After years of trying to connect with others, YUNGBLUD’s debut album ‘21st Century Liability’ saw Dom alone, “fucking angry" and asking ‘is there anyone out there like me’"? Full of hyperactive rage and taking issue with everything from global capitalism ('King Charles') to shitty lad culture ('Polygraph Eyes'), it turned out there were millions of like-minded individuals waiting for someone to stand up and say something.
Galvanising an international fanbase to be unapologetically themselves in a way that hasn't been seen since My Chemical Romance's 'The Black Parade', YUNGBLUD quickly went from shouting to half-empty toilet venues to owning festival main stages and selling out academies. A string of breakout collaborations with the likes of Halsey, Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons, Marshmello, Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker saw him constantly unpredictable and sent his ascent into hyperspace. "People telling me I'm not going to be able to make something work turns me on. If I got something to kick against, I win," he tells us. Despite radio hits recruiting millions of people to his cause, the anti-idol isn't betting his career on more.
He leans closer, like he's about to tell us a secret, and smiles. "I've got hit fucking songs that I didn't put on 'weird!' because they mean nothing. All I care about is stadiums and culture. I care about bringing people together and allowing them to feel like it's alright to exist, in the same way that they made me feel like it's alright to exist."
But don't you need those hits to get you to stadiums?
'parents', Dom's biggest song on streaming, has never been played on the radio thanks to lyrics about cleaning his teeth with bleach, putting a toaster in the bath and fucking his best friend in the garden. That hasn't stopped him reaching people though. Last October, New York police were forced to close down Times Square after a meet up with fans to celebrate the release of the 'original me' video saw thousands of people descend on the corner of 44th and Broadway. The same thing happened in London a few months earlier when Dom played a pop-up gig in Soho. His headline show at Brixton Academy had fans queuing for two days before the show. "It's not about hit singles. I look up to artists like Amy Winehouse, Thom Yorke, Kurt Cobain, David Bowie and Lady Gaga because they told the fucking truth. What does a smash even mean? I just want to be relevant to people's lives and people's existence. I am YUNGBLUD, and so is everyone who connects to my music."
Earlier this year, Dom went to a post-Grammy Awards afterparty. It's not his usual scene - he spent the night after the NME Awards doing karaoke with fans at Camden boozer The Hawley Arms instead of heading to glitzy shindigs with the likes of Taylor Swift or Matt Healy, but when in LA…
While he was there "some twat with a bit of canapé on his lapel" approached him and, with a roll of his eyes, asked what the formula for YUNGBLUD's success was. "He thought I was doing some sort of act," like YUNGBLUD is just a character Dom plays onstage. "There ain't no formula. You tell the truth, you connect to people person by person. You don't sleep for four years. That's it, there's no bullshit to it." But the results are undeniable. With a sold-out Brixton Academy in his back pocket and five sold-out nights at London's Kentish Town Forum alongside a European headline tour that'll play to around 200,000 people in the near future, it's all a little ridiculous.
"What's crazy is the Doncaster show." Growing up, Dom never felt like he belonged there, but now "people are coming from Poland, Italy and Atlanta to my hometown, and I can't wait. Donny train station is going to be a fucking riot with 5000 cross-dressing punks. "Bloody hell that station looks like the fucking Addams Family," grins Dom, doing his best northern accent. "Yeah it fucking does," but they're not Addams'.
It took him long enough to find this family, though. "No one wanted to know at the start. I was seen as a b-rate Arctic Monkeys and fair enough, but no one was listening. No one knew what I wanted to build." And that includes Dom. In the beginning, "I just wanted to meet some mates, play some shows and find some people like me." Being the leader of this pack wasn't the plan, but he was never going to let his fans down. "I can't believe what we've done since. We've shattered every fucking rule in the book. At the start, no cunt wanted to know. Now every major label is using me as a textbook example, trying to sign 'the next YUNGBLUD'. It's hilarious, and I owe everything to the fans. YUNGBLUD ain't me, YUNGBLUD is us. I feel so freaking proud to be part of something that's changing people's lives. I have done nothing, we have done everything."
A few days ago, Dom and guitarist Adam Warrington were drunk at home, giving each other stick and poke tattoos. Peak lockdown. Dom wanted a BHC on his ankle and Adam, channelling every middle-aged dad, asked why before reminding him that it'd be on him for the rest of his life. He doesn't normally get angry, but this set Dom off. "They are my fucking life," he snapped. "This isn't a job where I switch off at 7pm. From the moment I open my eyes to the minute I go to bed, I'm thinking, 'how can I reach these people? How can I make them feel good about themselves? It's this codependency between me and millions of people." Ballsy second album 'weird!' tells their stories.
With the Black Hearts Club behind him, he doesn't need to play by the established rules or live by industry standards. He's fine being an outsider. "There's a lot of things I should do for my career, but that's boring. If people can expect what I'm going to do next, then I've lost. It's not about following the ideas from a 50-year-old in a boardroom. If I've got to be inside that nice warm house with that fucking Sunday dinner, I've got to not be myself. I'd rather be outside in the fucking rain with my freaks." It's what 'The Freak Show', the closing track on 'Weird! is about. "Times might change, and you might break, but I'll spend the rest of my life believing in you," sings Dom over an ambitious track that channels Eminem, Panic! At The Disco, Lady Gaga, My Chemical Romance and David Bowie.
