Last year saw the rise of a crop of young, talented artists with unique styles and sounds. From Billie Eilish to Greta Van Fleet to Rex Orange County, 2017 was a promising year for the future of music. Among the bunch is 20-year-old Dominic Harrison, best known by his stage name YUNGBLUD. The northern English artist tackles controversial topics, from politics (“King Charles”) to commoditization (“I Love You Will You Marry Me”) and gentrification (“Tin Pan Boy”) to sexual assault (“Polygraph Eyes”). And while these subjects are serious and often repetitive for many in the news, YUNGBLUD’s approach is far from mundane with his crossover punk rock and hip-hop sound. Having signed to Interscope Records (Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey) in 2017, YUNGBLUD has taken his music and energetic stage presence to nearly a dozen countries in his first year of touring. With a debut album and billing on some major festivals in 2018, YUNGBLUD is one to watch.
Currently on tour with K.Flay in North America, we caught up with YUNGBLUD before his first performance in Montreal to discuss the new music video for Polygraph Eyes, his personal style, and inspirations.
You recently joined K.Flay on tour. How has it been so far?
So sick. It’s been weird and crazy. Last night in Toronto, people were there screaming the lyrics [to my songs] and queuing up at the merch afterward. I’d never been to Toronto in my life and to see that, like it wasn’t 5 or 10 people, it was a hundred at least.
That’s incredible to hear. So you came out with your “Polygraph Eyes” video this week. Talk to us about the song’s message and video.
It was such an important thing for me to get this right. When I was writing it, it made me nervous because had to do the subject properly. This was something I grew up around and saw growing up. Drunk girls would fall out of nightclubs with boys and they were just not nearly as drunk as the girls. The messed up thing was it didn’t resonate how fundamentally wrong this was until I moved out and grew up and saw the world for what it really was. To me, that’s just fucking mad because we grow up in the society where the lad mentality is just so accepted. When it came to doing the video, I needed to depict that. This boy is not a maniac. The subject is not black or white. It’s not just forcing someone to have sex with you against their will. Just because a girl wants to wear a short skirt or get drunk, that does not give you the right to take advantage of that. The boy couldn’t be a maniac. I wanted boys to watch it and go “Oh my god, I’ve done that.” Or girl to watch it and go “I’ve been in the situation.” That’s what provokes change. I don’t want to tell people what to think or do, because who the fuck am I to do that. Initially, that’s why I’m so angry because all my life people told me what to do, what to think, what to say, what to wear. I just want to encourage people to view and think what they want to think. If we can talk about this shit, we’re bringing it into the conversation and it remains at the forefront of our brains and that’s how we change things
I definitely don’t think this track and video could have come at a better time.
Exactly. The track was still relevant a year ago but I think the movement of female empowerment is so inspiring now. I was like “the track has got to be on the EP that comes out right now because I wanted to have my say.” I don’t want to just remain quiet in the corner because I’ve never been that person and it needs to be spoken of from a male perspective, in my opinion.
Your songwriting is based on a lot of different but important subjects. What you write about is very politically driven or socially relevant.
100%. Right now the world is such a confusing place. We have access, as a generation, to so much information. To me, politics has never been more relevant. I just can’t believe it hasn’t been written about more in pop music. When someone does touch about it [in a song] they’re walking around eggshells thinking “oh let me talk about politics because I want to be cool.”Do you know what I mean? It ends up not really being about the subject. I just feel like right now everything has gotten a little bit stale. If I hear “Bitch get down” or “Baby, I love you” one more time, I’m going to throw up or punch a wall.
I noticed in one of your music videos that you have the Doncaster area code on your drum kit. How do you find being from a small northern UK town plays a role in your music when you’re singing about such global topics?
It’s a lot of hidden messages. That was the thing with “I Love You, Will You Marry Me.” I wanted to take a hometown story that I know and make it into a global idea. At the end of the day, I’m not Mother Theresa, I don’t have the answers; I’m just talking about what I know and have seen. I remember having an English teacher in school. I was always very misunderstood because I didn’t conform to a box of expressing myself; I was considered a troublemaker. My English teacher was one who didn’t understand me, but the head of English, I loved him. I couldn’t get this essay right once and he pulled me into his office and said “I can see you’re frustrated about this” and I asked him for help. He asked me what I was writing about and I said “the desert.” He asked why I was if I had ever been to the desert. That was an important moment for me. I realized I really just need to write about what I know at home and in the world.
I know that Alex Turner and Eminem and big inspirations for you in this way as well. Is there any rising or newer artists that you draw inspiration from?
Yeah man, I love Jessie Reyez. She’s brilliant. She’s talking about the gatekeeper and real shit. And I believe her. I’m also so inspired by hip-hop music right now. It’s representing something. Rock’n’Roll is so boring right now. It’s just 4 guys in leather jackets singing about fuck all. For me, someone like Lil Peep, it’s such a tragedy. He was singing about anxiety and real problems that young people feel. I would say there is one exception right now for Rock’n’Roll and that’s Catfish and the Bottlemen. Otherwise, I’m just not inspired by the genre right now.
Driving away from the music a bit, I know that the pink socks are your signature style. Talk to me a bit about your overall style.
Have you ever heard of the northern soul movement? It the north of England in the 60s there was this Northern soul movement that inspired a generation of people. The north in the 60s and 70s, even up to the 90s, was pretty grim. The north has always been neglected. It’s why we’re all so miserable. After the war, Americans were still stationed in the UK. They brought these records over and it infected the working men’s clubs of northern England. Bruce Lee was massive at the time and it was the first time men would dance on their own. These boys started wearing cropped trousers and showing their socks. I just thought they looked cool as fuck. I want to look like that in a modern way. I put my chains on to look a bit more modern and I love pink. I feel like it’s a color that represents my personality.
So last questions, what can we expect next from you?
There’s an album. Because of corporate bullocks, I can’t tell you when, but very soon, I promise. There’s also so much touring. Right now I gave up my flight to London because I’m not in any specific place for more than 4 days until November. I’m just excited. I’m so hyped. I’m going to Australia. We’re already booking 500 caps there – it’s just fucking weird. Festival season is close too. It’s blowing my mind. I’m shitting myself… in a great way.