"I think it’s the unknown. It’s the extra layer of our existence that we don’t really understand,” Bazzi says over the phone from his tour bus. “I’m completely and wholly fascinated by it. It’s my favourite thing in the world.” He’s talking about space.
Intergalactic obsession suits the Michigan-born artist, whose debut album (fittingly entitled Cosmic) is a collection of 16 kaleidoscopic spacescapes that underpin massive choruses and radio-ready verses that also sound like choruses. From a production standpoint, it’s evident that Bazzi – who writes all his own material – has taken note of the importance of instant-accessibility and has created a record that you can walk right into, like something by The Weeknd or pre-plaid Justin Timberlake.
According to the artist, even the album’s stratospheric success (over half a billion collective streams) is in part owed to some mercurial energy summoned from the interplanetary abyss: “You have to show the universe what you want. You have to show the universe you will never give up. It’s an idea I’ve based my life on,” he explains.
In an age when every facet of popular culture is increasingly dominated by blatant nepotism and inherited relevance, this working-class kid from the suburban Midwest is coming up as one of the hottest new names in the global pop scene. It certainly feels like the product of some spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime astrological alignment. But that would undermine the superhuman levels of work, personal sacrifice and unmitigated risk that marked his journey to realising Cosmic.
Bazzi describes his childhood in Dearborn, Michigan, as both “very independent” and “pretty boring”. His parents worked nine-to-fives and left him to figure stuff out by himself. “The same old American story,” he calls it. “I’m grateful for those years because I had a lot of independence and time to be on my own and learn and experience things early,” he explains. “I had to wrap my head around a few things pretty quickly.”
Alongside growing up fast and ticking off conventional teenage rites of passage, Bazzi uploaded a bunch of covers to YouTube and built a substantial (1.5 million) following on Vine (RIP). The Bieber blueprint was laid out. But, as effective as six-second covers of Destiny’s Child, One Direction or Stevie Wonder can be when it comes to finding digital notoriety, Bazzi had a more organic type of success in mind.
“When I was 16 I went to LA and had my first studio session,” he says. “It was then that I realised that all of my ambitions and all of my passion was about writing my own music.” It was a timely epiphany that would prompt him to erase his presence on Vine more than a year before the platform fizzled out of existence like a social media supernova. “I stepped away from that and allowed time to do that healing,” he says. “People want to hear something real. They want to hear something honest. People want pop artists who are writing music – not having five or six of the best songwriters in the world working for them. I don’t want to make cookie-cutter pop.”
With a plan to revolutionise pop and their collective savings, Bazzi and his father left the industrial Midwest and suburban seclusion for Los Angeles. “I was so excited,” he says about a one-way ticket to California. “I was taking a step towards what I wanted. Life’s all about those big decisions you take. Those are the ones that mean the most to you. It was a beautiful time.” He would spend the next four years defining his sound as Bazzi and crystallising it on Cosmic.
With authenticity in mind, thematically Cosmic took on a terrestrial tone. Lyrically the album is concerned with the earthly concepts of love, fake friends, relationships, Hennessy, women and Cartier bracelets. “My music is always going to be a direct reflection of what’s going on in my life. There’s a lot of love songs on there because I want to write about what I’m passionate about. For a long time that was definitely women,” he says. “But there’s more to the story – some knowledge and philosophy for people to dig into.”
That philosophy is as succinct and self-aware as your favourite TED Talk. “You have to separate yourself from the expectations and opinions of other people and learn to find your validation and happiness within yourself,” he says.
“That approach to anything in life holds more longevity and more accountability. It’s made a lot of beautiful things happen for me.”
Opening for Justin Timberlake, appearing with DJ Khaled before The Carters, sending the hit single “Mine” platinum, recording with Camila Cabello and Russ, selling out his Cosmic tour in hours and getting a really, really cute puppy, things really are pretty beautiful for Bazzi right now. But he’d still trade it all for a spot on NASA’s infamous one-way mission to Mars: “Yeah I would go! But in four or five years… Or maybe ten, actually.”
Cosmic is out now
21 December 2018