I have a special admiration for artists who are willing to speak out about social and cultural issues, working to break down barriers. With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature Los Angeles-based artist Bridesmen, the music project of the astonishingly talented and thoughtful singer/songwriter Kenton Chen. Known for his work on NBC’s a cappella singing competition program Sing-Off, as well as his performances with Postmodern Jukebox and Scary Pockets, Chen’s latest project Bridesmen is a departure from his jazz/soul/a cappella roots. Through Bridesmen, Chen strives to explore the darker side of human nature, and the struggle over how to be a good person in a world that marginalizes you, i.e. a ‘bridesmen’ at a wedding.
As a gay Asian second generation immigrant, Chen grew up feeling isolated, constantly hiding behind masks to protect himself. With Bridesmen, he aspires to uncover these masks in an effort to live a boundless and truthful life. Through his songs, he tries to articulate feelings of loneliness and the effect it can have on people. Chen explains “We hurt when we don’t understand each other and we hurt when we are unwilling to change. The best thing we can do is be ourselves within the context of what we were given. I want people to know that as I have grown and matured as an artist and a human being, I’ve come to realize that my specific experiences of being gay and Asian are not particular to me. My life story reverberates far beyond my specificities, and anyone from any race or sexuality can empathize with the need to belong and be understood.”
Following the success of his soulful single “Someone Who Loves Me”, Bridesmen has released a gorgeous new single “Overwhelm“, along with a captivating video. The song speaks to our internal battles we have over our emotions. As Bridesmen explained to online magazine PRIDE: “Many of us walk through life with dual personalities: the strong, defensive façade, and the soft, sensitive core that we struggle to protect. We view our softness as weakness, as something we need to suppress or hide—whether with television, alcohol, or other distractions. But the more we push it down, the more it begins to fester, until it all boils over in a dark cloud that feels overwhelming. Thus, ‘The Overwhelm.’” He adds, “We Americans don’t talk about mental health, and the shame we attach to it is prohibiting us from addressing it head-on. It’s a vicious cycle. We feel isolated, so we produce negative thoughts, but because we don’t discuss our struggles, we feel more isolated, driving us deeper and deeper into the abyss.”
Musically, the song starts off with atmospheric keyboard synths as Bridesmen softly sings “Oh I’m not fighting this anymore. It never did me no good.” The music gradually swells into a sweeping soundscape, providing a lush backdrop for his breathtaking vocals as he plaintively croons of suppressing his overwhelming pain: “Swallow it down, swallow it down, before it consumes me. Seeing it now, wondering how, how not to lose me. I’m afraid to fade away, so I take in all the pain.” He really has a remarkable voice – so clear, resonant and beautiful.
The stunning video shows two dancers, played by Stephanie Kim and Raymond Ejiofor, interpreting the song through their movement, and interacting with Bridesmen. He explains, “By letting them actually express themselves, I am setting my emotions free. I can learn to love the naive child and also the jaded guardian, recognize how important they are, as they guide me through The Overwhelm”. The video was beautifully directed by Seth Iliff.