With a desire to be the most honest version of himself possible, YUNGBLUD’s self-titled era has arrived.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Tom Pallant.
YUNGBLUD says he isn’t a punk. He isn’t a rock star, either. Hell, at one point, he claims he isn’t even a musician.
What he is, is the subject of his self-titled third record. Rather than a definitive statement, though, YUNGBLUD’s most personal record leaves things deliberately open-ended.
2018’s debut album ’21st Century Liability’ was a scrappy, snotty record that saw YUNGBLUD desperate for belonging. Follow-up ‘Weird!’ was a celebration of the community that found him. Released on the back of crossover collaborations with Halsey and Machine Gun Kelly, YUNGBLUD became bigger than Dom Harrison ever expected.
“It entered this realm of beauty but also a realm where everyone had an opinion about YUNGBLUD.” He describes album three as a “reclamation of identity, a personalisation of his story and an explosion of expression. The age of the new kid on the block is over. Who is YUNGBLUD?” he asks. “I don’t know, you fucking tell me.”
It might sound like a cop-out, but YUNGBLUD has always stood for self-expression. “Whoever you want to be, that’s what YUNGBLUD is,” Dom explains. “That’s what this album truly means.”
Despite another uplifting message of rebellious freedom, ‘YUNGBLUD’ isn’t more of the same. While previous records have tried to be everything all at once, there’s a focus to this third album.
“It breathes,” agrees Dom. “The first two records, I was saying whatever the fuck I felt in the moment, even if I didn’t mean it six months later. It was fucking true, and it was real,” but it was often a knee-jerk reaction to the conversation. “I’d scribble an idea down, record the song on the bus and put it on the album.”
That urgency came from Dom’s insecurity around YUNGBLUD’s increasing success. If he didn’t question his lyrics, he couldn’t lose the honesty. “People would try and put me into so many boxes. When you’re younger, you listen to it. You play into the idea of what people think about you.”
A little older, a little wiser and with time on his hands, ‘YUNGBLUD’ let Dom “bathe in the emotion, sit in the pain and feel the negativity of the world.”
And there was a lot of negativity around.
“The internet is a rough place to exist as an artist. Fuck that. Actually, it’s a rough place to live as a person”YUNGBLUD
“Looking back on YUNGBLUD, I was pink socks and black hearts – that’s all I had. I started to talk about what was on my mind, how I felt, and people started to connect to it. So I wrote more, because I had so much more to tell after speaking to all these people who felt the same way. Then ‘Weird!’ came out, and the mainstream started to sniff around. People misunderstood me, twisted things that I said, found old videos and blew them up.”
He was accused of queer baiting and being an industry plant. “Everyone had an idea about it,” Dom says. “And I saw what people on the internet were saying about me. At first, it hurt me, but then I had a word with myself – come on, mate, this is what you’re here to do. You’re here to be the one to take the punches and get back up again. That’s what YUNGBLUD is.”
“I’ve always said I’m a vehicle for people’s expression, so if people don’t like that, it’s hypocritical of me to moan. As long as you’re expressing yourself,” he says with a grin.
It wasn’t quite as breezy as that, though. “There’s a lot of death in this record,” says Dom. “I have always thought about, what if I wasn’t here? What would it be like? When the internet turned on me for a bit, death almost felt like the best career move for me, because people would look past the caricature of YUNGBLUD and actually look into my life and maybe give me a chance.”
“Would anyone mind it, would everyone like it,” he sings on the stripped back ‘Die For A Night’ before adding, “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Lil Peep and Mac Miller were taken far too soon,” he says today. “They were incredible artists, but they were ridiculed because the world wasn’t ready for them. Then they passed away, and that was an ignition point for acceptance.” Dom pauses. “The internet is a rough place to exist as an artist. Fuck that. Actually, it’s a rough place to live as a person, and it’d be ignorant of me not to talk about that.”
Dom realised that “the arguments against me were as moronic as they were when I was 15. I just roll my eyes at it all now.”
