Imagine what a 20-year-old pop-rocker and self-proclaimed "21st Century Liability" might look like, and you're probably already visualizing Yungblud. His album cover displays him cross-legged, bound by a beige harness and a straitjacket. He wears smudged eyeliner regularly, resists authority, and doesn't filter himself from littering conversations with F-bombs. It's not an act, though, and it doesn't come across as trite or tired; Dominic Harrison, aka Yungblud, is voicing his concerns for a generation plagued with an era of Boomer imposition.
The English rocker burst onto radio stations with the Travis Barker-featuring Halsey collaboration, "11 Minutes," an emo-pop tale of heartbreak and car crashes. The track is eclectic in its composition, not quite holding any of the various tones in a balance, but instead allowing them to mingle dazedly. This kind of semi-awkward sonic stitching is what ultimately gives the Yungblud a sense of purpose within the current climate of the music industry. Things that might be perceived as a musical imperfections — a skipped syllable, an odd rhyme — are simply small costs to telling a complete and communicative story.
His new track, "Parents," continues the story he began telling on his debut album, 21st Century Liability. He addresses adolescent rebellion under a more critical lens of those who have raised the perceived insurgents. It's a defense of the unheard voices in a losing battle against authority; Yungblud is speaking to his fans in doing so, and in turn, is affirmed in his fans' support. The rock star is interested in cultivating this conversation rather than preaching, even if it means addressing topics he was previously unfamiliar with before beginning his career. Yungblud's mission is more about addressing real points within a group of angst-fueled experiences rather than addressing a singular personal experience.
PAPER caught up with Yungblud backstage before his sold-out New York City show at The Bowery Ballroom to discuss community building, touring, and making music as a storyteller rather than as a pop star.
Did this tour just start?
This is the East Coast leg, and then the West Coast leg and the Midwest leg. It's kind of a weird one. It's crazy that this leads into everything, initially. Everything started moving so quickly, I can't catch my words or my breath. This tour sold out in like, five minutes. I'm just like, "What the fuck is going on?" My agents initially were like, "Listen, we know things are going well, but this is your first proper headline tour." We did shows last year, but they said, "This is the proper tour, and I don't want to get your hopes up, but we're going to put 500-800 cap rooms on sale and let's just see what happens." I was like, "Alright. Sick, I'm on a fucking headline tour! What the fuck?" I was in London at the time and my agent called me and he was like, "Man, the tour sold out in four minutes." I was like, "What? Fuck."
Pre-album, were you on a tour before then?
I was a supporting act for K.Flay, which is crazy.
Before 21st Century Liability came out, what was the change in your music-making leading up to the album?
It was weird, man. I was always very opinionated, all my life. Just always have been, I don't know why.
Welcome to the club.
I was the kid where if I went to a mum's house, they didn't like me because I'd tell you if the fucking dinner was undercooked or something. I was always so brutally honest, for better or for worse I was always honest. A lot of people didn't like that about me, a lot of parents of other people were like, "Don't hang out with that kid, he's far too troublesome." The teachers were like, "He needs to shut the fuck up a little bit." My parents were always like, "You should be allowed to express yourself no matter what." That stuck with me, but it didn't stop me questioning myself and questioning my identity because when you're so bothered about being accepted by everyone else you forget to accept yourself. It was a lot that led to a downfall in my mental health. Then, I found music in a way that I'd never found music before because artists like Gaga or Bowie or Manson didn't fit in a mold, they just simply started to build their own mold. I was like, "Wow, that's interesting. I can be myself." You see that, you take off the rose-tinted glasses that have been put on your face your whole life and go, "Fuck. If I accept myself, then I'm probably more likely to be accepted by everyone else. Not all the people, but the right people." If you tell the truth and you are yourself no matter what, then it's not like everyone will accept you, but the right people will accept you. The people who you want to accept you will accept you.
You've obviously carved that out.
It was always accidentally on purpose. You know what I mean? I had a vibe of what I wanted to do with 21st Century Liability, and the songs that I started writing, but I never knew how much it would resonate and how much it would become less and less about me every day. It becomes less and less about me every day and it becomes more and more about us and them fucking outside. This here's the community I've always wanted. I belong somewhere, now.
