In Conversation: Yungblud and Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons

In Conversation: Yungblud and Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons

The energy embedded within "Original Me," modern rockstar Yungblud and Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds' first collab, is undeniably aggressive. Although the song is less volatile emotion, more contained self expression. Brandishing the label of "loser" as proudly as an L-shaped finger gesture on a Glee cast album, Yungblud and Reynolds shout battle cries of ownership over their quirks in a song that's as kinetic as the current state of Top 40 radio. Backed by pop melodics, trap beats, and rock guitar riffs, "Original Me" is, in fact, as unique as its frontmen claim.

Yungblud is no stranger to this type of battle pop track; "Medication" and "Parents," two of his fan favorite songs, are rebellious anthems for the young and charged up. His entire ethos consists of only the most celebratory and self-embracing messages for his fans to rally around. In an "ok boomer" era of disapproving norm regulators, Yungblud has created a universe for the underrated youth — also the title of his new EP — to explore.

Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons and an activist for self love himself, joins Yungblud on the track with his own story to tell. During Yungblud and Reynolds' conversation for PAPER, Reynolds reveals that he's already been teaching all of the lessons on "Original Me" to his kids; he recounts the story of one of his daughters proudly wearing the term "nerd" on her sleeve.

"Original Me" is clearly one of the duo's more on-brand tracks, and with a new video out for the song as well, its hype isn't dying anytime soon. PAPER put the pair of friends and collaborators in conversation to talk about working together, filming the music video, and, of course, My Chemical Romance's comeback.

"Original Me" is one of my favorites from The Underrated Youth. Lyrically it really hits.

Dan: Awesome, thank you so much.

Yungblud: Yeah, man, it's been mental, to be honest. I was at home last week and I even mean to tell Dan this as well, it's gone crazy on radio at home. The U.K.'s lapping it up, man, it's mental.

When did you first meet, how did you meet, and what were your first impressions of each other?

Yungblud: I was in New Orleans and Dan sent me a message. He sent me the song and the idea, and then he called and was like, "Do you want to just FaceTime?" You see, I moved out to London when I was sixteen because I had no money back then. I used to live in a place called Hounslow, which is literally so far west. I would go home often, I missed my mates quite a lot, and I remember I would pop the [Imagine] Dragons record on when I was on the tube. Literally when I got off the train to the door of my house, I would play the whole album through. So when Dan called and was like, "We should do a song," obviously I was freaking out. I mean, Dan and Dragons, to be honest, were everything I wanted to be. The accumulated fan base, they strive for equality and strive for people to feel good about themselves, no matter where they're from, whatever they love, whatever color they are, whatever size they are. It was super inspiring. And then I would say it was everything I expected when I got to the studio for the first time. We were mental, balls of energy, ended up screaming at each other for two or three hours. The song just came out.

Dan: I love you, Dom! For me, I think it was on Instagram, the first time I saw something of Dom. It was him performing somewhere in a spaghetti strap dress and he looked like the child of the Joker and like he lived in Gotham City. I was like, "Who is this? I need to know who this human being is [laughs]." Then, I somehow fell down the rabbit hole of YouTube, seeing live shows, getting an understanding of who Dom was and what he represented. I was just really excited to see a young face that was breaking gender norms, speaking out politically, and making his voice heard on Brexit. Just not afraid to speak his mind, and you could also feel it in his music. So I reached out, then we worked on a song together and I felt very much the same. I was inspired by him, by his youthfulness and his willingness to be risky and actually speak his mind. I just feel like there's not enough of that today in the industry, so it was a natural thing and we have an incredible time in the studio together.

Yungblud: It was just bonkers, just in a room screaming our faces off, just to get that release. Especially, I'm on tour in Europe right now, obviously the song dropped just as I finished my US tour, but in Belgium, in Germany, in fucking Amsterdam the other night, they were screaming it. Especially when it's like, "And I ask myself/ when my time will come/ will I run away," and I just wait and let them sing. And it just came out, like a matter of weeks ago. It was crazy, I can't remember, someone from my label or something came to the show and they just said "Fuck me, man, that really just went off, didn't it?" The boys are fighting to it, girls are screaming it, and guys in the back in their fucking Oasis t-shirts are just screaming, it's amazing.

There's a lot of overlap in the messages you send to your fans in your songs, but I think there are also some differences. Could you talk about the writing process for "Original Me?"