“I didn’t want this to be a rock star album, saying ‘woe is me’, though. This record is me as a human being, talking about what people say about me in the street, just as much as they did in school. I wanted to humanise it. I don’t want to be a rock star because then you’re unobtainable. If you’re a fucking rock star, how can you relate to anyone?” he asks.
Home from a run of European festivals and gearing up for a tour of Australia, today Dom is “the best I have been in a long while because I feel so connected to my audience, and I feel so confident in my art. I’m at a place where I’ve written a couple of cool songs, and I might add them to the album,” even though it’s out in a little over a month.
Dom questioned being so outspoken, but realised that’s who he’s meant to be. “I’m not going to be Ariana, Lizzo or Harry – I love them, and I think they’re great, but pop music says something and nothing all at the same time. I’m here to say it as it is, even if I get burned for it.”
“If you talk about politics, there’s going to be division,” he explains. “I’m going to fight for equality, fight for love and fight for the individual – I never said I’d do it politely, though. I never promised that. I’m not going to sit here with a cup of tea and ask people to accept others, then thank them for listening anyway.” A little later, Dom says he’s not “some bratty punk kid you can’t talk to. I look like I might bite your head off, but I’ll probably make you a cup of tea and give you a cuddle,” before explaining ‘YUNGBLUD’ is “the closest thing to a conversation with me.”
“My generation is a generation of contradictions, but contradictions are almost an outdated concept because we have access to so much,” he offers.
Despite his earlier denial, Dom admits that some days he does want to be “a fucking rock star”. “Rock and roll music is my religion. But I don’t want to be the sort of rock star that’s come before – wrapped up in pretension. I want to be me. And I want other people to be themselves too.”
“I’m going to fight for equality, fight for love and fight for the individual”YUNGBLUD
It’s a lesson learnt from Bowie and John Lydon, “before he was a fucking idiot”. Dom then namedrops Mick Jagger, saying the pair spoke about what a rock star was. “It’s not textbook,” he explains. “It’s an energy. I understand people calling me a punk, or a rock star, but it doesn’t do it justice. It’s all about feeling. It’s all about telling the rulebook to fuck itself.”
“Punk’s moved on,” he continues. “It’s not the same old outdated movement that’s fighting against a fascist government regime. Now, it’s young people fighting for love. We don’t want to be divided. We want to be unified.”
Later, he mentions a conversation he had with Ozzy Osbourne about pushing back against hate. “As long as you mean it with love,” was the consensus. “It’s all about love. If you want to call me anything, call me a hippy.”
Instead of another record where Dom tries to shatter each and every box he’s put in, ‘YUNGBLUD’ is “a step forward”. It’s a tough line to walk, especially when you’ve got a reputation for shock and rebellion, but he’s created something “that feels obvious. I made a record me and my mates would want to listen to, that we’d love,” rather than worrying about challenging expectations.
You’d call it a coming-of-age record if it wasn’t so exciting. For ‘YUNGBLUD’, Dom was inspired by legendary artists like Linda Ronstadt, The Cure and Madonna, as well as more contemporary acts like Twenty One Pilots. The record started with ‘Funeral’ and the belief that “if you list all your insecurities off, you take the power back because no one can say anything about you you’ve not said about yourself.” The songs that followed all had a “keep on, keeping on” mentality. “I want people to put this album on and have courage,” says Dom.
“It represents where I am now and where we’re going. It’s got this sadness and this defiance within it. That is what YUNGBLUD is. The message is to be oneself,” he continues. “It was all about creating a truthful record.”
Easy to do when you’re speaking to the safety of your fanbase, but a much harder job when you know there’s an audience of people looking to deliberately twist words or misinterpret lyrics.
“I played into it,” grins Dom. “That’s why I respect Matty from The 1975 so much. I like how he fucks with people. I learned a lot from him. It’s about time I said that.” The glitching synths of ‘I Cry 2’ takes influence from The 1975, especially with tongue-in-cheek auto-tuned lyrics like “Everyone online keeps saying I’m not really gay / I’ll start dating men when they go to therapy.”