For the first time in his life, YUNGBLUD has an audience to let down. He's got people hoping he fails. The pressure "is fucking nuts, but it's great to feel loved." He's excited and nervous about the release of 'weird!' but "it's not scary because it's about them. I've met kids of every age" - he affectionately calls everyone a kid - "of every shape, of every colour, from every continent and I've heard their stories. This album is about my generation, unfiltered and uncensored. It's full of stories about life, gender, sexuality, identity, love, heartbreak, depression, anxiety, loss and gain." Like the coming-of-age chaos that Skins captured, this album is about the weirdest years of our lives.
Despite the label suggesting he push the release of 'weird!' back to next year because of COVID-induced production issues, "the kids needed it this year," Dom insists. "It's very scary right now, and when you have time to think, you only provide yourself with more questions. You start to question every single aspect of your existence, and this album has a lot of answers."
It's also full of surprises. The rage of '21st Century Liability' has been replaced by love ("I've got nothing to be angry about anymore because I fucking belong somewhere") and the opening track 'teresa' sees Dom properly sing ("Bet you didn't know I could do that, did ya?"). It is, by his own admission, "weird and different, but it still feels like me." He still struggles with his gender, identity and depression. "It's never been weirder than right now, but I've got something to fall back on. It's like a trust exercise with four million people."
The charm of this record, and what YUNGBLUD had become, "is that it's a ball of confusion," he says. "But every single person on this planet is a ball of confusion, so why not own it." Since that first album was released in 2018, he's "just learned to be proud of who I am. That self-belief came from his fans. "They allow me to be me. We encourage each other to be proud of who we are. If you don't fucking know who you are, be proud of it. I'm wearing dresses and make-up, and they're giving me the confidence to just go balls to the fucking wall with it." It's something Dom's wanted to do since being a kid, but obviously, playgrounds in Doncaster weren't a safe space for expressing himself. "Now I'm celebrated for it." Yeah, he still feels like an outsider "but I'm outside with 'em. We're cuddling like penguins to keep each other warm."
The journey to the psychedelic love of 'weird!' amidst all this acceptance wasn't an easy one. Years ago, Dom was one of three people living in a two-bedroom flat in London that had issues with damp and dodgy electronics (a fun combination that meant turning on a light was a life or death decision) as he struggled to make anyone take notice of his music. He and Adam watched videos of Foo Fighters playing Brixton Academy and allowed themselves to dream. "If we play that venue, we'll have made it."
Last September, those dreams came true after a bizarre, troubling few months. Dom almost lost his mum in a car accident, and the band got famous real quick, with kids waiting at the airport to meet them ("amazing, but impossible to fathom"). He'd also fallen in love and experienced heartbreak for the first time, a life-changing experience under normal circumstances but much more extreme with the whole world watching. "I had everything I wanted, but I was still anxious and depressed."
That Brixton show changed things. "Up until that point, I thought this was all a dream." After the show, he did some naughty stuff, saw a girl but couldn't sleep so he went up Primrose Hill and the lyrics for the title-track poured out of him. "It was magic. I didn't know what the album was going to sound like, but I knew what it was going to be about. Them. At that moment, everything made sense. The next morning I went back to feeling like I was an alien, but in those moments you grow up two years in two minutes."
'weird!' sees the first YUNGBLUD love song, "which is crazy because I never thought I'd sing about love," he says. "I grew up with a lot of fighting in my house, my mum and dad used to fight and sometimes, it turned physical. I don't have many regrets, but I left home very young. I regret that I left my sisters in that house when that was still going on, and I wasn't there to shelter them from it. I thought if that's an idea of love, then I want no part of it." Everyone can relate to the line "nobody taught me to love myself, so how can I love somebody else?"
Then he met Halsey. "[She] completely turned my world upside down and reinvented every single feeling that I felt regarding love. To experience love on that level was pretty mind-blowing to me. No one prepares you for it; it's like being hit in the face by a football on a freezing cold day. It didn't last, but that doesn't matter. I owe everything to her, in terms of my understanding of love, and I'll never take that away because we were amazing together. We're very similar so we were dangerous for each other and we're better off friends. She's amazing, though."
Dom talks to his fans a lot. When he was touring, he'd speak to them after shows, and now, with lockdown in full effect, he Facetimes them or chats to them via DM. Despite everything, he feels more connected to them than ever. "I'm never a teacher, and I ain't got all the answers. I know what I think, but it's always changing. They've helped me, and I've helped them, it's so mutual."
It was after a conversation with some kids about being pansexual that he realised he identified with that, and all the sex on 'weird!' comes from his newfound "confidence to explore my sexuality and learn about it." There's a lot going on, on 'weird!' as Dom shows off twelve different sides of his personality, but throughout, there's the message of believing in yourself and the choices you make.
