Will Young: It certainly doesn't feel like almost two decades since my music career began... I feel like I've just got going
With his new album, Lexicon, out on June 21, Will Young talks to Kerri-Ann Roper about working with writers on his new music and his journey from Pop Idol to where he is today
In the 17 years since Will Young won Pop Idol, he has notched up four chart-topping albums, four number one UK singles and won two Brit Awards. But his forthcoming seventh album, titled Lexicon, feels like the ushering in of a new era for the 40-year-old singer. And importantly, he is, in his own words, still having fun.
Lexicon, his first release on the independent label Cooking Vinyl, has reunited him with the team he worked with on his 2011 album Echoes.
"When I'm creating something, be it the podcast I do (called Homo Sapiens) or music, I always kind of go very much on instinct and there's a great thing about being creative - I sort of have to remove myself out of the equation, which can sound very pretentious but it's kind of necessary," he says matter-of-factly.
"I wanted to do a sort of part two of an album that I'd done called Echoes, which I did with Richard X, the producer, and with two writers called Jim Eliot and Mima Stilwell, and we always said we wanted to do a sort of part two. I knew I wanted to do that so that meant it was going to fit within a genre of almost luxury electro pop, which is a word I've just made up."
Given that it's been nearly two decades since his music career took off, how much has he changed as an artist?
He explains: "I feel like it couldn't have gone any better, for me as an artist to find the evolution and to continue it and to come across the right people, be that Simon Fuller, who was my manager for years, to Steve Lipson, who produced so many amazing records from Annie Lennox to Whitney Houston, to working with people like Michael Gracey, who directed the Greatest Showman, you know, finding Richard X and writers like Jim and Mima.
"They all allowed me to find my way through it."
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And he reflects: "Also what I find really interesting is the narrative has changed so much. So, as an artist who is gay, now there's stuff that I was talking about 15 years ago where there was no place for it, and now there is a place for it.
"Like, on radio, a DJ could be blatantly homophobic about me on live radio but now that would never happen. So it's kind of shocking in a way, but it's also wonderful because it allowed me a whole new life and it certainly doesn't feel like almost two decades. I mean, I feel like I've just got going."
He definitely hasn't rested on his music laurels. He has campaigned passionately for the LGBTQ movement and his podcast is already enjoying a second series. In October, he'll embark on a UK tour and his summer diary is already fully booked with live performances.
For Lexicon he wanted to incorporate a host of new writers and voices.
"I didn't want to write as much as I have done in the past. I wanted to very much make it as easy and as joyous as possible, and sometimes I find writing extremely stressful," he says.
"I think it's getting to a stage when I feel like I proved myself as a songwriter, to myself really, apart from anyone else.
"I'm confident enough to still have it as my work but I don't feel insecure - and I'm not saying other people feel this - but I don't feel insecure that people aren't going to take it seriously or see me as an artist or think that it's more throwaway.
"And actually it was about the benefit of a record because there's so many amazing writers and it's like, well why not... it's a bit like if I'm going to go on a dating app I might as well go on all of them because I'll spread the net, you know what I mean?"
He admits he had nearly reached a point where he didn't think he'd make music again.
But it was the prospect of touring and performing live - as well as playing at Tom Kerridge's Pub in the Park (which he'll be doing again) that reignited his music flame.
He explains: "I didn't really want to do it anymore (music), I thought, 'Well, I've done my time and I'll go and train to be a psychotherapist', but it was the prospect of touring.
"I'd done a Pub in the Park gig (Kerridge's event) and I did this gig and I just suddenly thought and I said to the band, 'I think I'll go touring again' and that really brought me back into music, so the tour has been at the forefront of my mind."
There would have undoubtedly been a legion of his fans who'd have been devastated if he had thrown the towel in for good. But for Young, it's also been about finding a balance.
He says: "I just kind of recalibrated my work life, so I work four days a week and I work really hard in those four days, so that allows me then three days to do my other interests.
"I'm not with a management company and that really works for me, because I'm not very good with authority and I've worked that out.
"So I don't have to have these clashes with people and I've worked out how I want to do a record and who I want to work with, then I get to work with these amazing people, like photographer and director Rankin and, you know, brilliant artists and it's just great fun."
Given that he's been in the industry for a while, does he wish the openness and conversations being had now around so many different topics had been present back in the day?
"I wouldn't have wanted to have had some of the things - people threatening to kill me in the street and record companies saying, 'He sounds gay' - no, of course I wouldn't want that, but I'm very proud of how I got through that and I'm very proud of all the people, all the liberal people for pushing all of those agendas, because it really unites you, to be in a minority, it really unites you as a person and that's really special," he says candidly.
Following a wave of change in various spheres of the entertainment industry, post-movements like Me Too, surely there must have been some type of shift in the music industry at large?
For Young, the things he'd like to see in five years include "more transgender artists, more gay women", and he adds: "I'd love to see, I think, still even more black artists. But I do think it's got a lot better now and I do think the industry has caught up."
One area that still niggles, though, is streaming.
"There's still a lack of transparency in terms of what deals record companies are doing with streaming platforms and that really now is outrageous... that's really where I'd like to see artists getting more of what they are due and I don't quite understand why that isn't happening," he says.
"I think streaming is, I have a mixed opinion of it - I love the support that people like Amazon, Spotify give new artists, but I don't know if that support translates to full financial remuneration."
Lexicon is out on June 21