Digital Cover: YUNGBLUD
The music provocateur is raising a middle finger to expectations and leading with his heart.
One thing to know about Dominic Harrison: whatever he’s doing, he’ll be doing it loud.Hailing from Doncaster, the 24-year-old quickly made himself known in the music industry with his explosive YUNGBLUD project: an anarchic, larger-than-life pop star persona with a rock snarl.
Building off the back of a well-received self-titled EP in 2018, Harrison has gone on to drop the debut album 21st Century Liability, EP The Underrated Youthand sophomore LP Weird!. With each release, his vision gets bigger: his lyrical tales of misspent youth and angst get more insightful, set against slicker, glossier production. As a show person, with his extravagant dress sense and amped up stage presence, Harrison is taking his cue from the greats; following in the footsteps of artists like Bowie or Prince, who embodied a sexual and gender fluidity and out of this world energy.
Below, we catch up with the music provocateur about his northern upbringing, owning his pansexual identity and new single “Fleabag”.
As a first question, if you hadn’t become a musician, where do you think you would be now?
I wanted to be either an astronaut – because going to space would be amazing and I’ve always been obsessed with going to space – or an archaeologist. Indiana Jones shit.
As most people reading this will already know, you grew up in Doncaster. How does your northern upbringing impact your identity or creative approach today?
It was the catalyst for everything. Growing up in the north is such a beautiful thing because it gives you a sense of community, and an ability to talk to anyone. Everyone in the streets of northern England talks to each other whether you’ve met them or not. But it was difficult for me as well because it was quite hard [emotionally]. I was always quite creative and had ideas about my sexuality and my gender that didn’t conform to the ideologies that Doncaster would put in front of me. I wanted to be who I was and I was told that I had to be a certain thing or be nothing at all, and I didn’t like that.
"A lot of people still think I’m this fake poser punk."
What are some of the misconceptions that people have about you?
I think a lot of people don’t think that I know my shit. But my level of music knowledge is really deep and everything I do is done for a reason. A lot of people still think I’m this fake poser punk. I’m like, “Test me on anything, I bet I’ll fucking surprise you.” Yeah, come at me man!
A large part of your artist persona has been your unique style. How would you describe your relationship to fashion: is it an armour or is it a facet of your self-expression?
I think the clothes you wear say what you want to say without having to open your mouth, and fashion has always been so important to me. I have a bit of a problem with fashion at the minute. For me, mainstream fashion doesn’t have a lot of heart, it’s like; “Top 10 artist works with top 10 designer.” Then they work with the [magazine] editors and they’re all in bed together. It all feels so fucking corporate. What I miss about fashion is that it’s all supposed to be sick and twisted and new, and it feels like right now all the subcultures are exploited. Art never dies, it’s out there right now, but a lot of big wigs in fashion don’t want to let it shine. Let it shine! With clothes I don’t know what’s fucking cool, I just work with my best friends and I wear what I want – like my girlfriend makes my fucking skirts. I lead with my heart and that’s what I’ve always done.
Last year you discussed your identity as a pansexual, polyamorous person for the first time. Both of these groups are among the lesser understood factions of the LGBTQIA+ community – why was it important for you to publicly own these labels?
I was just like with it all; “I’m pan, you know what I’m saying?” It doesn’t matter what genitalia you’ve got or what you identify as, if I love you, I love you and that’s it, and that’s [something] I’ve struggled with my whole life, because I didn’t know what I was. I couldn’t quite put a label on it, then I learned about pansexuality from magazines and the internet and I think it’s so beautiful that sexuality has really come to the forefront of my generation’s mind, that you can be beautifully yourself. What I want to encourage with my message is that no matter what you are, no matter how you want to express yourself, you are individual and you are beautiful just by simply existing. I wanted to make a stand so that if anyone’s out there scared to come out, they will come out.
A large focus of your work has been on creating a sense of community around your music. Why was this important and what have your fans taught you?