The story behind 'mars' still gives Dom a shiver down his spine. He met a young trans girl in Maryland whose parents couldn't understand that she wasn't their son, and had always been their daughter. As a reward for good grades, they agreed to take her to a YUNGBLUD show, and when they got there, they saw other kids like her. "They saw the passion, the energy and the reluctance to be anything other than themselves." After the show, they took her out for a burger and accepted her as their daughter. "That shit is what YB is about. We, as a community, provided a change in someone's life. We offered happiness to someone's existence. That's fucking mad."
A lot of 'weird!' is Dom giving that power to his 15-year-old self, who moved away from Doncaster because he didn't feel like he belonged and tried to find himself in London, drugs and sex. "I wish I had this record then. I didn't open up about it on the first record because I was too insecure. But the fans gave me a confidence to talk about whatever the fuck I want. I've grown up so much since my first record, in terms of my sexuality, my identity, and so have they. I can talk about my heart, I can put it on a silver platter because if someone stabs it, someone else is gonna patch it up. Who's going to hurt me? I've got an army of a million fucking people around me."
Making people feel like they belong is a powerful thing, especially if that's a rare occurrence. "If you feel like you're an alien on another planet, you can survive. There is oxygen here. I know that that ‘cos I'm on it with you, and I'm not dead yet. There is life on Mars." Between that and his anthems of acceptance, people credit Dom with saving their life. "I didn't save fuck all. You saved your own life, maybe I was just the soundtrack to it. You were at a crossroad, and you could have definitely driven off the cliff, but you fucking chose to turn left."
As for what's next, 'weird!' isn't just an album, it's an 18-month project. Fans are probably getting a surprise on release day to make up for delaying the album from November to December, and Dom has 50 other songs ready to go. There's a grunge song with a rapper that sounds like Nirvana. There's a pop-punk smash with Machine Gun Kelly ("give the people what they want"), there's a piano ballad that sounds like Bon Iver, and there's a metal song with Wargasm ("I love anything that's against the grain"). There's a bit of everything. "If you try and put YUNGBLUD in a box, you're not going to last very long. My next release is never going to sound the same as what's come before it. If it's going to piss people off, I'll do it. If it's going to make people question me, I'll do it."
'weird!' is a very British album, it's why Dom moved back from LA to London to release it. "Despite everything that's going on I'm proud to be English, but fuck me, the government is fucking it right now. It's the same everywhere, though. We just have to keep talking ‘cos one day we're going to be in the shiny shoes, and they'll be in the fucking ground. This isn't me saying 'I've got the prophecy' with this album, these are your fucking words. Learn from each other, talk to each other, start conversations. At the end of the day, my community and my generation is undeniable."
Despite young music fans' history of making the likes of One Direction and Billie Eilish the biggest things in the world, they're still looked down on. Their tastes written off as a phase, the community they build around an artist dismissed as nothing but growing pains. "People empower the young generation, they fucking have too because we're too loud, but they don't believe it yet. They will," promises Dom with a grin. "We'll make them believe in us."
"The biggest misconception of me is that I'm some bratty kid who doesn't know what I'm talking about. This record is for those cunts," grins Dom. He's spent the weeks leading up to the American Election finishing every tweet with #FuckTrump and encouraging everyone to "use their voice", while also raising awareness about the proposed abortion ban in Poland ("the choice of abortion should be your right and your right alone, it is your human right!"). Last year, he projected the message 'Hope For An Underrated Youth' on the houses of Parliament ahead of dropping the track "about the forward-thinking, racism-hating, LGBTQ+ liberal 'sinners' that we all are." Yeah, there's a lot of emotion on 'weird!' but it's still a political record. "I'm a reactive artist, there's so much about the BLM movement and LGBTQ+ rights on this album. There's so much about the world in it. I've learnt a lot about my generation, and we don't want to be divided. The way we win is by uniting, so I wanted to create a record that is very uniting."
Gone is the cynicism of the older songs that came from a lifetime of being downtrodden and spat on. He's optimistic because he's found somewhere he belongs. "I'm with a group of people who'll march into battle together. The first record was us going to war, watching the world go up in smoke. This one is us rebuilding the world we want." We don't need to be told things are fucked, we're not stupid. "If we keep our head above the water though, we're going to be alright."
"I want to provide people passion, happiness and amplify the sadness so they can talk about it. That's fucking rock'n'roll. This record is talking about my heart because this community has such a massive heart. It's emotional as fuck because it's been such an emotional few years for all of us." YUNGBLUD has gone from a lone figure raging against the machine to a million-strong community of like-minded individuals. He's comfortable playing shows to thousands of kids who scream every word, of every song. "When we get back on the road, come to my show and ask me if I need a hit to play a stadium," he smirks. "You just have to get so big that no one could ignore you and it's happening. It's not about anything else except them and the world we're building together. Everything else can fuck off."
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Dork. YUNGBLUD's album 'weird!' is out now.
Stylist: Davey Sutton.
Grooming: Sven Bayerbach @ Carol Hayes Management using NARS.
Photographer's Assistant: Dani Willgress.
Stylist's Assistant: Steven Huang.
Featuring YUNGBLUD, Baby Queen, BENEE, Joe Keery and loads more.