His fans call him the voice of a generation. London’s Evening Standard were inclined to agree, calling him “the poster boy of Gen Z”. At 23, he’s at the older end of that cohort but is a loud ambassador for all their big issues: anxiety, sexual fluidity, being yourself. You will know him by sight – his fashion is e-boy meets 00s Camden market punk, all hearts, red hair and Creepers – but perhaps not by ear: He’s the biggest popstar in the UK without a hit. For the past two years, the Yungblud phenomenon has cartwheeled past adult onlookers with its tongue out. The man behind the project is Dominic Harrison, and we are going on a first date.
First dates are all about demystifying people but I knew a little about Yungblud prior to meeting him: he’s a self-anointed outsider/weirdo who says that punk is both TikTok and Rosa Parks. He grew up in in Doncaster and his dad owned a prestigious guitar shop that sold used and rare instruments to famous musicians. After studying at stage school, he worked as an actor. He subsequently landed roles in shows like Emmerdale and went onstage at the Vaudeville Theatre with Matt Lucas. His rock-inspired music is equal parts Busted and Twenty One Pilots (incidentally the latter’s music caused adults and critics to scratch their heads but was received rapturously by tweens and teens). It sort of fascinates me that he says in interviews that his music is secondary to the idea of Yungblud: the messaging, the fandom-generating machine. He’s so famous now that when I see him make a surprise appearance at a show days later, the applause he receives is deafening; as booming as the song he features on.
On the day of the date, I see Yungblud before I hear him: he’s peering out the taxi window, an electrified mass of red hair. As he bounces towards me, I realise he’s brought me a huge bouquet of flowers – polite! He’s come straight from rehearsals to The Last Tuesday Society in East London and claims he’s very stressed. But for someone this charming and aggressively high energy, I wonder if stress registers much when there is a job at hand. The job: day drinking, chatting to me and taking pictures with some shrunken heads and stuffed mammals.
“I’ll have a can of lager. Not any of that fucking pale ale,” Yungblud tells the bar-keep, leaning over the counter. But he is given a pale ale, since it’s all that’s stocked and is lovely to the barman about it. That’s Yungblud in a simple exchange, I think. As he leads me downstairs to the museum in the basement, he recoils at the formaldehyde smell and points out a merman creature. “Do you believe in monsters?” he asks, to kick off conversation.
VICE: I don’t believe in monsters, just other esoteric stuff like astrology.
Yungblud: Yeah, you said mercury’s in retrograde earlier.
What star sign are you?
I’m a Leo.
I like Leos! I’m a Libra.
Oh cool, the scales are really balanced vibes. We would fight.
No, we wouldn’t.
You don’t think? My ex-girlfriend was a libra and we bickered.
I’ve got a lot of Leo in me so we’d be alright. What are your favourite dates you’ve been on?
I like doing weird stuff like this. One of my most memorable ones was I met a girl and I was like ‘do you wanna spend a whole day together on a first date?’ I said ‘let’s meet at 5.30AM at Hampstead Heath and we’ll go down to Brighton. I’ll bring a flask of coffee, you bring something else.’ They brought bagels, but it was a bit of a pain in the arse because we didn’t have a toaster.
Nice idea, bad execution.
Last time I was on the train from Donny to Sheffield which I always used to get, I got mobbed. So I can’t really go on it. But we went on the train to Brighton and it was cute.
Is dating as a celeb harder?
Not really, it’s more exciting. Everything’s wild and not stationary. My mum’s a gypsy so I’ve got it in me.
Yeah, my mum’s dad was a proper gypsy traveller and I love moving around and not being in one place. I got my first place in London and I’m already bored of it – I’ve been in there eight months. I love meeting new people all the time, that’s what Yungblud’s based on, I needed to meet people like me –there wasn’t anyone in Donny who understood me. I was just playing music, like, ‘is anyone out there like me?’ It’s still that ethos. I was having a fucking argument with the agent yesterday. They were saying you can’t go outside the venue after, you’re too big now. They said no one does it. I said, well, I ain’t anybody. I have to get outside the venue because everything’s based on that. Do you know what I mean? It’s just as important as the stage show.
I read you say before that your music is secondary to the thing you’ve created and I wonder then could ‘Yungblud’ be something else – acting, a business venture?
I think [music is just] what it started as… I just wanted to play tunes. Yungblud is turning into acting, fashion, film, podcasts. The ethos is definitely a state of mind, a way of thinking. That’s all I wanted to do, I have this to bring to the world.
What do you mean by ‘this’? Do you mean your energy?
I think so. It’s the mindset, the state of mind, the allegiance to the strange. I remember sitting in my flat in Clapham, the first thing I wrote down was ‘I pledge allegiance to the strange’. Our biggest fan account is called Yungblud Army and I think our fans are a bit like that. It’s a mindset more than music necessarily. He’s a Yungblud fan definitely [points to a crab]. I fucking love crabs. Imagine being able to just waddle along.
