Proving he knows not only who his fans are, but, more importantly, what he means to them, Dominic Harrison made sure his first-ever gig in America was as inclusive as it was memorable for all involved.
The genre-blurring English artist officially known as Yungblud is just hours removed from his debut stateside when he’s reached on a cellphone in a van headed to Scottsdale, Arizona. Coming on like a man whose four main food groups are Red Bull, white sugar, brown sugar, and black coffee, the easily excitable 20-year-old recounts the gig, in San Diego, as an unqualified life highlight.
First off, despite being something of an unknown quantity in the mainstream, he received a messiah’s welcome.
“Oh, man, it was just crazy to be in America and have a venue full of people singing my music in a place I’d never been to before,” Yungblud says proudly. “That has me so energized for the rest of the tour. To be honest, the first time I go places, I don’t know what to expect. If it’s 10 people, that’s fuckin’ better than none. But to have a packed-out room jumping up and down and singing my songs—that’s fucking mad.”
What happened outside the licensed club was just as memorable as the show itself.
“Because the venue was 21-plus, I did a meet-and-greet beforehand for all the people who were under 21,” Yungblud says. “That’s a huge part of my fan base. I did it at a famous chicken stop. It was amazing to meet them and also to hang around after the show, signing merch and talking to people. The essence of Yungblud is connection. That’s all I want to do: connect with people. Initially, I started writing music because I wanted to express my thoughts and get what was going on in my head out to the world. When I saw how many people I was connecting with, it turns into this family, and so fucking quickly. It’s really blown my mind.”
That Yungblud is somewhat excited by life won’t surprise anyone who’s heard his debut album, 21st Century Liability. The record is in many ways autobiographical, with more than one reference to the drug favoured by four out of five teachers, parents, and doctors who see ADHD as a curse rather than a blessing to artists. Consider “I’m employee of the month at a Ritalin club” from the anthemic “Anarchist”, and “They tried to put me on Ritalin/Hoping I don’t make a sound” from “California”.
Yungblud acknowledges that school was, indeed, a challenge.
“Teachers, people, and, to be honest, some of my classmates didn’t understand me,” he says. “I was the person they didn’t like because I would always speak my mind and had a lot of energy. I’d be bouncing around all the time, being very opinionated. That taught me that people in power don’t like to be confronted, especially by someone younger than them. I didn’t understand why that was—I was someone who just wanted to say what he thought.”
And that’s exactly what Yungblud does on 21st Century Liability, tackling issues ranging from America’s insane obsession with guns (“Machine Gun [Fuck the NRA]”) to the commodification of art and the artists who make it (“Die for the Hype”). Stylistically, the record aims squarely at the Spotify nation, moving frenetically from amphetamined electroclash (the aforementioned “Die for the Hype”) to ska-tinged Britpop (“I Love You, Will You Marry Me”) to American slacker pop (“Kill Somebody”). Pay attention and you’ll notice clever nods, including the rap-metal banger “21st Century Liability” riffing on Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”, and the keys in the G-funk–dusted “California” paying homage to Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.”.
Yungblud thinks he knows why he’s resonating with a new generation: teens have adopted the attitude that the best way to effect change is to mobilize, whether taking to the streets to protest gun violence in the States or walking out of Ontario schools to protest regressive changes to sex education. Like those kids, he’s found his voice at a young age, but not without a struggle.
Obsessed with Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails in his formative years, he realized early on that he wanted to do music. An initial move from Doncaster to London had him working with producers who tried to make him the next Justin Bieber or Shawn Mendes.
“At the end of the day,” Yungblud recounts, “when you are 16 years old and some manager who’s actually recognized by record companies walks you into a record label and says, ‘I want to turn you into this,’ you go, ‘Fuck it, man—whatever will get me on the radio.’ It was like, ‘I’ve moved to London and I have 20 quid in my pocket and I want to make my mom and dad fucking proud.’ But then a year went by and I was like, ‘This is just not what I represent. I’m playing a fucking acoustic guitar on my own in a Gap T-shirt but still jumping on the fucking speakers and doing flying kicks.’ It just didn’t add up.”
One of the most powerful moments on the album is the track “Polygraph Eyes”, where, over drifting Dream Whip synths, Harrison uses lyrics like “She slurs when she speaks/But you hear what you want when she can’t even talk” to paint a picture familiar to those who’ve survived being a teenager. The singer’s timely #MeToo message to her predator? That would be “Fuck off and leave her alone.”
“That’s an issue that I grew up around in the north [of England],” Yungblud says. “Their drinking age is 18, but where I’m from I was going out with fake ID at 15 and 14. I’d see these girls stumbling out of nightclubs with boys who weren’t nearly as drunk as they were. The fundamental, fucking messed-up crazy thing was that I didn’t realize how wrong this was until I moved out of the city, learned to be my own person, and grew up.”
The 21st Century Liability kickoff track, “Eulogy”, has Yungblud declaring himself “A beloved friend/A beloved brother/A beloved son”, following with “He just didn’t give a fuck really.” What’s obvious from the career he’s just beginning to carve out is that the opposite is actually true. What he’s tapped into is that there are plenty of people just like him: misunderstood kids looking for someone to articulate what it’s like to be young and tired of the bullshit.
“In this day and age, a lot of people try and be someone else to impress the masses,” he relates. “I went through that stage. And I had to go through it to make me realize, ‘You know what? I don’t give a fuck what people think.’ And at the end of the day, all you can ever be is yourself. If people don’t like who you are, they aren’t meant to be in your life. That’s what’s so amazing about the fan base that’s growing right now. It’s a bunch of people from all different walks of life that just want to be heard.”
Yungblud plays the Fox Cabaret on Saturday (September 29).