“I still get questions all the time about my sexuality,” says Dom. “I wrote that line so hopefully others don’t get worried that they’re being questioned as well.”
Elsewhere, the delicate ‘Sweet Heroine’ was written about Dom’s girlfriend Jessie, “who really pulled me out of a dark place,” while he describes the arena punk of ‘The Boy In The Black Dress’ as being “almost like the movie about my life. It’s about the first time I was punched, the first time I was insulted by a teacher, the first time I had casual sex and where I’m at now.”
Dom really leaned on Lou Reed, Bowie, Robert Smith, Brian Molko and Lady Gaga with ‘YUNGBLUD’. “You can feel it in the lyrics,” he says. “There are a lot of lyrics I’m really fucking proud of. It feels more poetic, less straight up,” he explains. While ’21st Century Liability’ was “like being down the pub, telling homophobes to fuck off before giving them a slap,” ‘YUNGBLUD’ is bigger with its ambitions. “It’s a kickback against the world.”
“People believe I do things for a reason. I don’t. Everything I do is complete, unfiltered expression. That’s what YUNGBLUD is. It’s the reason people are frightened to death of it. It’s why they fall in love with it.”
What ‘YUNGBLUD’ isn’t, though, is a pop-punk record, which is surprising considering YUNGBLUD helped kickstart the entire revival by teaming up with Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker on 2019’s ‘I Think I’m Okay’.
“That was a beautiful moment, and it’s such a great song,” says Dom. “From ’11 Minutes’ to ‘I Think I’m Okay’ something definitely shifted with guitars in the mainstream, and that’s fucking beautiful, but I don’t want to be defined by it.”
There was never a moment where Dom wanted to make a pop-punk record following Machine Gun Kelly’s success because “it wouldn’t be real. It would be a marketing exercise.”
“I respect Matty from The 1975 so much. I like how he fucks with people”YUNGBLUD
“I love ‘I Think I’m Okay’, and I play it every night, so I know how much it means to people. But when I play ‘Mars’, I see the tears. When I play ‘Parents’, I see the rage, and I see the acceptance when I play ‘God Save Me, But Don’t Drown Me Out’. I want to make many different things. I want my shows to be full of many different shades.”
“Anytime maths and science comes into YUNGBLUD, it needs to be kicked out,” Dom continues before explaining how being defined by one song or one moment would be “a complete contradiction. YUNGBLUD is growing in the most beautiful way because it’s natural and real – no matter what any fucker says about it.”
“And if you don’t know it now, you’ll know it later,” he promises. When people ask Dom what he wants this album to do, he answers: “Build the house a little more, so more people can be welcomed in. I want it to be as inviting as it was when we were playing Dingwalls,” and not whatever venue comes after Alexandra Palace – Wembley Arena maybe, or perhaps The O2. “Right now, the community is the hit – not the songs,” Dom says. He wants it to stay that way as well.
“What I’ve really learnt is that The Smiths didn’t make The Smiths, The Smiths. Noel Gallagher didn’t make Oasis. The culture, and the people did.”
His relationship with his fans is the “only thing in the world that makes sense to me,” he explains. “Most people never obtain something that raw and authentic in their whole life, and I’m so lucky and humbled to have that. That’s why I called the album ‘YUNGBLUD’, because nothing has made more sense to me.
“I fucking care about them, and it’s why YUNGBLUD has become an explosion. People want to be cared about. If people don’t accept you for who you are, it can really fuck you up, but it’s more than that. People want to be cared for, adored and looked at for being who they are.”
He goes on to describe his live show, the exchange between artist and audience, as “the realest thing you’ve ever felt. If you’re unsure about YUNGBLUD, don’t look at me – look at them.” ■
Taken from the September 2022 edition of Dork, out now. YUNGBLUD’s self-titled album is out now.