Stewart Taylor Presents “Nightmares”

Music listeners think of Stewart Taylor as a man who makes the most of the night. On prior singles like the provocative “Mess Your Hair Up” and the outrageous “Cover Boy”, he’s not playing it coy: he foregrounds his hedonistic impulses. Taylor backs it up with music that’s a pure pleasure to encounter — delirious pop with danceable beats and funk rhythms, passionately performed by a singer-songwriter with a deep understanding of storytelling and song construction. It’s no surprise that Paula Abdul has recognized him as a kindred spirit and mentored him as an artist and dancer. This year Stewart also had the opportunity to dance with another one of his idols, Justin Timberlake.

But there’s another side to Stewart Taylor — one displayed on “Favorite Ex,” a grown-up pop song about a relationship that didn’t work out and ended without acrimony. The Connecticut-born, Los Angeles-based pop singer can be surprisingly reflective, even when he’s busy getting the party started. On “Nightmares,” his marvelously sung and impeccably produced new single, Taylor is having a different sort of night than the ones he’s sung about in the past. He’s battling insomnia, and afraid of the specters, anxieties, and insecurities that haunt him in his sleep. Only the touch of his lover can put him at ease.

As propulsive as it is, “Nightmares” is an expression of sensitivity. It’s the work of an artist in search of a true human connection. That craving for love is audible in every note he sings and inflection he voices — he maintains masterful control over his performance, but he’s never afraid to let his vulnerability show. His songwriting is, among other things, a nuanced exploration of both same-sex and human desire, in all its nuances, excitement, and vivid color.

Director Benjamin Farren’s clip for “Nightmares” begins with a flash of lightning in a stormy sky and concludes with a shot of the star’s notebook. He’s scrawled these lyrics on lined paper to calm himself down and get him through nights spent alone, far from the object of his affection. When he sings, his expression is intense, pleading, full of longing and breathlessness. We’re shown a boyfriend, too — a man half-shrouded in shadows and smoke and gazing away from the camera. Stewart Taylor seems to be reaching for him through the haze, tantalizingly close, but still inaccessible, caught somewhere behind the veil of sleep.

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