You think you didn't before?
I didn't before, I never did before. It's crazy. I remember one show on this tour, it was the first show in Atlanta. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but fuck it, I will anyway. I went onstage and I didn't feel good about myself because it was a time that I made the performance about me and not about them. I was disgusted at myself. Most people will be like, "No you didn't." I'm probably overthinking it, but it was a vibe in the fact that I was very insecure. I hadn't been on stage in a while — well, in a month. [Laughs]
Well, in No Days Off Land, that's a lot.
Exactly! It's a lot of time, with writing a record and blah blah blah, and pressure, moving into a new direction and seeing what my peers are doing. My friends are growing, I've been around people who are very successful. I went on stage and I felt like I didn't have a good show. No one said they noticed, but to me inside, I was like, "This isn't Dom." I adjusted myself instantly and I was thankful to whoever the fuck is up there that I was able to go, "Hang on a second. Something's wrong here." I was back to me, but it was good. I'm very thankful for that because I think I know my audience and I know myself. I know Yungblud inside-out, back-to-front, round-and-round.
"This here's the community I've always wanted. I belong somewhere, now."
I think it's interesting that you said it's a community. You've found your tribe.
That's my tribe, and they tell me when I'm not being right. If I tweet something that's slightly off or tweet something out of insecurity. If I haven't tweeted in four days and I'm like, "Oh I've got to tweet," they know. They don't care. They're just like, "Ah." I love that, it's all a conversation. It's a community, it's a mutual thing. If it ever becomes me and them instead of us, then I've fucked it.
With fame, when you build and build, and that community gets bigger, do you think it's going to be harder to manage or easier because it's a bigger platform?
I think it's very daunting and very scary. Trust me, this keeps me fucking up at night.
It's funny, because I don't think anybody else is probably kept up at night. They're probably thriving because they feel a sense of community around the music.
I feel it because the more and more it grows, the more I have the fear of losing it. It's not losing the fame or losing the music, I don't give a fuck. I don't care about that, it's not what I'm here for. It's losing a sense of belonging. Genuinely, I'll be serious with you — not to get too fucking morbid — I was suicidal before I found this. I was 16, I moved out of London, everything was going through my head. My life was drastically changing. I just felt like I was so alone and so far out that suicidal thoughts were genuinely going through my head. That was scary because I was like, "I'm not suicidal," but the other part of my head was like, "Yeah you fucking are." It is that. What keeps me up at night is that I never want, no matter how big I get, I never want it to seem like I forgot about them, because I do — literally, they know, the real people who know. The real fans of me will call me "Dom." Not "Yungblud," they won't shout, "Yungblud!" They'll go, "Dom! Dom! Dom!" because it's me. "Yungblud" is us.
It makes total sense because that entire idea of losing your tribe is intimidating, but the music — I've even found from writing about music — you get involved with it. When you have that as a core value to share with people, it doesn't matter what background everyone else is from, you're all loving the same thing. When you're going to the studio and creating, are you cultivating just straight from your head, or are you cultivating and considering your community?
A lot of this new music is about stories I've heard because obviously no one wants to hear another album about me. [Laughs] You know what I mean? I'm over it, already! Fuck that. It's about the stories I've heard, how I relate to people, and how I can try to put myself in their shoes — I'll never be able to because in some instances I've never felt that — but it's just about shining light on issues that music doesn't talk about.
I guess you're in a direct conversation with a "shock" aesthetic, a "shock" sound, what draws you to that to tell the stories?
Just because I think, at the end of the day, not anything draws me, but I want to be real. I want to talk about real shit. It isn't me talking about this shit to be trendy, it's because it's what I experienced. A lot of these emotions, and a lot of these feelings, ain't just me talking about it because I want people to listen or be like, "Yungblud's a protest artist!" It's like, "Nah. This is genuinely what's going through my head and the heads of my fans and this needs to be amplified to people who would never normally understand it." A lot of people don't know what it's like to fucking want to go through a transition in gender, I didn't initially. I meet so many fans who do, so I write about it for them, and for me because I understand it now and I want to shine light on it. So people in my fanbase say to me, "I feel less alone because of your music," and I'm like, "So do I." I want to include them so they feel like, "He's talking to me as well." I want to include as many people as I can. They are my people and I am them, they confide in me. We confide in each other.
