5 Questions w/ YUNGBLUD About Britishness, George Floyd + ‘Anarchy in the UK’
It’s strawberry season, and we are eating up what YUNGBLUD is serving on his latest single.
He may have taken up residence in Los Angeles during quarantine, but YUNGBLUD’s video for “Strawberry Lipstick” is quintessentially British. With a clear nod to the Sex Pistols and Bowie, it seethes with the same in-your-face, frenetic energy that we came to expect from Johnny Rotten, as well as the androgynous provocativeness of the Thin White Duke.
The single, the second from the his upcoming sophomore album (due in August), is a pop-punk force; and it’s easy to imagine this mad love song as a sing-along arena anthem. The video, a chaotic yet delicious romp, features singer/songwriter Jesse Jo Stark as muse-cum-mistress. YUNGBLUD, channeling Vivienne Westwood’s confrontational stylings, accessorizes his snarl and ever-present pink socks with dyed red liberty spikes, red plaid togs and a tiny Union Jack dress, along with a dash of bondage and a cheeky reference to the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” thrown in for good measure.
However, there is always substance behind the visual feast—and make no mistake: YUNGBLUD, known for speaking his mind and lending a rebellious voice to a community of kindred spirits, has not squandered this opportunity. Beyond the surface of “a song about a person I love” simmers a commentary on sexuality, gender fluidity and power dynamics—a boy in a dress, who is clearly in deep with a girl who dominates him…and the bigger picture metaphor that represents.
We had the chance to chat with him about what influenced the making of the song and video.
The video feels quintessentially British. Did your being so far away from home while stuck in quarantine in LA impact the video’s creative?
That is exactly right. I was in America for six months and I was looking at the Americanization of worldwide pop music, and it made me defiantly English. When I write music, I always work best when I’ve got something to kick against…and that was the thing I was kicking against. I missed home. I missed England. I missed British music, I missed British attitude. This video is the video I always wanted to make. I grew up on British rock & roll, so I couldn’t wait to make a British rock & roll video.
Are the pop culture references to Sex Pistols, Bowie and Geri Halliwell/Spice Girls in the video deliberate?
Always! Absolutely references. I was listening to “Anarchy in the UK” when I made “Strawberry Lipstick,” and was thinking about how to introduce that music and sound to a new generation. British music formed and shaped the artist I am—I am a product of my influences. I put myself and my influences into a big mixing bowl, put it the oven, and some mad fookin’ pie comes out.
“Strawberry Lipstick” seems to frame the power dynamics of a tempestuous love affair. Most of us have had a “so bad for you it’s good” relationship at least once. Is that the story you wanted to tell?
The song is a metaphor for the world and for life—it’s not necessarily about a relationship. The key lyric in the chorus is “take it easy on me.” That might be a lover, that might a brother, that might be a cousin, that might be a teacher, that might be a parent, that might be society, that might be racism, that might be the environment, that might be sexual insecurity, that might be gender confusion, that might be yourself—take it easy on yourself.
And who should the message be reaching?
I wanted to speak to the kid in his bedroom who has been oppressed because he can’t tell his parents that he’s in love with the boy next door, because they will never accept it:
“They’re gonna lock me in the closet, but I’m coming out
Saying fuck all the oppression and the self-doubt”
It’s about everything all at once. I wanted to write a song that people could take their own story from.
You participated in the LA protests following George Floyd’s death. Are the lyrics “I can’t breathe” a direct reference to police brutality in the US?
Yes, they are. It was so incredible to see people fighting so passionately for simply what is right, what humanity needs. I always put my own experiences into my songs in a way where people might not have a fookin’ clue what I’m talking about, or people know exactly what I’m talking about. All I want to do is make people feel like it’s alright to be who they are, and make the days a little bit easier if they are having a bad one.