Punk has been undergoing commodification for decades now — as early as 1978, UK band Crass were declaring that “Punk is Dead” with lyrics such as “CBS promote the Clash, / But it ain’t for revolution, it’s just for cash.” Revolution, rebellion — at this point they start to feel like buzzwords; ideas that have been diluted into products to be sold and resold again and again. And no popular artist at the moment is as representative of this as 22-year-old Dominic Harrison, aka YUNGBLUD.
For around two years now, an image of this English musician has been constructed by his fans, publications like Rolling Stone, and himself: the loud-mouthed fiend that speaks for a misunderstood youth through fiery, punk-inspired tunes. With songs like “Machine Gun (Fuck the NRA)” and “I Love You Will You Marry Me”, which takes aim at the corporate exploitation of romantic gestures, he’s made strides to address issues that he and many other young people feel passionate about.
Ideas of “defiance” and “rebellion” are tossed around a lot in interviews with, and articles about, YUNGBLUD. He talks about challenging the outdated values and condescension of older generations, and fighting against figures of power who seek to contain and control the youth of today. The trouble lies in the fact that the vague descriptions I’ve just given are hardly generalisations of the type of rhetoric he’s known for. Instead, they might as well be quotes from one of his interviews.
For as well-intentioned as the majority of Harrison’s music is, his lyrics are void of real meaning, to the point where his songs feel like a series of platitudes sung or screamed as obnoxiously as humanly possible. “Guns are bad.” “The government is bad.” “Old people are bad.” Lyrics like “parents ain’t always right” feel like they’ve been ripped straight from a black and white Tumblr blog.He’ll taunt both politicians and older generations by saying in an interview “we’re old enough to vote now” — an odd sentiment for someone claiming to be operating within a genre heavily tied to anarchism.
Given the aforementioned message of “I Love You Will You Marry Me”, for example, it’s both hilarious and frustrating that his core message was corporatised from the start: a shiny version of rebellion that’s been over-simplified and commodified for decades. But as someone who cites The Clash and Eminem as key influences, it’s hard to blame him for this. He’s just repackaging and reselling the same product that was sold to him.
YUNGBLUD’s musical identity, or lack thereof, is also reflective of this. The singer is similar to acts like Twenty One Pilots, Halsey and The Chainsmokers with his “genre-bending” take on pop music, which usually boils down to a hodgepodge of musical ideas that have been blended together to create a soulless, over-produced instrumental to be yelled over. The elements of “punk rock” that supposedly run throughout his music usually boil down to loudness and the odd distorted power chord played on a guitar.
To be clear, an artist’s music can have punk sensibilities while not fitting within the punk genre. DIY methods of making music exist span genres, as do rejections of traditional or previously-held musical principles and rough, unrefined aesthetics. But none of these elements show up in YUNGBLUD’s music, which sounds as clean, calculated and radio-ready as the type of popular music that he slags off.
And yet, Harrison still seems desperate to connect himself to this scene and ones adjacent to it, often doing so through superficial means. A scroll through his Instagram will yield photo upon photo of him wearing shirts of bands like The Exploited, Dead Kennedys and The Cramps, while also sporting high-end brands such as Burberry (who themselves have a history of exploiting elements of working class culture). Posturing or not, these outfits feel like attempts to recreate the styles of working class people from decades gone by by spending as much money as possible.
In an interview with Pilerats, YUNGBLUD claimed that his “version of punk isn’t to divide, it’s to unite for one greater cause.” This is a noble idea. Modern bands like IDLES and Algiers have succeeded in enacting similar mission statements through lyrics that address activism and socio-political issues in more specific and blunt detail. But, outside of the emphasis on safety at his gigs, this hardly feels like the case for Harrison, with song after song feeling more like outbursts of pent up angst than calls for collective action.
There are definitely aspects of his music and image deserving of praise, and there’s something admirable about the success he’s had in tapping into the angst of his tween audience. But YUNGBLUD doesn’t represent anything close to a revolution, not even rebellion. Dominic Harrison is nothing more than a cog in a machine churning out the same overblown ‘music with a message’ songs over and over.
The guy did a song with the Imagine Dragons frontman, for fuck’s sake.