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Yungblud: “All I Wanted to Build Is ‘Us”

Jun 27, 2019

By Katherine Turman

Written by Katherine Turman Photography by Alexander Thompson

If Kurt Cobain’s music spoke to the youth of the ‘90s, UK sensation Yungblud is singing both to and about millennials. He addresses topics straight on, as in “Polygraph Eyes,” with pointed lyrics about consent and date rape: “(Leave it alone, mate) She can’t even walk … She slurs when she speaks … But you hear what you want when she can’t even talk.” Yungblud likewise tapped into the zeitgeist with “Machine Gun (Fuck The NRA)” where he sings, “I made the news today / Because I hurt my friends …. They looked inside my brain / It turns out I’m not okay.”

The talented multi-instrumentalist born Dominic Harrison is a whirlwind of ambition and success with his alt-rock-hip-hop stylings and pull-no-punches messages. He’s got songs on the soundtrack to the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why;” he sings a duet with his romantic partner, Halsey, in “11
Minutes” (feat. Travis Barker); and he also wrote a graphic novel with an accompanying EP with a Fall 2019 release date. Yungblud’s got street smarts, political savvy and a strong social conscience, earning praise from critics and adoration from fans who fall for his “genre-bending protest songs.” Oh, and cumulative global streams of his songs now exceed 140 million. And he’s not even 22.

Hailing from Yorkshire, England, Yungblud has been writing his own songs since the age of 10, moving to London for the music scene in his teens, and dropping his music commercially for the first time in 2017. His major-label debut album, 21st Century Liability. hit in July 2018, and he’s been on tour around the world since. ALICE spoke with the articulate and energetic up-and-comer, who peppers his conversations with Britishsims like “wicked” and “lovely,” sometimes refers to himself in the third person, and is engagingly irrepressible.

You’ve been on tour, but your home base is in London. You’ve now played New York twice; are the fans different, do they like different songs in the London vs. NYC?

It’s interesting you say that, as it’s the most similar audience to London in the States. I think just obviously because of the mentality, the city rush, and yeah, man, I just kind of got that vibe. I loved every minute of the show [at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom]; I walked on stage and it was just insane. They screamed every lyric and it was kind of crazy. I mean, I played a small show in Brooklyn last time, the sheer difference in crowd response and crowd energy was just mental. I can’t believe the community that’s been built. It’s pure insanity.

In just two years, both your talent and fame seem to have grown so quickly it’s nearly hard to comprehend. Do you feel that way?

Oh, absolutely, completely. At the end of the day, man, all I did this for me. I was calling out because I felt so alone and misunderstood. So judged. And I just called out, and fuck me, I got a response from all these people. I mean, just imagine it. I just shouted out saying, “I’m hurting right now,” wrote a couple songs about it, and ‘boom.’ Look what happened.

Ironically, though, the more response you get, the more you may need to withdraw… doesn’t fame make it harder to be on the same level, or interact as easily with fans?

For me, Yungblud, I am only 50 percent of Yungblud; the other 50 percent is the community. The other 50 percent is them. If it’s ‘me and them’ then I’ve done something very wrong. All I wanted to build was us. Young people right now, we genuinely understand the future that we want to be a part of. We genuinely see a world that we want to live in, but it’s almost been held back by a generation that can’t understand us, or aren’t quite ready to go to that place yet. All Yungblud is to me is about connection. Connection always is serving the fans, and that’s why I’m doing a comic book; I wrote a comic book because I want to directly visualize what is going on in my head and in my mind and in my fanbase. As part of my new song, ‘Parents’,” campaign, I wrote a number down and got my street teams to put it up all over the world. I left my fanbase messages every day up to the release so that they could hear my voice and we could have a conversation. It’s almost like we’re directly talking to each other, because that’s what I wanted to build.

That’s amazing. How did you come up with hotline idea?

I just I think it can be so daunting when people go, ‘you have a song coming, you have a release coming.’ I think, ‘let’s have fun with it.’ I wanted to do something fun that would surprise my fanbase, play games with them. It’s like we’re a big group of friends, and what was crazy was we found that between 150,000 and 170,000 people called the number. Which was just ridiculous. I love it. We put it up in one city and one fan found it, put it on Twitter, another fan found it, and it just spread like wildfire. At the end of the day, I was going to post it on my social media, but before I could, they’d already got a hold of it. It’s astounding. We’re that connected that they looked for it, they know what I’m up to. They know that something’s brewing because we’re close. There’s not a disconnect. I want to defeat the barrier between artists and a fanbase. It’s always got to be us. It’s not about me. None of this is about me. Yes, I’m telling my story, but I’m just trying to connect to them.

What artists did you feel that connected to when you were growing up?

To me, it was My Chemical Romance. It was Lady Gaga. It was Marilyn Manson, it was Kurt Cobain. It was Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys; they would write these songs and talk about these statements, and it was like they were almost the only people in the world who knew what I was thinking and they’d never even met me. That just blew my fucking mind.

Your lyrics to “Parents” are brilliant; but you sing about a toaster in the bathtub and other very difficult-to-hear things. What did your own parents think?

