was true for the Portland show. In fact, it was possibly a little less gay than I expected. The crowd was mixed more than what you’d probably expect from a lesbian-led band, which is just kind of inevitable for so many acts. As gay women, we love to see ourselves reflected on stage and in song, so we flock to see gay women sing to us when they come to our cities. Some artists are able to eclipse that slight appeal and build a fanbase no matter what their sexual preference is, and the xx are the perfect example. There was a man in the audience professing his love for Romy, and she stepped to the mic and softly thanked him.
Seeing as how Romy and her bandmates were only just out of their teens on their first album and tour, it’s interesting to see them grow and expand upon the very specific sound they created and make it even more enjoyable live. They changed up “Crystalized” by slowing it down, making each chorus anticipatory. They played almost every single song from both their first and second albums, every one being recognized and cheered for upon the first few chords strummed or beats released from the speakers. The light show and back drop helps to make the entire xx experience feel like both a gothic rave or part a sensual slow dance. And who there wouldn’t want Romy Madley Croft as a date in either situation?