Dominic Harrison, aka YUNGBLUD, may not have known it at the time he tattooed two black hearts on his middle fingers, but he’s been preparing for total domination for years. Boasting a rambunctious personality, a no-fucks-given attitude and a skirt to boot, Harrison has channeled a generational movement through YUNGBLUD.
At the first hint of a global lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harrison, who was residing in L.A. when the coronavirus heightened in the U.S., immediately devised a plan to virtually connect with his fans that has now become a part of the new “normal” for musicians across the board. Recruiting best mate Machine Gun Kelly, neon deviant Oliver Tree and post-modern femme fatale Bella Thorne, Harrison held his most massive show to date, and all his fanbase needed to do was log on.
But fuck what you think is “normal.” Over the last several years as YUNGBLUD, Harrison has spat in the face of normalcy and pleasing others. Instead, he’s embraced the demons creeping around the corners of his mind and fueled a movement that’s as political as it is musical.
How drastically has the pandemic affected not only your personal life but your artistry and connection with your fans?
It’s a very weird situation because the world as we knew it got fucked up. The world as we knew it completely transformed what I thought was real. The thing about it is, yes, I couldn’t wait to tour, but I feel more connected to my fanbase than ever right now.
Initially, I remember we were supposed to go to Argentina, and we were supposed to go to South America and play our first fucking shows [there]. These were big shows, and the show in Argentina was sold out. And we were gonna go to Asia, and the shows were sold out. And all this shit started to happen, and I just said to myself, “I’m not going to let my connection to my fanbase be taken away by fucking anything, especially not this.” Because if you know YUNGBLUD, the reason why we’re here, it’s because it’s a fucking way of life, not just music or the way I dress. It’s a way of breathing.
So I was like, “We’re gonna do a livestream gig. I wanna be the first fucking one on it. Let’s get this up before anyone else does.” And my fanbase just blew it up. And then the “YUNGBLUD Show” was born. Seventy-two hours later, a day before the whole city got locked down, I was in a TV studio with five cameramen in hazmat suits, three celebrity guests, like a rock ’n’ roll punk, and Jimmy Fallon. Just because I can’t hear [fans] screaming doesn’t mean I can’t feel the noise.
I do miss touring. It’s setting in now that we’re probably not gonna be touring until next year. I miss the energy. And everyone’s like, “Why don’t you do a car park gig?” And I’m like, “No, man. If people can’t touch each other at a YUNGBLUD show, then it’s just fucked.”
Thinking back, it’s incredible to see the amount of growth since the 2018 Warped Tour and to see you grow with your fanbase.
Everyone’s coming into this world, into this movement, and they believe in it, and they feel it, and they’re living it. That was the most important part. When I came on Warped Tour, that’s why I did it. I was nervous, but Kevin [Lyman] said, “Come and do this.” I was a kid from the U.K. who was [bringing] a disruptive genre to the scene. I was nervous to go on Warped Tour because the music we were doing was not classic. And I was using heavy hip-hop influences, and I didn’t want my heroes to go, “Why the fuck are you on Warped Tour? You sound different to what was classic.” Even though I was learning and living from what they did and what the world they sculptured, that was what kept me alive. But everyone embraced it, and everyone accepted it and realized that music ain’t about genre. It’s about energy and freedom.
Since quarantine started, you launched the “YUNGBLUD Show Live” with Machine Gun Kelly, Oliver Tree and Bella Thorne. How did you select the artists who were featured on the livestream?
I just wanted to see my mates. We were bored. I was like, “Is anyone fucking bored?” [Laughs.] And Kells [Machine Gun Kelly] was like, “I’m bored. I wanna fucking come! Let’s play the song. Let’s do something crazy.” And then we did a Sublime cover.
What was it like working with them in a virtual setting versus being onstage in front of hundreds of screaming fans?
At the end of the day, on the first “YUNGBLUD Show,” over 350,000 people showed up. That’s like three stadiums. It was the biggest show I’ve ever played. I had a projector set up with all of the comments, and like I said [earlier], just because I couldn’t hear them screaming doesn’t mean I couldn’t feel the fucking noise. It was so loud. There was a five-minute lag because the comments were coming so fast.
Globally, life has slowed down dramatically for our society, but you still seem to be at 100 miles an hour. Your energy is infectious. Do you ever take time to close your eyes, turn off your mind and shut everything out?