With that song, I wanted to be so overt. I never want to beat around the bush. I think in music people can beat around the bush so much and not actually say what they mean. They speak in metaphors to be safe, so no one can come at them and say, ‘you know what, you’re wrong.’ For me, if someone says I’m wrong, and I am wrong, I’ll admit it. But I’m never going to censor myself, I’m always going to overtly say what is going on in my head. This song isn’t necessarily me saying to young people, ‘tell your parents to fuck off.’ I’m not that ignorant. The song is a tribute to individualism. The song is a statement that YOU and only you know what is best for yourself. You and only you know how to conduct yourself. You and only you know what is best for yourself. People around you will misunderstand you, but you know what, they may not be always right. That’s what the song means.

And if you were living that way at 13, 14, 15; how did that work out?

It was weird, man. I had ADHD and was very misunderstood. I was the kid that mums didn’t like because I was always very energetic, always very outspoken. For example, if you put the dinner on the table and I didn’t like it, I would probably say I didn’t like it. It was not necessarily my parents; my parents were always very supportive and tried their best with me, because I know I was not the easiest person to deal with. It was always leaders and teachers. People do not like to be told they’re wrong; people don’t like to be challenged, let alone challenged by someone younger than them. Whereas with me, I love conversation, I love being proved wrong. Without conversation, we just end up in the same fucking place, right?

You mentioned your graphic novel, Twisted Tales of the Ritalin Club… In previous generations, kids were not always put on drugs at the first sign of misbehavior or weirdness; they were just the “troubled kid” but not necessarily drugged to “fix” them.

Completely. I was put on drugs as a kid. At the end of the day, [Ritalin Club is] a comment on society; it’s saying, ‘why don’t we just change our way of thinking and adapt to people who don’t necessarily fit the mold?’ Instead of trying to censor the mold. Don’t censor the mold; adapt to the mold. That’s all I want to say. My generation, we are so intelligent, we’re just going to build our own fucking mold.

Do you think you were on meds too early, or given the wrong meds?

My mum told me straight up that she saw how it completely censored and dulled and dimmed down my individuality. She was like ‘it wasn’t my Dom.’ She felt I wasn’t her kid anymore. The comic is literally Blackhearts Boarding School where young people are forced to wear masks and take medication so that they don’t pose a threat to society. The Ritalin Club is a rebellion club of kids that got kicked out of the school to try for trying to sabotage. For example, Yungblud is the leader of the Ritalin Club, and these kids have powers. The character Harmony is a shape-shifting mermaid who represents someone from the LGBT community who doesn’t necessarily know what body she wants to be in yet, she just wants to have time to figure it out. Yet the school said, ‘you need to make a decision,’ or ‘you need to remain in the body you came in.’ Another character, Zombie Joshua, got shot by the headmaster and rose from the dead because he wanted to wear a skirt instead of a pair of trousers. So it’s all these stories about group of misfits that are genuinely actually not misfits, they are representatives of equality in the modern world.

So does the EP tie directly into the story of the book?

Yes, the songs are going to be reflected inside it. For example, the lyrics within “Parents” will tie into the comic book. You can almost listen to it as you read it.

This sounds to very visual and cinematic, I imagine there will be a video component?

Always! Hopefully, fingers crossed, as I said to you, all I dreamt about is building my own world because I didn’t believe I fit in this one. So I want to build my own, and invite people in if they want to come, if they want to live here forever, for a day, for a month, if they never want to be a part of it; fine. It’s just an option.

You’ve donated some song profits in the UK’s Crisis Text Line, and you’re both politically and socially active…

I always write about [current events]. “King Charles” s directly about Brexit. (Lyrics include: “They act the moment, they neglecting the young / It’s really scary being under 21.”) I love being political.
We’re not just bratty kids rebelling against the system for rebellion’s sake. We’re not some yobs. We genuinely pride ourselves on being informed, and have something to say. We know that we’re going to have people questioning us. And we have access to so much information I can’t even possibly understand [it all]. If I want to find something out I can find something out in two seconds, and that’s what makes us different from past generations. People ask what’s the difference between your inverted college revolution and the Clash and the Sex Pistols revolution? I’m a different thing; I’m fighting for unity, not division. I am expressing myself in a way of unity, and at the end of the day, we can find information out so quickly. Back then, if the government didn’t want young people to know things, they could cover them up. For example,1,000 people are protesting outside Parliament; you can’t cover that up anymore because there is Twitter. In the ‘60s, it could be covered up, because the papers wouldn’t write about it because the government told them not to write about it.

Being a role model, which you are certainly are already, can be difficult.

I love Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson, Kurt Cobain because they’re real. I’m not trying to be them. All I ever want to be is real and spread the truth. At the end of the day there’s a lack of truth. There’s so much manipulation and bullshit in music and society, anyway. I just want to be real. Yes, it’s a bit of pressure sometimes, but I can just say to myself, ‘Dom, just be real.’ As long as I remain true to who I am… Yungblud is “us,” but it’s just me saying what I think. As long as I say what I think, then fuck it.

Have you ever been let down by artists you admired?

Of course, of course, man! At the end of the day, it’s a journey. It’s a fucking journey for me. If someone’s not making wrong decisions at times, then they’re not human, they’re a fucking alien, and I can’t relate to an alien.

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