Olly Alexander Dad: Years & Years frontman, Olly Alexander, has dyed his hair a blood-red color to match the band’s logo. One of his ears is held closed with a safety pin made of brass, and he has been known to smile so broadly and madly that the borders of his lips seem to vanish around his small, fine-boned face. The scar on his forehead is the first thing that catches the viewer’s attention. “When I was younger, I ran into a brick wall,” the 27-year-old recalls during lunch at a café in London. He reaches out and feels the scar. “I was pretending to be a Power Ranger at the time.” Ouch.
Musicians must hope for debuts like this one—for them to come across as legitimate, commercial, and backed by real-world influence in the industry. There were no brick walls clattered against and no obvious “ouch” moments to be found. Or was there a presence?
Years & Years are nearly finished with their second album, which will be released this summer. From what I’ve heard of the recordings, the new music reveals a brittleness and fragility in Alexander that wasn’t so apparent in the band’s 2015 debut. When he is in pop-star mode (during the photo shoot, he prowls about in heels and a collared lace bodysuit that makes him seem like a steampunk, space-bound Queen Elizabeth I), he is still a magnificent and steely guy, but he is a shyer and less assured figure at lunch.
It wasn’t until after the meeting that he saw the cigarette behind his ear. He went outside and smoked it in rapid, frantic puffs. Now he hunches over a salad, eating with his elbows in and giggling nervously as he does so. “I wish I could have taken that confidence around with me in my everyday life,” he adds of his pop-mode confidence. However, he does not. dungarees that he loves because they feel “like garments that give you back a hug,” he explains about his clothing choice.
On the surface, it seems that Alexander is succeeding in his attempt to become a pop star, and on the surface, it appears that he is succeeding in his attempt. The release of their first album in 2015 set the stage for Years & Years to have a particularly memorable few months. In January, they were selected by BBC Sound of 2015, and they quickly rose to the top of the UK singles chart in March, as well as the top of the album chart the following month.
With its pulsating 90s-nostalgic dance-pop (similar to Disclosure or Clean Bandit, but with more randiness and a dash of disco), the band gained popularity. And Alexander rose quickly through the ranks, just like Meghan Markle, to become something like music royalty. According to the Homosexual Times, he is “one of the most influential gay pop performers of our age.” “All hail the King!” exclaims the crowd.
Despite the fact that the band, which also includes keyboard and synth player Emre Türkmen and bassist Mikey Goldsworthy, is a three-piece, Alexander is clearly the band’s guiding force, their chief lyricist, a Gaga-like risk-taker on stage, and a political voice off stage with an appealing, glitter-specked sense of activism. Alexander is a snappy and humorous public speaker on LGBTQ+ rights issues, and he has also opened up about his battles with mental health in an entertaining manner.
In 2016, he was described by the Observer as “a lifeline to disturbed young people” 2016, around the same time as Years & Years performed at Glastonbury. Alexander appeared at the event in an enormous choirboy smock with rainbow-colored ribbons stretched across the front and back—it is Pride weekend—and delivered a speech on overcoming prejudice that was well praised. Shooting a rainbow in the face of dread, was how he described it.