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“Everyone has an opinion about what Yungblud is: whether you love it, you hate it, or you’re indifferent; whether you’ve just found it or known it for years. Everyone has an opinion,” says Harrison, dragging up a chair in the Hawley Arms. Since his emergence in 2018, the gulf between who he is and the world’s perception of him has widened: the higher he has risen, the more the expectations of others have distorted Yungblud’s definition of himself, stunting an evolution that extends beyond caricature.
That’s why his third record is simply titled Yungblud: it’s a reclamation of his own narrative. This is no longer a statement made by a bratty 17-year-old, lashing out with anger at his own powerlessness, which defined his 2018 debut album, 21st Century Liability. It’s not a deflection, an avoidance of self-confrontation by elevating the stories of others through its 2020 successor, weird! This record is the story of a 24-year-old man who, for the first time, is daring to offer the world every skeleton, every secret, that he once so closely guarded – because he has got nothing left to lose.
“Everything up until now has been, ‘Hello! I’m Yungblud! Love me, love me, love me!’” Harrison says, parodying himself. “But this is my soul on a fucking plate now, so if you don’t like it, I can’t really do much about it. The question behind this album is, ‘Who is Yungblud?’, and the answer is: I don’t know. Listen to this album, and you tell me.”
Yungblud was brought to life through hard-won battles Harrison thought he didn’t have the strength to see through. There came a time where Harrison would dread being seen in the street, fearful to be among the public because he’d have to make paranoid calculations to guess what they thought of him, what they might be saying behind his back. That’s why the album cover, shot by close friend and photographer Tom Pallant, is so black: like pitch, like noir, like hate – the hate that started malicious rumours, the hate that gave way to ignorance. “I felt that pain, and I will remember it – but it won’t be a scratch on people deliberately misunderstanding me.”
He did what we would all do when the walls are closing in, and he called his mum. With perspective, and new resolve, he decided that with this album, he would drop the act - because, yes, he does give a fuck. “I don’t understand why not giving a fuck has been put on such a pedestal. I do give a fuck. I give a fuck about being a showman. I give a fuck about my stage presence. I give a fuck about my image. I give a fuck about what I say. I give a fuck about my kids,” he insists. “I give a fuck.”
Once Harrison has committed to his record, studios and industry-polished songwriters were lunging at the chance to be a part of it. They gave them his ideas of what Yungblud should do next: a pop-punk record just like he was always destined to do, to capitalise on the trend. But he didn’t listen. “I don’t want to be a punk rock star,” he shrugs. “I don’t think it fulfils my potential. It’s a trivial version of rock, a reincarnation, that’s not coming from a real place. I can’t be a scruffy punk, jumping about, unless I want to play Brixton Academy for the rest of my fucking life. I have to put out music that’s real and relatable to the masses. The age of the new kid on the block is over.”
After having time to breathe, he realised not interested in commercial success anymore, either. “Art has been compromised for virality,” he says. “I didn’t want to create another bratty rock album that would be great at Leeds Fest – I had to let go of it. I realised that after the videos from my last album, Weird!, were getting millions of views, I was using that to fill the void of the people who were tearing me down. But I realised virality is going to fill the hole.”
That’s why Yungblud was recorded in a tiny, converted living room in Glendale, California, with producers who couldn’t care less for the boardroom expectations. With his long-term producer Chris Greatti (Yves Tumor, Slayyyter, Poppy), he went to a Thai restaurant where his flatmate worked in Hollywood. He was their waiter, who introduced himself as Jordan Gable; Harrison noticed that he had a Karl Marx book in his back pocket, and after his shift was over, they ended up chatting until 2am. “He’s a complete intellectual. We spoke about everything you can imagine, so I said, ‘I’m going to bring you in on the album.’”
Why them? “They listened. They engaged me. They allowed me to take risks. Can I tell you the most fundamental thing?” says Harrison. “They haven’t had commercial success yet, so they’re not afraid of anything. As soon as you do, you’re afraid of not living up to what you did last week.”
The sound Harrison created with them on Yungblud is quintessentially British, built on the notion that with everything sweet, there is something bitter to taste. This duality, of dark lyrics cloaked in uplifting tunes, as pioneered by Harrison’s own heroes, Joy Division and The Cure, is the spinal cord of the record. It’s the kind of sound that one moment will lead you to the dancefloor of the Blitz Club with the new-wave kids and the new romantics, the next taking you by the hand into the dingy corners of post-punk in the Hacienda.
