At first glance Jacob Whitesides doesn't seem to have the makings of your run-of-the-mill sex symbol and yet, that's exactly who the pop sensation has become. The freshly 20 year-old's Southern upbringing culminates in impeccable manners, he's endearingly curious and almost considerate to a fault, but there's no rebel without a cause, cigarette-smoking, see-you-in-hell-persona one might expect of someone of his popularity. This is perhaps because while, in a similar vein to Justin Bieber, or his close friend and collaborator Shawn Mendes, Jacob Whitesides has also built a career off the beating hearts of teen girls, Whitesides is almost entirely removed from his fame — particularly in country music hotspot Nashville. Instead, his almost two million-strong Instagram following might collectively faint with the knowledge The X Factor-alum can't wait to settle down, but there's no chance of that happening any time soon.
After the success of his debut 2016 album Why?, Jacob Whitesides is back with two new singles, many more tattoos and ready for his takeover. We caught up with the young star to chat high profile relationships, DMing with fans and how to survive growing up in the public eye.
I'm curious about the stigma, if any, of coming from a reality show background, is that something that still follows you or do you feel completely detached?
I feel like it doesn't, because I got no air time from that. I made it semi far, I don't remember how far, but I literally didn't get any air time from that. Thank god. Fortunately.
Because it sticks to you?
Yep. It literally does.
It's bizarre because it's like, you prove that you're this amazing live performer, win fans across the country, then suddenly it's like, "Oh but you're not really a real artist." It's strange.
Totally my ex-girlfriend (Bea Miller) was on the same season as me but she made it really far. I feel like she's kind of detached herself from it but it's always still there. You type her name in Google and it's the first thing that comes up. I'm glad I didn't get that.
"Killing Me" is such a flawless pop song — it felt like a game changer for you. How have you evolved as an artist?
I feel like everything naturally evolves from the next thing. I'm naturally growing up and experiencing new things. The first EP was the first time that I've ever written original music whatsoever. I've never really written before, maybe one or two songs, but I was always very involved in the creative process. I feel like everything's naturally evolved but not in a way that's trying too hard. Especially with the new stuff. I feel like some people turn eighteen or get in that adult range and they try so hard to detach themselves from the past stuff. I feel like everything's naturally grown. I also changed by management because with my last manager stuff I never got to get face to face with my team — they kind of just put walls up. So now it's been awesome. Now I've got it all together so that I can go and meet with labels and stuff like that without them having to tell me exactly what to sound like and what to do.
Team in what sense?
Publicists, my label, my independent publisher. I don't know it's been really nice this time. I kind of cleaned house in the last year. I kind of fired everyone because I was working with all these people that I didn't have any face to face with because of my management. I'm actually finishing up writing, recording, and stuff. I've been meeting with a ton of record labels. I've always wanted to go the major top 40 route but I didn't want to do it until I felt like I was ready. I just cleaned house completely so it's been really nice.
I feel like a lot of artists how been doing that recently. I keep hearing about people that are like, "You know what I just dropped my lawyer and everything became so much easier."
That's literally what I just did. It wasn't like, "Fuck everyone" it was like, "Hey I feel like it's time, I need to move on." It's also awesome because a lot of my new team, my attorney, my manager and a lot of people that I've been meeting with are all based out of Nashville. I've always made all of my albums in Nashville.
It's funny because you're really not country at all.
Yeah, the pop scene in Nashville is really up-in-coming but no one fully commits to making a full Nashville record. People come in all the time, I'm really good friends with Shawn Mendes, and he's coming here for three weeks to create some of his new album. I know Neil just recorded his record in Nashville. A lot of artists come but they don't commit to doing the whole thing there.
What's the attraction? Why Nashville?
Novelty...and there are just so so many talented musicians. It's the best hybrid because there's so much going on there but also it's a very chill environment. People like New York and LA, because they like the craziness. I feel like a lot of artists, especially on the indie side of things appreciate Nashville just because it's so relaxed and there's not a ton going on. It's still a happening city it's just under the radar.
I feel like prior to Taylor Swift people were saying that you come out of Nashville with pop.
One hundred percent. There's been multiple artists that have said, "You need to come work on your records in Nashville, there's a lot of unique stuff coming out of here, you should at least come and write here a little bit." All of their teams would literally say there's nothing good coming out of Nashville. Now that Nashville is starting to happen they're sending everyone there. It's amazing to see just because I've been in Nashville for a while.
Was there ever a time where you felt like you could step back from the artistry and just focus on writing?
Yeah I think so. I love that side of things and everything's been so crazy for me over the past four years. Now this is the first time in a while that I can just sit and create. We have so many songs so I'm sure that, I'm planning on signing a publishing deal next year, I'm sure that a lot of the songs that don't make the cut will find home for other artists. It's something that has always been a goal of mine. I write so freaking much that once I get in that mindset it's really nonstop for months. Every day in the week I end up with fifty songs and I only use ten of them.