Are those an old school pair of breast implants?
[laughs] Stick-ons. That’s a full on-tapeworm in a jar.
I used to be so scared of tapeworms, just the idea of them.
Me too. I remember in biology, Mr. Bailey said you could get a tapeworm from toilet paper, so I literally [goes down to squatting position and squints at imaginary loo roll] used to be wiping my arse like that. So stressful.
Man, I love this: I love history. If I wasn’t a musician I’d want to be an archaeologist. I remember in school I had a teacher called Mrs. Armstrong. When we left little school, she bought everyone footballs and she brought me a book on the Romans because I was full on obsessed with the Romans.
I had these short-lived obsessions with specific countries or civilisations at school too. What’s your favourite era of history?
I love the Tudors, French Revolution. I love WW1 and WW2.
What about the world wars do you find interesting?
I just love things that changed the mindset. What people went through, fighting for an idea that wasn’t theirs. You know what I mean? I by no means relate myself to a soldier in the trenches at all but everything I’ve ever done or written or spoke about, it all comes down to love and the idea of love and wanting to radiate love. Even war is about love. It’s fucking horrible but it’s about that. Love of a country or love of an idea or love of a leader. Following a weird, mad idea. When you figure that out when you become an artist, that’s what everyone is kind of fighting for in life. It was such a strange realisation that made me find a lot of people. When you come to one of my shows there’s so much love in the air… you can walk into a fucking room and everyone looks like each other and talks like each other. They’ve got this energy that they’re here for a fucking reason. And that’s sick. There’s lots of misconception around Yungblud and what it really is.
What do you think people think Yungblud is?
People see me at surface level. A mum who shops in Tesco thinks I’m a bit scary and then an Exploited fan thinks I’m fake. It’s not about that. Once you hear me talk, you get it a bit more. It’s not just surface level, it’s a complete mindset. You’ve got to fall into it to understand it.
Do you think alternative and rock fans and musicians think you’re fraudulent?
Every single person I’ve collaborated with said they ‘didn’t get it at first’.
Gen Z music is often heavily inspired by alternative and rock music but feels very similar to what’s come before, which invites older people to feel hostile or find it derivative. What do you think about that?
Definitely, it’s so interesting because with my old man’s dad said ‘Oasis sounds like fucking Beatles’ when my dad was obsessed with Beatles. I showed my dad the Arctic Monkeys and he said ‘it just sounds like Oasis’. I’m going through something at the moment – a lot of people are doing this pop punk revival thing, which I love, but I had to make a decision to not do that. I’m British as fuck and I would consider myself a British rock musician, and you’ve got to honour where you grow up. I went to America and dabbled in it and I met people and was doe-eyed and I learnt about it, but I very much made a choice for this next album not to get on that pop punk train that’s running quickly right now.
Did your label want you to do it?
Yes, every single person has been like ‘do this thing’. But the definition of a trend is it’s meant to die. If people tell me to do something, I won’t. If you were like ‘Dom…’
[nods to pickled piglet in a jar]... suck that piglet’s trotter.’
But if we didn’t talk about it, I’d probably end up sucking the piglet. I’ll arrive at my decision to suck the piglet. Does that make sense?
It’s easy to be swayed or not follow through with your original intentions when you’re young.
Totally. Also, songs are feelings to me, it’s a snapshot about how I was feeling at that time. That’s why I’m not precious about them. But as I’m getting to be nearly 24, my music is more thought out. I think my hormones are settling a little bit. I’m a lot more focused, I’ve done two albums this year. I’ve got albums three and four ready to go.
Are you doing one a year?
I might just drop two albums at once. There aren’t really any rules anymore. That’s what I always said, it’s always a fucking mindset. That’s why I have problems with my label all the time, because I’m constantly on my own vibe.
Were you a hyper child?
Yeah, my mum used to have trouble with me, I was always naughty and with a grin. I was quite opinionated I think. People ask my mum what it was like to raise me because I am so ‘hello, I’m fooking Yungblud’. Every French radio station across the world is like [French accent] ‘We have Yungblud in the studio, it’s fooking Yungblud’ and they do an impression of me. It’s become a caricature.
Did you get into acting as a kid to get rid of that energy?
As long as I was on stage and in front of people, I wouldn’t give a fuck what I was doing. Even if I was a museum tour guide, I could run a place like this. So my mum took me to this little thing in Wakefield at 13 with all these stage kids and she was mortified and thought ‘he’ll never get into this’ because it was proper [makes posh face] tail-feather. And I got in and I liked acting.
I went down to London and tried that for a bit, got into Bugsy Malone on the West End. I played Knuckles. It was so sick. But I did two ligaments in my knee because I wasn’t a trained dancer – I was 15 or 16 and and was like ‘fuck, I’m not really gonna be able to dance again’. It was pro so they paid me out, it was eight grand and I got my knee operation. Then I moved into my girlfriend at the time’s house with flatmates and decided to make it in music. Then I got on The Voice, which is like X Factor but not as good.
