Shaun Ross is keen on flouting public perceptions.
In 2013, he appeared within the music video for Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts,” taking part in an imperious magnificence pageant teacher who browbeats the pop diva as being too curvy. “I’m probably the only person in her life who has ever been told to rough her up,” he mentioned.
At one level throughout filming, Mr. Ross barked orders so aggressively that he sprayed the singer’s face with spittle. “I immediately popped out of character and told her, ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry, I just spit all over you,’’’ he said. “She was like, ‘No, it’s just acting. You’re doing great.’”
Acting or not, moments of defiance come intuitively to Mr. Ross. The casting of Mr. Ross, along with his albino pores and skin and eggshell-colored hair, underscored the music’s critique of typical magnificence. And they’re a part of his arsenal of survival instincts which have allowed him to pave an idiosyncratic profession as a homosexual, Black and albino vogue mannequin turned musician.
In the earlier decade, his distinctive look made him a high male mannequin who walked the runway for Walter Van Beirendonck and Pyer Moss, and appeared within the pages of Vogue Italia and ads for Kenneth Cole.
Alongside “Pretty Hurts,” he starred in a number of main music movies of the 2010s together with Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” wherein he performed an extraterrestrial customer who locks lips with Ms. Perry; and Lana Del Rey’s 2013 brief movie “Tropico,” the place he portrayed Adam, clothed solely in leafy briefs, to the singer’s Eve.
This month, as Mr. Ross turned 30, he’s testing the boundaries once more with the discharge of his debut album, “Shift,” a assortment of stripped-down R&B with electronica thrives. Can a seasoned catwalker, even one blessed by Beyoncé, reinvent himself as a modern-day Maxwell, a singer he cites as one among his pop idols?
“A lot of people also thought that the Olsen twins shouldn’t dabble in The Row and look at that now,” Mr. Ross mentioned just lately, in a video chat from his industrial-style penthouse in Downtown Los Angeles. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head playfully, as if to say, “Next question.”
His first single, “Symmetry,” in 2017 featured Lizzo on backing vocals and earned buzz by leaning closely into his uncategorizable mystique, with lyrics like “who we are is skin deep.” Other singles adopted, together with 2019’s “Red Light Green Light,” a membership hit that he recorded with the British D.J. Duke Dumont. The music’s wry, spoken-word vocals echoed Mr. Ross’s teenage previous within the ballroom vogue scene.
“Shift” can be a research in fluidity. The lead single “WX5,” launched in January, embodies the moodiness of British trip-hop acts from the Nineteen Nineties. Its monastic music video is harking back to Seal in his “Crazy” heyday and a Yohji Yamamoto lookbook. Nostalgia apart, his plush vocals and emotional openness are in line with fellow R&B contemporaries like Moses Sumney, Sampha and Syd, who additionally embrace being Black and queer on their very own phrases.
“Shaun is very conscious of, like, ‘I have got to be seen and heard as I am,’” mentioned Carlos Cháirez, previously of the Mexican rock group Kinky, who produced the majority of “Shift” alongside Michael Tritter, a synthesizer programmer for Empire of the Sun. “A lot of young people haven’t seen an artist like him before.”
Mr. Ross grew up within the Bronx, the second youngest of 4 siblings who had been raised “in a household of culture,” he mentioned, by his mom, Geraldine Ross, who owned a database agency within the former World Trade Center, and his father, Shaun Ross Sr., a laptop engineer.
No one else in his household is albino. “Obviously I knew that my skin is white and theirs was brown, but it wasn’t weird or spoken about,” he mentioned. “I only knew I was different when I got around other people.”
His mother and father, who met at Bentley’s Discotheque in Midtown Manhattan, would play albums by Donnie Hathaway and the acid-house pioneer Mr. Fingers as early as 7 a.m. “I knew who Stevie Wonder was from birth and Björk by the age of 6,” Mr. Ross mentioned.
As a boy, he parroted the faucet dance strikes of Savion Glover that he noticed on “Sesame Street” utilizing a pair of his mom’s excessive heels. Impressed by the house performances, his mom enrolled him in lessons on the Bronx Dance Theater when he was 6.
Classmates and neighborhood associates had been much less nurturing. “I was the only Black kid who had any form of pale skin in a Black school,” he mentioned. “A lot of people looked at me like, ‘Oh, I can’t touch you. You have a disease.’”
He discovered his voice via extracurricular lessons on the Ailey School in Midtown Manhattan and by shopping the CD racks on the Virgin Megastore in Union Square, the place he first heard experimental albums by Kelis and the spoken-word efficiency artist Ursula Rucker.
In 2007, when he was 16, he was found by the casting agent Shameer Khan, who noticed a YouTube video of Mr. Ross vogueing at a dance studio as soon as owned by his mom. He signed to Djamee, a boutique modeling company in New York, the next yr, and was photographed by David Armstrong for a black-and-white vogue unfold for Another Man magazine.
His highschool classmates had been incredulous at first. “I will never forget this one moment, one of the boy students said to me, ‘Please, you’re too ugly. Calm down, Casper,’” Mr. Ross mentioned, recalling how classmates named him after the white cartoon ghost. His homeroom trainer chuckled.
When the journal got here out a few weeks later, he introduced six copies to high school. “I slammed one copy on the boy’s desk and said, ‘This is your copy,’” he mentioned. “Then I went to my homeroom teacher and said, ‘And here is your copy.’”
Modeling provided each a refuge and an entree into a new world. Meanwhile, his distinctive look, masculine body, sleek actions, Bronx roots and sexual orientation have made him each the article of fascination and the topic of misconceptions.
Mr. Ross recalled that a mannequin agent as soon as instructed him to hold a skateboard to castings in order that he would “look more like a man.” Another time, he remembers being instructed that his eyes should be too delicate for the brilliant lights of a runway present. “People were afraid to take chances,” he mentioned.
In a means, “Shift” is his newest try to inform his personal story. The album’s cowl was shot by his boyfriend, the actor David Alan Madrick. It exhibits him standing shirtless, along with his again to the digital camera.
“Everyone already knows my face,” he mentioned. “I want people to listen to me, not just look at me.”