The music became his Asbestos gloves to handle material he otherwise could not touch. Everything is rooted in a specific, personal experience, but Harrison writes the songs with holographic meaning: “I wanted to write so personally so that when you hear me sing about my life, you hear it almost as if it’s your own voice. I wanted my lyrics to be at the forefront more than ever. In the past, they were bratty, scatty and clever – but this is poetry.”
The propulsive “Memories”, featuring firebrand vocals from WILLOW, appears for all the world to be a love song: “Dreams of you wrap around my throat, I think I’m gonna choke”. Harrison says, “I’ll let everyone think it’s a love song for a bit, but what it’s really about is I was abused when I was younger, and the song is about letting go of past traumas. Me and Willow, we wrapped it up in a love song, so I get the release when I sing it.”
The same can be said for “Sweet Heroine”: this record is the first time Harrison has ever written about falling in love. It’s an ode to his girlfriend, singer and fashion designer Jesse Jo Stark, his heroine who rescued him from desperate times, but it’s also about the drugs that threatened to pull them apart. It’s a soft, synth-driven ballad, foregrounded by some of his most personal lyrics: “See the thing about these days is I really need to fucking call up my mum / I saw my father cry one time and I must admit, it really twisted me up / And it hurts you and it burns you learning everything ain’t what it seems / See the thing about these days is I need something to sew me up by the seams again like sweet heroine”.
After a friend started to cry after hearing “Sweet Heroine”, Harrison wrote: “I Cry Too” that he describes as more of a thought process than a song, a reassuring conversation between men that it’s okay to feel. It’s one of the most interesting offerings on the record, with it’s strange, electronic inflections giving a nod to the legacy of Radiohead’s Kid A. Lead single “The Funeral”, a triumphant tune in the vein of Bruce Springsteen, is the armour Harrison has built from his insecurities, and “Mad”, an indie-driven anthem, is, simply: “Me on my fucking bedroom floor tearing my hair out. I’ve felt so lonely in this. Being a leader is a lonely place, because no one’s there with you.”
But “Tissues”, featuring a sample from The Cure’s “Close to Me”, is a black-and-white love song. “I really fell in love. Jo Jo really turned things around for me. She picked me up off the floor, when I was trying to escape everything. It was so frightening. I was leaning on her, and I was frightened she’d hurt me,” Harrison explains.
Everything about Yungblud is considered: a chronological journey that starts with death, and goes into excavating a painful past, a redemptive present and ends with making peace. “The Boy in The Black Dress”, a melodic anthem that will twist your heart in knots, is a song dedicated to his inner child. He sings, voice like electric: “He tried to erase him by 24 / Because now he can’t walk out the door / They all think he lied, but the lord knows he tried to be something they all would adore / They hate what he is, and they hate what he’s not / But hate is nothing new, you will see / From the grave to the cot, how I wished that I forgot that the boy in the black dress is me.”
Yungblud is about playing the truth and watching what happens. “The immediacy is not what I want. The immediacy is the compromise, and the longevity is the reward. I’m inviting people to question what they think, rather than me telling them. What would I say to people now?” Harrison shrugs. “I wouldn’t say anything.”
Yungblud can’t remember a time before music: at the age of two, he picked up a guitar from his father’s instrument shop, and from that moment, his lifelong love affair began. Born in Yorkshire, Dominic Harrison began writing his own songs at 10 years old, enticed by the thrill of catharsis and self-expression he couldn’t find anywhere else. Since his self-titled debut EP in 2018, the 24-year-old’s lyrics have found universality in introspection, reckoning with sexuality, gender, class, gentrification and mental illness with disarming honesty in order to encapsulate the spirit of his generation. His fans are legion, and the numbers are reflective of this resonance: Harrison has 7.6 million Spotify Monthly Listeners, 4.5 million followers on TikTok and total YouTube views in nine figures. Harrison’s first creative statement was his 2018 debut album 21st Century Liability, which cemented his status as a fearlessly individual artist who thrived on breaking cultural taboos in his lyrics. This was succeeded by his 2019 EP, hope for the underrated youth, which debuted in the Top 10 of the UK Official Albums Chart. In its wake, the accolades started totting up: he was shortlisted for the BBC Sound of 2020 poll and subsequently crowned the MTV Push: Ones to Watch winner. Harrison more than fulfilled this promise with his second record, weird!, which topped the UK album chart and is now certified gold. After having performed headline tours across Asia, North America and Europe, the incredible success of weird! allowed Harrison to perform a sold-out, five night residency at London’s Kentish Town Forum and a date at the 10,000-cap Alexandra Palace to give his fans the live experience they sacrificed during the pandemic. Now, Harrison’s sights are set firmly on the future with the release of his hotly-awaited third album, Yungblud in September 2022, which is primed to be his greatest era yet.