All I wanted to do was find mates and belong somewhere. A lot of things are missing culture now, a lot of things in the world have no culture behind them because it’s all based on trends. A definition of a trend is that it’s meant to die, and I don’t want something that would die, I want something that would last forever. I want to belong somewhere, and it’s always about the fans – they are the beginning, the middle and end of the story. I adore them with all my heart and I will do forever.
There has been a lot of discussion about a potential pop punk revival in recent years. Would you consider yourself to be a part of that? Why do you think the genre is coming back?
Yeah, there’s a pop punk revival and I’m just doing my own thing. I love it and I adore it, people are playing guitars and I think it’s great, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a pop punk artist, I just am what I am. I just want to be myself and write what I like. I love that there’s a scene happening. I was speaking to Oli Sykes [the lead vocalist of band Bring Me The Horizon] about this, now I know five artists that I would love to tour with whereas two years ago I didn’t know any artists I would love to tour with. There’s a scene happening again, 100 percent, but I don’t know if I necessarily fit in a box like that, I don’t want to fit into a box.
You’ve been candid about your experience with ADHD. In recent years there’s been a push for more education around neurodiversity –do you think this has translated to more understanding?
Absolutely. I think the thing about it is the conversation around mental health has become something that is not to be frowned upon or be scared about. Everyone goes, “You know what? I’m different, and I express myself and I think and I feel like this.” Every single person should be able to feel like they can express what is going on inside their heads.
You’re often described as the voice of a generation. What does that generation stand for?
There’s been such a massive kind of resurgence in passion. My generation believe and we fight so hard for what we believe in, but the difference between my generation and past generations – because past generations have been beautifully passionate as well – is that we have a phone in our hand and we can communicate and talk to each other simply and effectively. But when people call me the voice of a generation I don’t really pay attention to it, because I’m not the voice of a generation, I’m a voice in a generation, a generation that wants to fight for change and is doing it loud and proud. I’m so proud to belong to my generation.
With so much of you work so far coming from a youth perspective, how do you think your sound or message will adapt as you grow older?
I’m not going to be the same artist that I am today as I am tomorrow. With success, and whatever the fuck “fame” means, comes expectation. I think it’s really scary to fall into people’s expectations, an artist should never become an expectation, because you’re not an expectation, that’s the definition of being an artist. I’m going to do what I want, say what I feel, lead with my heart like I always do and I’m going to love as hard as I fucking can. I’m going to love my fans and hopefully they fucking love me back for whatever journey I want to take them on.
"There’s an album coming. Full stop. Underlined. I can’t wait for you to hear it."
I hear you have a new single dropping — can you tell us the story behind it and what it means to you?
As I was saying, I think the expectation became too much – YUNGBLUD became a real weight for me. I felt like there was a lot of speculation about me online and all I wanted to do was be myself, and I preach this message telling everyone else [to be yourself] but I forgot to do that myself. “Fleabag” is an expression of that. It’s an expression about that, saying; “Don’t be an expectation, be yourself and be beautiful and be proud of it.”
This autumn you’ll be travelling all across the UK as part of the Life on Mars tour — what does it represent to you to be playing live again and how does it feel to be bringing your music to different areas of the UK?
Dude, I’m buzzing. I’m so excited, I can’t wait. I’m ready to get back on tour, I’ve been waiting for fucking 18 months to do it, I’ve been counting down the fucking minutes.
Looking to the future, what do you want your legacy to be?
If I could look into the future and saw what my legacy would be… I just want it to be a person who spent every day fighting for the good in this world and wanted people to be themselves, because every single one of my fan base and every single person I meet is fucking beautiful and I just want to fight for good in this world. That’s all I give a fuck about. Everything else is just noise.
Finally, what’s next for you?
There’s an album coming. Full stop. Underlined. I can’t wait for you to hear it.
YUNGBLUD’s new single “Fleabag” is out on Thursday 19 August.