Yes, but if I do that, I get fucking depressed. I do this thing because it allows me to escape, and it allows me to connect and forget about the dark shit that goes on in my head. I am positive, I am happy. But I think some people don’t realize sometimes that I have a very, very dark mind. I don’t know why I do [and] I wish I didn’t. I have a lot of panic attacks, and I suffer from a lot of anxiety, and I suffer from identity issues in terms of everything all the time. In terms of personality, in terms of sexuality, in terms of the way I think.
But YUNGBLUD is a vessel and a train to get on that makes me realize that it’s OK. YUNGBLUD ain’t me. YUNGBLUD’s an idea that Dom connects to or Hayley in Texas connects to or Jonathan in London or Heinz in Germany or Jamie in Adelaide. It’s an ideology that people connect to and want to be a part of.
You’ve made it feel normal to question yourself, to have self-doubt about identity, to go against what everyone else in the world makes look “normal.”
What the fuck is “normal”? What does that even mean? We just have to redefine that statement and be who the fuck we are. That’s it. It doesn’t matter. Everyone puts pressure on this shit. Everyone puts pressure, even in music. I didn’t get into this game for hits or whatever. That shit’s cool, but it’s just a lot of bollocks to me. To be defined by numbers is unartistic to me. All I care about is stories and connecting to people. And filling fucking stadiums one day, hopefully.
I’ll give you an insight into the album that no one’s really got yet ’cause I love Alternative Press. I used to beat myself up for being 15 different people inside [and] I used to think that it wasn’t right, it wasn’t real or it couldn’t be. I realized that one day I want to be a fucking girl. And the next day I wanted to be fucking Liam Gallagher, and then the next day I wanted to be smart. And the other day I wanted to be a petulant child and depressed, and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I still don’t know which Dom I’m going to wake up to in the morning. This album is going to be a series of different characters. I look at [David] Bowie’s career, and he had multiple different characters for his whole career. I live in a millennial generation, so why can’t I have 12 characters for an album or for each song? This next album is a neat whiskey version album about people.
I can’t wait to show you what I’m working on. Especially the past couple of days in terms of settling in and finding my feet [with the] visual and the way it’s going to be. It just had some fucking gasoline poured on it.
Do you think the world can go back to “normal” after the global situation becomes more managed?
We just got to think out of the fucking box. If they get a cure, then that’s amazing, but if [they] don’t, we can’t let this stop us from connecting with each other because that’s the way music is. I would love to be like, “Yeah, let’s go back to normal!” But at the end of the day, I just want to be an artist that is reacting to the times and helps supply people with information. It would break my heart if I couldn’t walk back onstage for the rest of my life. But at the end of the day, that isn’t going to stop me from connecting with people. No matter what happens, I’m always gonna try and connect to the people who belong with me.
You mentioned that your fanbase grows every day, and it’s getting massively bigger. How were you initially connecting with fans before?
I remember I was on tour across Europe, and it was so bizarre because I was in a van. We were on a van tour across Europe. And the first show was in the Netherlands. No one in the U.K. wanted to sign us. Three of us were in a two-bedroom flat, my guitar player was living in the living room [and] no one gave a fuck. We couldn’t sell 10 tickets in London. And we went to Amsterdam, and 170 people turned up with fucking pink socks on and makeshift YUNGBLUD shirts because I didn’t have any merch yet. And I stayed behind after the show, and I spoke to them all, and I was like, “Oh, my God, you guys, this is why I wanted it.” That was it. Fuck it. I’m done. I’ll work in a bakery for the rest of my life. And I went on that tour and then went to Belgium, and 90 people turned up, and then we went to Cologne, and 100 people turned up.
And then people started sending messages to me on the internet. I didn’t understand Instagram yet. I was afraid of it. And I think that’s why rock ’n’ roll died for a bit because people didn’t get social media, and the way of connecting with people seemed uncool and unattainable. I think that was partly why the demise of rock ’n’ roll music [began] and hip-hop started to connect because that’s where it was. But I learned very quickly how to connect with people. That’s all that matters. Why is Elton John Elton John? Because he connected with people. Why was Freddie Mercury an icon? Because he connected to people. He went straight into their fucking ears and straight into their hearts.
I was replying to DMs, I was sharing things, I got the black hearts. One night I got the tattoos, and I posted [a photo of] me with my middle fingers up on Instagram. I woke up the next morning, and 75 people got black heart tattoos or stick-and-pokes and called themselves the Black Hearts Club. It wasn’t anything that was forced. It all came from us. So I always tell people I’ll never be like, “Call yourself the whatever army or whatever fucking it is. Do this. Do that.” It all comes from them or an idea comes from me, and they blow it up, or it comes from them, and I blow it up. It’s a community.