Dominic Harrison aka YUNGBLUD tells Cyclone he's not "the fucking Mother Teresa", but he is striving for a brighter future.
Dominic "YUNGBLUD" Harrison is that rare individual at ease with celebrity. The fearless pop-punk singer and musician from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, has had a rapid rise over just two years. He even fell into a high profile, if transitory, romance with Halsey. However, for the 22-year-old, 'fame' has been communal, and validating.
"It's so funny, isn't it, when you kinda talk about 'fame' and when we invert the commas and whatever it means," says Harrison. "Most people will tell you that it got really hard and it got really down and it got really like, 'I couldn't have my own space.' But it's the opposite for me, because I found people for the first time in my life that related to me and that thought the same as me. When I meet them on the street, they don't annoy me. It allows me to feel like I'm part of something and that I ain't gonna be alone in the way I feel again."
"When I meet them on the street, they don't annoy me. It allows me to feel like I'm part of something."
Today Harrison, anticipating his second visit to Australia for 2019, is in wintry Hamburg, Germany. Genially direct, he jokes about "rambling", but instead offers considered responses laden with catchphrases. Growing up, the self-proclaimed "gobby Northern boy" felt he was underestimated, an experience heightened by his having ADHD. Harrison had a taste of stardom as a teen actor, with a recurring role in the Disney Channel's The Lodge, which is curiously omitted from his bios. "I had such fun acting. I acted a lot as a kid and I love it and I would love to act again. I had such a fun time in that show when I was younger."
But, with his family vintage guitar dealers, music became Harrison's focus. In 2017, the expressive protest singer-songwriter, now a London resident, premiered with the single King Charles, his sound hybridising punk, emo and hip hop. Generation Z welcomed Harrison's openness about mental health and his platform of empowerment and inclusivity (he ignores gender norms in his styling and recently described his sexuality to Attitude as "very fluid"). Mid-last year, he released his debut album, 21st Century Liability.
Harrison is prolific. This year he's circulated standalone singles like 11 Minutes with Halsey and Travis Barker, plus jumped on tracks by Ohio rapper Machine Gun Kelly and EDM star Marshmello, alongside blackbear. In October, Harrison issued an EP, The Underrated Youth, its big song, Original Me, featuring Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds. In the same month he released his graphic novel, YUNGBLUD Presents The Twisted Tales Of The Ritalin Club, co- authored with Ryan O'Sullivan. Gigging solidly, Harrison writes on the tour bus, his fandom, dubbed the Black Hearts Club providing inspiration.
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He confirms that album number two will drop in 2020, "around April". "The first album was about my head, what I thought. I was angry. I was angry at the world. I was angry at the people that misunderstood me. But, through meeting my fanbase and this community growing so quickly and me talking and understanding my fans and them understanding me, that hate turned into hope and unity, and then that turned into songwriting from a much more emotional perspective. So the EP is like a stepping stone into the album about the stories I've heard and me feeling like I can talk from my heart for the first time, 'cause I don't need to defend myself anymore."
Harrison holds that YUNGBLUD represents a youth movement. And, while some commentators have argued that generational discord distracts from class struggle, the star stresses 'mindset'. "It's about the attitude. That's why [when] people ask me, 'Are you gonna be YUNGBLUD at 35?' I'm like, 'Absolutely, because it's about the idea.' It's not me being, 'I'm young and I fucking feel misunderstood.' That is the misconception about me, I think. That is the misconception about young people now.
"We are not bratty kids, just rebelling against the system because we want attention. The one common denominator of the people I meet is the intelligence and the fucking striving for equality that's embedded inside our heads. The future is bright 'cause we are in it."
In fact, Harrison boldly suggests that "speaking out, in social media terms, is making the class system so much more irrelevant". Still, he recognises his own foibles. "I'm not pretending to be the fucking Mother Teresa or the Messiah, because I'm completely full of contradictions – that's what I am. My fanbase is completely full of contradictions. But people are completely full of contradictions."
"I'm not pretending to be the fucking Mother Teresa or the Messiah, because I'm completely full of contradictions."
Over the New Year's period, Harrison will join Falls Festival, with his old pal Lewis Capaldi. "I can't wait to come to Falls. I'm literally gonna be having a couple of beers with my best friends, looking at the sky, looking at the sea, playing some good music and watching some good bands, man. I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's gonna be a sick New Year – I've got a really good feeling about it."
Ironically, his ex-girlfriend Halsey is headlining. During Harrison's February run, Halsey made a surprise appearance at his Sydney show for a rendition of 11 Minutes. They also performed together on Like A Version. And, though the pair reportedly split in September, Harrison maintains that a redux isn't impossible. "If our schedules come into play, then I don't see why not."
The socially attuned Harrison will be "reading up on" Australia's current affairs beforehand, too. Indeed, he's perturbed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison's climate change inaction amid a catastrophic early bushfire season in NSW. "I can't understand it, I just cannot understand it," Harrison vents. "It's just idiotic that people would even deny that, like, look at the planet!"