Yungblud: The overlaps are so comparable, it felt, for both of us, deeply embedded in our hearts and what we believe in. I think that's why we get on so well. We just wanted to get straight to the fucking core and the meat of it because it's what we both believe. I think I was interested in the idea, and I was like, "Woah, this is crazy."

Dan: Yeah, it is rad because, a little bit of the backstory too, is the production of it was put together by one of my really good friends, his name's Rich Koehler. He was in a band out of LA that was big on MySpace way back in the day called Nico Vega that my wife was also in. They were just in LA and were a really raw, heavy rock band. And so he had this guitar rhythm that he wrote. Their band had a quick following here in the US but really when MySpace collapsed it was the demise of their band in a lot of ways. And so I did the chorus, and I brought it to Dom, and Dom brought in his own personal style — almost a rapping verse. So the verses, melody and chorus — it was over almost a decade.

Yungblud: That's so crazy when we think about it like that.

Dan: Yeah, so it really encompasses ten years of musicians. It makes me really happy, also, to think of my friend Rich who was the guitarist for Nico Vega. He would be fine with me saying this, but he's a really punk rock spirit, he lives on month checks and this is his first really big breakout thing in the industry. He's a little older than me, but this is huge for him to have a song on the radio, like he's never had that. So as a musician it just makes me really happy to see someone that has been in the industry for so long to have a big part of this song. And then Dom bringing a fresh light to it, I'm super lucky and fortunate. So, I don't know, it represents a decade of rock and the different ways it's presented. Whether people want to call it pop rock or whatever it is, to me, it's cool. It's really cool because it has that history.

Yungblud: Dan, that's a part that I love as well, it's a rock anthem. Especially at home to find out it was the most added song on the radio a week ago. In the UK, it's all over pop radio, it's amazing, man. Rock and roll is having a resurgence again, and especially for us, it's such an important thing. Rock music is such an important thing to me. For us to be so surprised by all of it, it's mental. Rock and roll, the fire and the spirit of it, and the freedom embedded inside it, it's what people want to hear right now. I think everything lost its edge a while ago and I think a lot of things became saturated, so for us to be able to have an opportunity to release a rock song that we're proud of, and for it to be doing well, is just incredible.

Dan: That is something I really believe in, accepting who you are and loving that. This may sound corny, but I was picking up my daughter from school the other day and she told me that this kid at school was like, "You're a nerd." She's in second grade, so it was the first time that somebody was calling her a name. She's like, "Dad, I told him what you told me to tell him, I said, 'I love being a nerd.'" We had this conversation the other day that was like, "If anyone calls you a name, just embrace it and don't let them turn that against you." So she says, "Me and my friend get called a nerd, and call each other cool nerds, and we're best friends now." She's holding this little boy's hand after school, and so that's really cool.

Yungblud: I can't believe it man, that's why the video is the way it is. No matter how many times things try and crush you — cars crush us in the video — get up and be yourself. I always think about in the rap battle in 8 Mile when Eminem's like, "Yeah, I am trailer trash, yes, you did sleep with my girl, yes, I live with my mom." He shouts out to the crowd every part that's wrong with him, or every part that's right with him at the same time. This guy goes to battle him and he can't say anything because he said "Yes, this is me, what are you going to do about it, because I'm alright with it, so what?" The guy chokes because he can't say anything, because Eminem literally goes: "What? What?"

What was the process of filming the video like?

Yungblud: Dude, it was crazy. We had no sleep, but it was just a day of complete energy. It was so sick to be able to hang out. Dan was so busy because he just had his wonderful baby, Valentine, and I had just flown in from tour. It was so sick to hang out, being in a parking lot, and cars would drop on us. We were like two kids at Christmas.

Dan: It's one of those songs that is so easy to perform, it's just made for live performance. There are songs that I've written throughout the years that I'm like, "This really hard to perform," and it just doesn't translate well for whatever reason, but this song has so much raw energy in it. We just had a really fun time and Dom had this idea, he knew he wanted it to be MTV, 90s energy and vibe, so it's filmed in that way. We wanted to capture everything we loved about 90s rock.

Dan: Did you see that My Chemical Romance are coming back together, by the way?

Yungblud: Yes, I did, I'm freaking out. I was painting my nails backstage, I was like, "Everybody put on your eyeliner." I made everybody put on eyeliner. Everyone's wearing makeup because Gerard [Way] has been reborn.

Dan: I saw him one time when I was walking, we have a home in Eagle Rock. I was walking into Trader Joe's and he was walking out. I don't get starstruck that much anymore, but I really was.


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Photography by Andy Martinez / Story by Ivan Guzman