Yungblud: A mouthpiece for the underrated youth

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Jonathan Weiner

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Yungblud: “I was always very opinionated and very political”

In the middle of recording his new EP, Yungblud discovered an ability he didn’t know he possessed.

“I found this place in my voice where I can just scream,” he says. “I don’t know how I do it, but it just comes from the core of me.”

You can hear it on the chorus of his new single, Original Me, as the 22-year-old purges his feelings of self-loathing: “Some days I wish I was anyone else“.

The song is “about embracing the parts you hate about yourself,” he explains.

“I have those days where I wake up and I’ve got a knot in my stomach and I look in the mirror and I hate what I see.

“But you have to remember, your biggest superpower is to be completely, unconditionally, unapologetically yourself.”

And if being unapologetically yourself is a superpower, then Yungblud is an alt-rock Iron Man: Resourceful, idealistic, borderline manic and very, very loud.

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We catch up with him first thing in the morning, as his tour bus makes the 436-mile journey between Kansas City and Minneapolis, where he’s sold out the infamous First Avenue club, that was the focal point of Prince’s Purple Rain movie.

“I’m looking out the window, freaking out,” he says. “America is so big. Every state is like a different country, but it all looks the same. That’s the craziest thing.”

It’s a long, long way from the working class town of Doncaster, where Yungblud was born Dominic Harrison in 1997.

He was surrounded by music – his grandfather played with T Rex, while his dad owns a guitar shop – but as he grew up, he realised he didn’t fit in.

“Six or seven years ago, Donny was a lot more toxically masculine, a lot more industrial, a lot more baggy, and people just didn’t understand where my head was at,” he explains.

“For example, I’d want to wear a skirt to school, or paint my nails or dye my hair. My mum would love it, but youth leaders or teachers would make me feel like I was doing something wrong.

“It made me feel really small and misunderstood and like I didn’t belong in the place where I was from.”

Disney career

He found kindred spirits on YouTube: Musicians like Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson and the Arctic Monkeys, “who didn’t fit a mould, and built their own world”.

“I looked at myself and said, ‘I wanna do something like that,’ so I moved down to London and started playing music.”

As luck would have it, his dad’s guitar shop was based in Soho, so Dom got a job there (he had to apply like anyone else) and began taking lessons from store manager, Shane Gilliver.

“He’d just hang around, constantly playing guitar,” remembers Shane. “So I showed him a few things, gave him a few lessons and he just ran with it.

“Very quickly, he was writing songs with the little that he knew. And the more he knew, the more he wrote.”

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A teenage Yungblud busks outside his father’s guitar shop in Soho

Initially, Dominic was groomed for a career as a cookie cutter pop star. After scoring a role in the Disney TV series The Lodge, the singer spent “a year fluttering my eyelashes trying to be a b-rate Shawn Mendes” until his guitar tutor intervened.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Screw what’s going on around you, you write what you want to write, and you sing what you want to sing,'” recalls Dom.

“I just believed in him,” Shane explains. “He’s lived his life, hasn’t he? So he understands the stuff he’s writing about more than his record label or whoever.”

And so Yungblud was born.

Dom’s teen idol tresses were traded for an unruly shock of jet-black hair, smudges of eyeliner and figure-hugging dresses (he says he’s “very fluid” about his sexuality).

Reflecting his ADHD, the music became a hyperactive mash-up of emo, rock, hip-hop and ska, while his lyrics became more direct, tackling subjects like sexual assault, corporate greed, depression and anxiety.

“I just started talking about the stuff that my friends were talking about,” reasons the singer, but his honesty and vulnerability were a beacon to like-minded fans.

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After a sold-out US tour, the star looks set for big things in 2020

“His music has helped me out several times,” says Kati Townsend, a 20-year-old nurse’s assistant from Nashville, who’s hoping to spend her next birthday watching Yungblud play live in his hometown.

“I’ve had pretty severe depression, and just listening to him and knowing I’m not alone, and that other people feel how I feel – it just helps me to get through what I’m feeling and start to feel better.”

“He’s the voice of our generation,” agrees Laura Raucci, who created a fan page for Yungblud’s Italian fans. “His song against harassment and sexual violence, Polygraph Eyes, changed my life and helped me get out of a bad time in my life.

“For this reason I’m grateful to him. He has a heart of gold and he doesn’t create barriers between his fans and him, only love and mutual respect. We are just like a family.”

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Yungblud’s concerts are a communion, often opening with the announcement: “We aren’t alone, because we’re all alone together” before descending into total mayhem.

“You’re always moving, you’re having fun constantly, it’s incredible,” says Kati. “I’ve made a lot of friends through Dom.”

It’s to fans like Laura and Kati that Yungblud has dedicated his new EP, Underrated Youth.

“If you look at my generation, the one common denominator is the drive, the passion and the fight for unity,” he says. “We are not bratty kids fighting for attention. We are intelligent and understand what we want.”

He looks up to environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg and gun control advocate Emma Gonzalez as the leading lights of the youth movement; and he’s convinced change is coming.

The old guard has “surrounded itself with so much unjustified hate,” he says, but “one day, we will be behind those desks, and we will be in those shoes and that genuinely gives me hope”.

Scruff of the neck

But it’s not just the youth (underrated or otherwise) that have latched onto Yungblud’s raucous agit-pop.

A “turning point” came when he wrote 11 Minutes with his girlfriend, US singer Halsey, earlier this year, and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker asked to play on the track.

“I was literally like, ‘What? I used to have a poster of you in my room – and I’d hide cigarettes behind it,'” he laughs. “This is just ridiculous.”

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Jonathan Weiner

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Yungblud says the new EP was recorded in an LA studio where “the microphone cost more than my rent”

A couple of months later, Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds called asking to be “part of what you’re doing” – and ended up going toe-to-toe with Yungblud on Original Me.

“We were stood side-by-side, with two mics in the studio, just going completely off,” the singer recalls. “And I was looking at him going, ‘I saw you at the Leeds Festival five years ago. What on earth is going on?’ And that spurred the energy on that track.”

But the most surprising moment on the EP is its closing track, Waiting For The Weekend, a sombre, reflective ballad about unrequited love, that was co-written with Shane Gilliver and recorded in a single take (in an LA studio “with a mic that cost more than my rent,” he observes).

“It really means a lot to me, that song,” says Yungblud, “it’s just a moment you can get completely lost in.”

It’s a tender moment that illustrates Yungblud’s ambition and musical potential; hinting there’s more to him than the “bratty kid” he’s been portrayed as.

“People are still trying to figure me out, so I wanted this EP to grab you by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘come ‘ere, listen to me,'” he says.

“I wanted people to be like, ‘What is this? What is going on? What is he about to do?’

“With me, I never want to be predictable. If people know what I’m going to do next, then I’m completely shafted.”

Yungblud’s Underrated Youth EP will be released on Friday, 18 October.

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