“Everybody seems to be crying,” says Sarah Bahbah over the phone, just hours after the first music video she’s ever directed — for Kygo‘s “Think About You” — was released. The tears are a good thing, though. “This is the best feeling ever,” she says, laughing. “I feel like an asshole because their pain gives me joy, but it means I did my job well.”
Bahbah is a Palestinian-born, Australian-raised artist whose work you’ve probably seen on Instagram before — she’s known for pairing retro-style photography with witty subtitles exploring themes of love and sex. Her work, she explains, pulls people in because of its distinct point of view: “I try and practice transparency of the human inner dialogue, and in doing so, it really captivates a raw emotion.” She’s dabbled in lyric videos, but had never expanded her reach to music videos until Kygo’s manager came to her with the Norwegian DJ’s first single of 2019: the shimmering, nostalgic “Think About You.”
“I laid on the carpet in my living room, closed my eyes, and thought, ‘OK, where does this take me?'” Bahbah recalled about hearing the song for the first time. “The lyrics are about past lovers and reminiscing and trying to avoid their phone calls. My mind went to the first time I was in love, and I wanted to essentially capture that relationship. The video is my expression of it.”
The visual opens on Dylan Sprouse — here playing a sharply dressed man named Jax — as he violently chops a tree out of frame. A movie usher stops him and convinces him to confront his heartbreak head-on, and we watch along with him as he revisits a past relationship that began like a pastel-filtered dream before crumbling under his feet. The drama plays out like a stylish Italian movie, captioned with poetic dialogue and coming to an emotional climax when Jax bursts into tears.
“I was behind the director’s screen fully bawling my eyes out, and I didn’t want anyone to see,” Bahbah said about filming the scene. “Dylan and I are really close friends, and seeing him cry… I just suddenly connected all these stories that he’s shared with me about when he was maybe going through something. I actually started to feel his pain, even though he was acting, you know? It was so beautiful.”
The video — which was shot over two days in L.A. in early February — wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. During Jax’s happier moments with Ariel (played by model Khadijha Red Thunder), we see him carving their names into a tree, passionately making out with her at a party, and, most memorably, dancing shirtless around their bedroom.
“In the treatment I said ‘sexy dancing,’ and the first thing Dylan said when he read it was, ‘I can’t do that, what does that even mean?!'” Bahbah recalled. “I was like, ‘No no, just be yourself, be goofy.’ That’s all I said to him, and he just took it away and killed it. Meanwhile, I’m crying with laughter in the background.”
While the track’s featured artist, Valerie Broussard, appears onstage in the video’s party scene, Kygo unfortunately had to miss out on the action because of scheduling conflicts. Bahbah originally wrote him into the script as the movie usher (Riverdale‘s Rob Raco ended up with the role) and as a partygoer who incited Jax’s rage after hitting on Ariel. Those adjustments aside, however, the finished product was exactly how Bahbah envisioned it that night she listened to the song on her living room carpet. A PR blurb describes the vid as exploring “the progression and fragility of romantic love,” but its actual meaning, the director said, goes a lot deeper.
“I recently read this book called The Five Love Languages, and it’s taught me a lot about the way we communicate with each other and why a lot of relationships don’t end up working,” she explained. “I realized when I looked back at my past relationships, the reason why they didn’t work out is because I have a very different love language [than] my partners. I guess I wanted to explore that in a more intense, dramatic way.”
She continued, “When you’re looking at the protagonist, Dylan, he’s very giving. That’s his way of showing love. Whereas Khadijha has a different way of showing love, and when you’re observing it, every time she’s trying to access her mind and a deeper part of her, she responds with touch and she kisses him. So her love language is affection. His love language is the act of giving. You can see that eventually, over time, that dynamic isn’t working.”
Since the video’s premiere on Friday (February 22), Bahbah’s phone has been blowing up with glowing (and, yes, tearful) reactions from friends and strangers alike. It’s enough to fuel the 27-year-old’s goal of making more music videos, which she’s very excited — but very specific — about. “There’s three more artists I really want to work with this year: Billie Eilish next, then Dua Lipa, and then Rihanna.” But only, she says, in that order. “I want to be, like, so fine-tuned by the time I get to Rihanna, so she’d have to be last.”