You're trying to function as a storyteller.
There's a song called "Mars" that's coming out on my next album that is about a young person who came up to me. She said to me that a song of mine called "Kill Somebody" — she came up to me on Warped Tour — and said that it helped her say to her parents that she wanted to transition. I was like, "That's one of the most moving things I've ever heard," and she said, "It was down to you." I was like, "It wasn't down to me! I was just a soundtrack to your decision."
The score to your movie.
"I was the score to your movie," that's a much more beautiful way of saying it. It moved me, it genuinely moved me. Some people say, "Do you not get scared if people attack you?" I'm like, "No." At the end of the day, I'm telling a story about something real that somebody said to me.
You're telling a story about people who are genuinely connecting to you, and that's for you and that person.
Yeah, if anybody else wants to listen, listen. If you don't want to listen, then don't.
That's the best attitude you can have coming into the music world right now, in my opinion. People are getting tired of monotony.
People are getting tired of, "I love you so much baby I'm going to shit myself."
"A lot of this new music is about stories I've heard because obviously no one wants to hear another album about me."
Which I'm sure is the title of someone's next single.
Yeah, good luck to you and I hope it does very well, but I'm not here to do that.
Music has a different property for every person and I think people like you and your fans are connecting to it from a completely different route. Someone else might bop along to something, but for you it's storytelling.
I'd say for me it's a mix. It's like, let's fucking have fun and jump around. You'll see tonight, it's fucking pandemonium. We're nuts, we're bonkers, we sing, we're crazy, yet underlying the message is a feeling of acceptance and equality and a new way of thinking, which me and my generation think about. If you skim-read Yungblud, if you skim-read the brand, people will say, "Oh, he's just a bratty kid talking shit on an older generation." No. I'm not that ignorant. I try to keep myself as informed as possible so people understand what young people are talking about. I'm not saying I represent young people. I'm saying that the portion of people that I speak to, and the portion of the people that I know all over the world — not just in the states, not just in London or Australia — every single person that comes to one of my shows is feeling the same shit.
It's so reductive to describe something as "bratty." Just because someone is tapping into a childlike abandon that someone else has lost because they're operating on a level of looking down, calling your stuff "bratty" is a false reading.
I love when people almost figure it out. I'll see someone at the show who I've seen on Twitter slagging me off. I'll go, "Oh fuck yes." Lowkey. I love being proven wrong, I love it. I was in Rockville Festival in Jacksonville, Florida. This proper redneck guy, I thought, comes up to me with one tooth named Charles. Charlie! I love being proven wrong, but I'm like, "Oh god." He asked me for a beer, he said, "Let's get a drink." Oh fucking hell, I'm going to have to fight him because he's going to say something racist. We spent an hour and a half talking about trans rights. I was like, "I am an asshole because I pigeonholed you in the same way that people pigeonhole me." Even people like me can do that. Fucking yes, Charlie! Thank you, Charlie.
Have you ever heard from him again?
No, he kind of sauntered into my life and was a bit drunk and then walked off forever.
Those are the moments that ground everything. If you're going to do rigorous touring to different parts of the world, you're going to meet people from all these backgrounds you don't know about. You find yourself reassessing what you know.
All the time. I am not the artist i was a year ago. I'm not the artist I was a week ago. Genuinely. It's crazy, and that's why I'm excited about this next album because I'm evolving. Every time I'm evolving in the way I think, the way I talk, the way I dress. The way I think in terms of race, sexuality, the world. I'm growing, I'm experiencing things, I'm tasting things, and I'm feeling things every day. I go, "Oh shit! That's never come by me before." The best part about it is that it's okay.
Stream 21st Century Liability by Yungblud, below, and follow him on Instagram (@yungblud).
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Weiner