Yungblud may have come third on the BBC’s Sound of 2020 list but he’s got the biggest following by a landslide.
The Yorkshireman has more Spotify streams than the other nine artists on the longlist combined, thanks to his energetic blend of emo, rock, rap and pop.
His fans, who call themselves “The Black Hearts Club”, span the globe, with the singer playing around 250 gigs in 26 countries over the last two years.
The 22-year-old’s live following translated into chart success in October, with an EP dedicated to his fans, The Underrated Youth, reaching the UK’s top 10 (one week earlier and the chart position would have rendered him ineligible for the Sound of 2020).
But with his star rising at such a rapid rate, does Yungblud – whose real name is Dominic Harrison – even require such recognition?
“I don’t really look at it like that, man,” he tells us down the line from Los Angeles, just before Christmas. “We were so surprised [to be named], I couldn’t believe what was happening at all.”
In fact, the singer seems taken aback that his songs, which tackle topics like anxiety, sexual assault and corporate greed, are getting mainstream acceptance.
“Someone came up to me at some industry event the other night right and goes, ‘What’s the secret? What’s the formula?’
“And I’m like, ‘I don’t actually know what you’re talking about. You’re speaking to the wrong person if you want that’.”
He adds: “I get up everyday and all I’m doing is, like, talking about things and people are listening and talking to me back. That’s the only thing I can explain.
“I think looking at charts and things, it’s kind of a little bit irrelevant to me. I’m not arsed about having people go, ‘Oh Yungblud, he had a good couple of songs, didn’t he?’
“When people look back on us in 10 years, I want them to be like, ‘They were a movement and they did something that was that was completely original and a liberation within people’.”
Yungblud is the grandson of Rick Harrison, who played with T Rex in the 1970s, but his sights are set on making anthems that speak to his own generation; stamping out the “sterile material” of what he brands as “The X-Factor age”.
The ambitious young showman has already been described as an “icon” for the UK’s suburban youth, and a “relentless” and “infectious” live performer – who is unapologetically “androgynous” and “over-the-top”. He’s also recently opened up about his fluid sexuality and how having ADHD informs his music.
And while the London-based Doncastrian finds inspiration in the collective rebellion of the early ’90s Seattle grunge scene, thanks to bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, he’s hoping to replicate the more recent success of one of his US contemporaries.
“People are angry again, people are riled up and want to be told the truth,” he says.
“I think that’s why Billie Eilish is the biggest artist in the world right now, because she was just a 16-year-old kid just telling the truth.
“It’s just undeniable fanbases. Build a fanbase, build a culture, make people make people feel like it’s alright to be who they are – and then the rest will follow.”
The top five acts on the BBC Sound of 2020 list are being revealed in a countdown, with one revealed every day until the winner is announced on Thursday, 9 January.
What was your initial reaction when you heard you’d made the class of 2020?
“What is going on right now? I’m walking down Venice Beach, California and I’m on the BBC Sound of list!”
I’ve seen artists like [2015 runner-up] James Bay on there when he was popping in the UK and it’s just kind of mental to get that nod.
You work hard as an artist and you build a culture. My head has been down in my fanbase, building my community, travelling the world and I never really look above the water. And if you lift your head above the water for a minute and you look around and go, “We just played to a sold out Brixton Academy and we’re on the Sound of list”, it’s like, “What?!”
Your fans are clearly central to everything you do. What is it that they tell you they want?
Everybody wants to be loved for exactly who they are, not something they need to be.
People don’t want to fit moulds anymore and be manipulated into boxes, because it’s just uncomfortable.
Do you still see that sort of thing going on?
Absolutely. The most important thing for me is the stories I hear. For example a girl comes up to me in Nijmegen, Holland and gives me a note that says – “I left school, ran away from home and shaved my head, and then went to art school and now I’m a graphic designer, thanks to a girl I met at one of your shows, who brought me into the community”.
Or I see two boys from Bristol snog before the mosh pit swallows them up.
And I talk to a 35-year-old dude in Glasgow who lost his wife and kid last year and he used to listen to the music in the car and for some reason it doesn’t make him sad, it takes him back to a place when things were alright.
For me, man, that’s real and that’s what we’re here for. It’s not me, man, it’s us. And if it ever becomes [just about] me it’s all flawed.
Last year your EP went to number six in the album charts, you toured the world, played festivals like Reading + Leeds, and you also had a famous pop star girlfriend [US singer Halsey]. Is this rock ‘n’ roll star life how you imagined it would be?
I’ve done so much living in the past year and the next album is about all this stuff. We blew up all over the world, I fell in love and fell out of love. I nearly lost my mum and I got really depressed for a bit and I came out of that, but when I look back on last year… I wrote a song the other night called A Weird Time Of Life and it’s going to be on the record.
It’s been a weird time of life but the best time of life and I wouldn’t change it.
Yungblud is a coming of age thing, but you’re growing up until you shut your eyes for good.
I think right now Travis Scott is as relevant in rock and roll music as Marilyn Manson is.
It’s just a different type of music. Rock and roll ain’t four idiots banging the hell out their instruments. Rock and roll means freedom to me – and someone like Travis Scott is pouring petrol on the fire that’s already in young people’s tummies.
I’ve got to that phase in life where people are trying to pitch songs to me and it’s so funny seeing a songwriter’s version of what they think Yungblud is and it’s all rock and bratty and I’m like, “No I’ve left that behind”. I’ve grown up now. It’s a lot more emotional.
But there’s some mental collaborations [coming up]. I love collaborating – it’s tapping into cultures I never normally would.
So you’ve told us what your fans want, but what do you want from 2020?
The best songs I’ve ever written are going to come out, and we’re doing five nights at [London’s] Kentish Town Forum.
I’m just building it, taking it one fan at a time because there are still people out there who feel like it’s not OK to be who they are.
And I don’t want people to feel like that, as I’ve felt like that…