Life on Mars

We talked to rockstar Yungblud

© Universal Music Group

Is there any life on Mars? While for some people, this question might sound quite random, for others it is the very question of the year, both a melody in the head and an enigma of youth, an irritation and comfort for a troubled mind at the same time. And in connection with the name Yungblud it is more than a question, it becomes a promise, inherent to the growth and change of rock in the past few years.

It is questions like these by which the young punk rock musician from Doncaster, England, never fails to connect to a generation on the search for identity and self-realization, in the face of a society viewed as oppressive and conformist. It is the mind of an uncompromising individualist that inspires and encourages fans who struggle with emotion and self. And it is the energy of a rocker who seems to intuitively know just what sounds perfectly right. “It is all about the energy”, says Yungblud, hair messed up, sun glasses moved back, in a hotel room in Munich, hours before his next show. Fittingly, his tour through Europe is called the “Life on Mars” tour and has been quite successful in terms of ticket sales.

“I´m feeling great right now. I´m so excited, I did not sleep and I´m about to announce the album. This is manic. I love being in that kind of state of mind, being full of ideas”, says Yungblud, eyes sparkling. Although his show in Munich is still hours away, there are already fans waiting in front of the entrance to get to front row later. Yungblud, with his actual name Dominic Richard Harrison, has built up a huge fanbase over the past years whose devotion is hard to be matched by any other of today´s artists. “I am so thankful to have a community whose foundation is built on love, equality, acceptance and individuality”, says Yungblud. “I never wanted to be a pop star bringing out songs that have nothing to say. There is far too many of them out there.” He smiles widely. “It was more about bringing people together. People look at me like crazy when I say I don’t see myself as a musician. I see myself as a communicator.”

“I don’t see myself as a musician, I see myself as a communicator.”

At heart of Yungblud´s massive appeal is the bond he seeks to his supporters. He refers to his fans as his family and joins them together on Instagram, Discord and spontaneous meet-ups. “I think that is what is important. Yungblud shows are all about love and positivity and bringing people together. I found my strength in my supporters”, Yungblud says. “I spent 19 years of my life looked at as strange, a weirdo, a freak. So I would not speak up, bottle up all emotion within me. When I found them, I felt like I could breathe, like I had an armour, a community, a purpose. And now it is just getting bigger every day and I get more confident.”

© Wikimedia Commons

The 24-year old rockstar left school at the age of 16 to go to London and start a music career. In 2017, his music started to gain more and more attention, his debut album 21st Century Liability was released one year later. While he was afraid to open up and let out his emotions and opinions, this changed with the support he got from other young people on the search for expression and self-realization. “I just said fuck it. It became magic”, Yungblud recalls. “I did not go out there though and said that I want to go change the world. Rather I asked if there is anybody out there who feels the same, because I don’t want to live in a world where I feel alone. And millions of people responded”, he says. “This community is so special, nothing like that has been done for years.”

Many fellow musicians and media have wondered how the rockstar actually manages to keep a very personal and engaged relationship to his growing number of fans. “I would not say I manage it, I love it.” He smiles. “I wanted just that, and as it gets bigger, I need to maintain it. Don’t misunderstand me, I do all this for the communication, this is why I´m here”, he says with emphasis. “I mean labels can get involved, money can get involved, gigs can get involved – but I don’t give a fuck about that. I care about people. I care about looking someone in the eye and they look at me back. How are you feeling today? This communication is what keeps me alive.” Yungblud moves in his seat. “I have a massive fear of loneliness. I have a massive fear of abandonment. It came from my upbringing. And when I look them in the face and they look back and we understand each other and we know we are both not going anywhere, it makes me feel alive. And that’s how I manage it.”

“I have a massive fear of loneliness.”

His fear of abandonment goes back to how he was raised by his parents, a conflict he processes in several of his songs. There he talks about how he used to be talked down to as a freak, how he struggled to live out his identity, to be respected for his own forms of expression. While songs like “Parents” or “Hope for the underrated youth” imply that he wants to give a voice to a misunderstood and disrespected young generation, it is not only a generational conflict he sees himself a part of. “The thing is, it´s no matter what race, age, gender or ideas. What started out as an angry kid that felt used and misjudged by a previous generation very quickly turned into how can I love as many people as I can and how can I not ridicule people for something they don’t understand and don’t know. How can I change them.”

Yungblud together with his colleague Willow who he produced the song “Memories” with. © Universal Music Group

Later during his concert in Munich, it is especially the song “Parents” that all fans will sing along enthusiastically – a song about how parents are too old to understand young people´s feelings sometimes, how they keep one from self-development, and how one should not let that be a reason to stop. One could quickly conclude that there is nothing but hate between Yungblud and his parents. But it is not as easy as that. “I love my parents, and they love me. I´ve never seen someone love each other more and at the same time hurt each other so much”, Yungblud says without a second of hesitation.  “And I think by me disclosing this message, active positive change was possible.” For him it is all about energy. “Because energy does not lie. It can´t lie. That is rock ´n roll to me.”

“Energy does not lie. It can´t lie. That’s rock ´n roll.”

It appears, Yungblud is not the only one to see it that way: Mick Jagger, legendary front man of The Rolling Stones, recently posted Yungblud and Machine Gun Kelly were bringing new life into rock. For Yungblud, this was quite an honour, as Mick jagger is one of his idols. “A real rock star like him understands that rock ´n roll and punk isn’t about the music, it is about the energy and the feeling”, he says. “And the music is just the vehicle to take you to that feeling. And a vehicle to express the energy behind it.” With all the rock bands he adores – he names ACDC, the Guns n` Roses, The Smiths – it is about the feeling within. “Anybody can pick up guitar and play and it is beautiful. Expression is the most beautiful thing in the world. But a lot of bullshit is put out there in the rock community, there are many indie bands which know nothing at all, they hold it all back and hold on to the past so tightly. They forget what it is about”, Yungblud criticizes.