I watched some clips of you on your Disney show – you’re basically playing the part of a mini rockstar called Oz. How did you get that role?
I’ve never told this story before to press… I remember when I was staying at my girlfriend’s house I was basically freeloading. She was the best and really supportive. The flatmates were like ‘what a loser’. But she said ‘there’s this TV show auditioning for actor-musicians in Hackney, why don’t you go?’ I thought it’d be like Skins for a new generation. I was there in skinny jeans and a Fred Perry top and acoustic guitar, I wanted to be Alex Turner. I lined up for six hours, there was like 5000 kids. I got it and found it was a Disney show and then I saw the pay cheque. I told my old man and he said Ringo Starr did Thomas the Tank Engine and I was like ‘yeahhh! Fuck it! Sign me up’. And they signed me for three series. I’m not ashamed of it. People say ‘oh Yungblud was on Disney’ but just because I did Disney don’t make me less of a rock and roll star. I’m not in a box. I’m a fucking sunflower who can walk. It’s a mindset, that’s what Yungblud’s about. When I did my first NME interview or whatever I was like [whispers] don’t tell anyone I did Disney. Now I don’t give a fuck.
What’s the point in being embarrassed if it’s on your Wikipedia page I guess.
Exactly. It’s such a gatekeeper thing. You can use it to bring me down. If you’re gonna try put your finger on me, I’m gone, I’m on another fucking board-game. When I look in the mirror it’s like as long as I’m radiating love, as long as I’m radiating the ideas I set out to represent, then I’m good.
And what are those ideas? In a bullet-point list.
Self-acceptance. Self full stop acceptance full stop is full stop for full stop everyone full stop. There are a lot of people who really struggle to be themselves. As long as I can help someone do that… or, scratch that, when someone comes up to me and says ‘you saved my life’, I’m like ‘no, I didn’t, maybe I’ve just made you been able to get up half an hour earlier because you could beat that crippling feeling in your tummy.’
Do you have any funny stories from acting that no one knows about?
I’d used to do stupid things like starve myself for four days and film myself eating a chicken.
You might need that one day. How did I smell the chicken? How did I eat it when I hadn’t eaten for four days.
Oh, yes – weird actor stuff.
Weird actor shit [laughs]. And I’ll tell you what – us in Disney, we were not well behaved. We were naughty. Everyone is. I won’t say much about it because I’ll get in trouble. Cameras go down and everyone’s like ‘yes, beer, let’s go!’
That’s what I would expect of Disney child stars. As a musician do you feel like you know when someone is close to being an ‘industry plant’?
Hmmm, no. People throw out this thing out about me being an industry plant. You can get given as much as you want but it’s what you say, what you represent, that makes [fans] stay. I ain’t ever had a hit on the radio, I ain’t ever had a song in the top five. It’s about the message. That’s what Yungblud’s about. I get sad a lot because I wanna reach more people. I have so much faith in people, I love people, even though they can be horrible. I’m a hippy. Fuck punk, I’m a fucking hippy. I’m a hippy in safety pins and pleathers. People read me very surface level and that’s what I’ll struggle with as an artist my whole life. I know I will.
Tell me about your new song “Fleabag’”. It’s very Nirvana.
I was listening to Jane’s Addiction at the time – that’s Dave Navarro playing guitar [on “Fleabag”]. But yeah, it does sound like Nirvana. Hip-hop is so much more open to interpretation and homage and everyone talks about each other in their lyrics and people literally go ‘let’s nick that drum or that bass sound from that and I’ll put it in that’. Why the fuck can’t we do that in rock?
So was that your intention with “Fleabag”?
I just do what I do, do you know what I mean?
I don’t know what you mean.
I think with it all, I just create what I create. And I think what rock and roll means to me is freedom, and I think to answer it simply, I don’t have an idea of what a record is, it just comes out, it’s a feeling, how the fuck do I feel today? I do what I do, it’s all feeling.
I think I get it. Is this about the mindset?
Even when I was saying that thing to you then, I speak in confusing terminology because I am confused.
I’m confused every day of my life, I’m full of contradictions but so is everyone else. When I look at you I keep going, ‘Am I making sense...’
You’re thinking out loud, I can tell.
You know what, you’ve actually just blown my mind when you looked at me and said that because yeah, that’s it [shakes his head in disbelief]. I think that’s the answer to what Yungblud is: It’s going through your life thinking completely out loud, as an artist. That’s it. I’m completely me but I’m completely confused, and that’s fucking sick. Because so are you, and so are you and so are you. Does that make sense?
I think it finally does!
And with that revelation my date with the Tasmanian devil of pop-rock, the artist thinking-out-loud, had come to an end. All I had was a bit more clarity on the man behind the phenomenon and big bunch of flowers to remember him by.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
All photography by Chris Bethell.