September 25, 2020
The cult singer-songwriter made his name as a whimsical chronicler of US history. Now he’s made an electropop album about his country’s evils
The Oscars were an ordeal for Sufjan Stevens. “Honestly, one of the most traumatising experiences of my entire life,” the songwriter half-laughs, half-groans. The event was, he says, “a horrifying Scientology end-of-year prom” representative of “everything I hate about America and popular culture”.
He had never paid much attention to them before being nominated in 2018. Mystery of Love – his bittersweet folk ballad, written for Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name – was up for best original song and Stevens had been invited to perform. His devoted fans celebrated this appearance as a moment of long-overdue mainstream recognition for the spotlight-shy then-42-year-old; 26 million viewers were watching at home, after all. But for the artist himself, shrinking into his pink-and-black striped blazer as Hollywood A-listers schmoozed around him, there was not much to celebrate. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with that world and that culture,” he says. “I don’t want to be part of any room full of adults hemming and hawing over plastic trophies.”