Who would you love to write for?
I feel like I would appreciate collaborating more so. Being able to write with them for their project instead of pitching them songs that I already have. I kind of attach to all the songs that I write. I love the new Niall [Horan] record. I think it's really awesome.
I think he went a good way.
I think all of them have honestly. They're all very different. Zayn's definitely my favorite.
Zayn's your favorite?
Yeah. I love Zayn. I think that would be my cool collaboration just because his stuff is so interesting. He's also just a really interesting human. For someone that's so famous and has such amazing music he's so under the radar.
Is that a difficult part of the business for you? Being "on the radar"?
I think what I hate the most is just promo tour and stuff when you're just flying all the time. That shit stresses me out. There's so many times where I did a lot of the Jingle Ball stuff last year, and there are all these massive artists, and then I step in then they're like, "So what's your name?" It's so awkward. Usually when you're there they're like, "What's new or what are you working on?" That's usually the extent of the conversation, then it's just right on to the next one. You could literally hear them asking the same questions to this person and this person. Everyone's so close together. Those are my least favorite. I hate red carpet stuff. I'm also not really a stylish person either so all of these people are wearing these elaborate outfits and I have on skinny jeans and a t-shirt. I always feel so stupid. Everyone around me always dresses so nice and I'm super basic. I'm trying to step it up.
Also the fact that you just came out of a high profile relationship, there's that whole added element.
Yeah. I'm lucky I don't have a fan base that's really crazy and like, "Fuck anyone you date." I feel like I've always been so hyper involved with my fans that they have a genuine respect for me if I'm talking to someone or dating someone. We broke up the first time and her fans still supported me, my fans still supported her, it's chill. They like it, they enjoy the pictures and everything that comes along with it, but they're not crazy dramatic about it. It's been super badass only because I'm so close with so many [fans]. They can literally show up to my shows and I can recognize half of them. Mostly because I'm always online naturally.
Does that get not get tiring?
Not really. I just feel like even if I didn't have a following as an artist I'll still be that person that's always on his phone. It's a millennial thing honestly. Most of the time I'll get asked if it exhausts you but I just feel like I'd naturally be doing it anyways. The fact that I have people to talk to is sick.
Do you read everything?
For the most part yes. Honestly I read DM's, tweets, the comments. I usually do. I'm always hyper-involved.
Yes all the time. That's kind of how it started.
It doesn't get to you at all?
Not really because people are super positive of me. I feel like the people that get the most negativity are the people who respond to it. So I've never been one to respond to it. Sometimes I will. Sometimes someone will piss me off and I'll say "Fuck you." It really drains your diehard fans to see you interacting with people who don't give a shit about you. When all of them are sitting there trying to talk to you and you're not responding. There's so many trolls on the internet that will look for vulnerable people to dive into. The people that sit there and respond the most are the people that they're going to come at the hardest because they know they're going to get a reaction and attention from it. They love it. I've just never been one to go right at it.
Sometimes I will say something like, "Hey that was fucking rude." I had to snap on a girl the other day. She tweeted at me and said, "You're not as active as you used to be." I was like, "I have a career outside of social media." I deleted it though. I'll usually snap then be like, "Shit, I shouldn't have done that and then delete it."
Can you live or are you constantly recognized?
I got recognized on the elevator on the way up just now. Some really sweet girl. She was going off at the sixth floor. She said, "I love you." She was an adult though. I forget that I'm 20 years-old now. When I see people who are my age that recognize me I feel really special but all my fans are honestly my age now. It's different.
Yeah they grew with you.
It's weird. I did that birthday show the other day. All these fans that use to come to my show with their parents are now sitting at the bar drinking liquor. It's interesting growing with them. I have such loyal fans. They stuck with me through everything. I opened up for Fifth Harmony four years ago. It was one of their first tours and their fans are very girl power, which I'm all for, but they did not like the fact that I was touring with them because I was a guy. They were coming for my neck constantly. It's crazy. For the longest time they would always harass me on social media for no reason, and then recently I got tattoos and started working out, I've grown taller and I dress better, so occasionally more and more I'd get a tweet from a Fifth Harmony account saying, "What happened to Jacob Whitesides his music is so good now. He looks good now and blah blah blah."
Was that a conscious decision, you're really embracing a new image now?
Yeah. I've always wanted to get tattoos. I kind of got into the fitness thing when I was in Europe because I was touring with this drummer that was so ripped and awesome. He taught me a bunch of things. I feel like all of this just happened very randomly but naturally. I'm just coming into my adult self in a way that's not crazy.
Listen to Jacob's new Christmas single below.