Ben Levi Ross is known for their roles on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen and, more recently, on-screen in Tick, Tick... Boom, which has been nominated for the 2022 Academy Awards. Now, the 23-year-old performer is reintroducing themself under a new moniker and solo project, Boychik, where they’ll channel their theatricality into vulnerable music that unpacks the “confident yet aching” experiences of their “queer body and mind.”
Lifted off a forthcoming full-length album, due out later this year, Boychik arrives today with “Dust After Rest,” their first official single that introduces what’s to come next. Free of traditional pop structure, the dramatic cut is comparable to a monologue, unloading their inner thoughts like a poetic short play; there’s a beginning, middle and end, allowing for existential chaos to make way for a brighter resolution.
“These days I don’t look around much,” they begin, with production ominously swelling beneath their vocals, like a tsunami pulling back the shoreline. As Boychik works through their anxious thoughts (“Tell myself just to ignore the fear”), “Dust After Rest” eventually opens up, twinkling and fluttering, as they land on an optimistic conclusion. “What was created must perish/ What perished will rise again/ Cease from trembling/ Prepare to live.”
"We wanted to introduce the world to Boychik: a shapeshifter without gender or ties to any one style."
“I wrote ‘Dust After Rest’ in a fit of abject motionlessness,” Ross says. “The piece explores a hidden pain: A story of trauma, isolation and self-punishing shame that flickers into subsequent daybreak. Soon opening into a lush purity, rejoicing and swooning in universal gratitude. Zooming out and seeing my existence as finite and precious. The fact that I will return to dust has always helped alleviate my pain."
Boychik collaborated with two production teams to bring this entire effort to life: Minneapolis’ Jake Luppen and Nathan Stocker of Hippo Campus, and Brooklyn musician Brad Oberhofer. Ross’ tender vocals are at the core of everything, accompanied primarily by piano, but they all pulled inspiration from the likes of Phillip Glass, Fiona Apple, Liz Phair and Rufus Wainwright to develop Boychik’s sound.
Like with all queer expression — complex and expansive — the visual identity surrounding Boychik is just as important as the music itself. Ross co-directed the “Dust After Rest” video alongside John Novotny, playing with different characters that they slip in and out of, like a touring stage show from years past. Premiering today on PAPER, the dreamy visual shows Boychik as a melancholy marionette, with thinly painted brows, a clown white face and red nails. Then, as a joker.
"In this video, we wanted to introduce the world to Boychik: a shapeshifter without gender or ties to any one style,” Ross says, underscoring all the different environments we see them in throughout the glowing five-minute clip. The artist runs around empty fields, poses amidst a rushing waterfall and gets transformed into a red-headed siren, complete with an Old Hollywood beauty mark, before the curtains finally close.
As a trained actor, ballet dancer, pianist and singer, the possibilities of Boychik’s future are endless. Until then, watch and stream “Dust After Rest,” and "prepare to live."
Photography: John Novotny
Styling: Iliana Penichet-Ramirez
Makeup: Grey Hoffman