“Expression is the most beautiful thing in the world.”

He does not want to put out songs that do not say anything. He finds his inspiration in everyday situations and experiences. “I can´t sleep a lot”, he says. “It is always a lyric, a story, someone I have met, something I have felt, a memory I remember, always about a feeling. For me songs are like little jars you keep your feelings in”, he says. He has been singing about depression, anxiety, fears and love. He talks about personal struggle and sexual orientation, about the freedom to choose and to live out one´s identity. Is he ever afraid of disclosing too much of his intimacy in his very personal songs? “No”, Yungblud answers without a doubt. “I think music needs it. A lot of music says something but says nothing at all. People are so protective of their brand and spirit and Instagram account. They say nothing at all out of fear to be ridiculed for it. I don’t do that, I´m here to talk. My heart and spirit and what I know, that’s what I do from the beginning.”

“Songs are like little jars you keep your feelings in.”

A few days back, Yungblud has announced a new album to be released 2nd of September. “I went to a place with the new music that I did not even know existed. It´s my deepest darkest secrets. And there is a magic in it that I have never experienced before. It is an honesty in it that I did not know I was capable of”, Yungblud describes the new album. “Everything I did before was honest. But here it is an honesty that is even more honest. It is not only the songs and feelings, but there is magic in this album. My music has always been me telling the uncensored truth, and how I was feeling back then, even if I would disagree with myself a year later”, he says. “But before, the albums only were collection of songs. This is an album where I have bathed in emotion, in thought. I have pondered about the cohesion of thoughts from start to finish.”

“The new album is my deepest darkest secrets.”

The album is cemented together by one binding thought that makes up the chore of the songs: “The self – who am I. Every one asks that every day. What I want this album to relay is, you can have a different answer every day.” Yungblud sits up and gets closer. “Since the beginning everyone called me a fucking punk. I love punk music. I dress like it. Fuck me, I am obsessed with punk. I wish I would have lived 70s to 90s in London, this is what I want my music career to revisit”, he says. “There was a punk new wave: Before, it was “fuck you”, but then it turned into this happy sad thing. This is comparable to my emotional state in my new album. The album´s new wave is like that –  that there is beauty within everything, in the pavement, the graffiti, in the tear.”

© Wikimedia Commons

For Yungblud, there is growth in the path from his first music up to this new album. “It is a new question I´m asking, from a different perspective. It is a settling in my being, and by settling in my being I am finding more questions”, he says. “I have a community that loves me and accepts me, but I have also a big sadness in me. And when those two meet, I believe, magic is found, artistically.” He mentions the song “The Funeral” as an example, where he sings about his depressions and death thoughts. “The song sounds so happy, yet I am talking about death. That’s what’s beautiful. Millions feel like that.” Yungblud gesticulates, radiating enthusiasm. “It is all I ever wanted to be as an artist. I never wanted to conform my art to everything. Art is not supposed to be liked by everyone. That’s not the point of art. If it is liked by everyone, it does not say anything, it is not moving. And every song is another hundred meters added to the journey we are walking.” He refers not only to himself but his entire community. “That’s why we are all here – because of how the music makes us feel. And I believe in artists not having the same formula. I´m lucky because my label allows me to go crazy. It is me and and an iphone, and everybody around the world can connect.“

“I have a community that loves me and accepts me, but I have also a big sadness in me. And when those two meet, I believe, magic is found, artistically.”

Those who doubt the energy and connection he loves to share with his fans just have to go to one of his shows like the one in Munich. The concert hall is crowded to the very last inch, the room full of young people, black clothes, coloured hair, tattoos and piercings, all united by the excitement and joy to see their idol live in action. Some have been waiting in front of the hall since eight in the morning. “If I died now, I would not mind as long as it is after the concert”, says one who has fought herself to the third row. And when Yungblud enters the stage, the crowd goes crazy. There is a moshpit for every second song, the temperature rises to heat, and the only thing that matters becomes the mingled-up bodies, the radiating excitement, the sweat, the voices of the fans who know all the lyrics, the hands put up in the air. Woven together by the sound of songs that they danced to, cried to and found comfort in, brought close by the lack of space, the heat, the shared excitement, the Yungblud family indeed becomes one body, one Yungblud, led forth by the young man affectionately called “Dom” by all the fans, raising the crowd to absolute ecstasy. Fires light up the stage, people are carried through the crowd and Yungblud himself is moved to tears by the love coming from his fans, and it is these moments that make everybody believe that this big dream is possible – of a world where everybody can be their true selves, be respected and loved by everyone, as part of a collective that knows fears, anxiety, depression and the experience of hate.

A fusion of energy, a haze of excitement. © Katharina Moser

And so does Yungblud. “I am just navigating every single day. I want to keep that mentality. This is why I still run out to the fans after show, why I respond to direct messages. Because they are all I´ve got. That is why we do it”, he is convinced. “I adored the Clash and the Sex Pistols because it was about the people. You did not go to see The Clash just to see The Clash. You do not go to a Yungblud show just to see Yungblud. The Clash was not just the Clash, it was everybody. And Yungblud in that sense is not only me, it is you, it is fucking everybody”, he announces. “I used to say I am not in the music business, I am in the Yungblud business. When everything in the world is so based on trends, where virality compromises art and its message, I am kicking back against it.”

When he plays the song “Mars” during the concert, the one Yungblud family in the concert hall is joint together by the search for a place of love and acceptance, and by the recognition that right here, right now, they might have found one. “Yungblud”, I ask, “is there any life on Mars?” –  “Of course there fucking is. I am here, you are here, and we are breathing.”

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