The Years & Years frontman is back with a new single, a new hair color, and a new outlook on straight men.
Olly Alexander walks into GQ's photo studio and removes his hat, revealing a shock of brightly dyed red hair. Whether that means something to you or not depends on how familiar you are with and fanatic about the British singer's incredibly popular band, Years & Years. The trio's already put out one incredible album (2015's Communion), picked up fans like Katy Perry, and are now gearing up for their sophomore project, coming this summer and anchored by the just-released "Sanctify", which chronicles Alexander's experience sleeping with and falling for a straight man. It's an effortless synth-pop song with vivid religious imagery, a sticky chorus, and cheeky lyrics like "You don't have to be straight with me / I see what's underneath your mask," which is sort of Years & Years' sweet spot: Just when you think you have them figured out, they take you to a deeper place than you thought pop music could go.
Alexander, who's 27, is also known both for his acting work (you may have seen him on Skins) and for his outspokenness as a member of the gay community (his 2017 BBC documentary, Growing Up Gay, is a phenomenal watch). Boyish in appearance but confident in presentation, Alexander lounges in a windowless green room in lower Manhattan, fielding our questions about self-care, new music, and—yes—straight men.
GQ: When did you start working on the album?
Olly Alexander: It was September 2016. We had finished up the majority of our touring. We were gonna take a break, and I...didn't take a break. I just started working on the second album. I did take like three weeks where I just deliberately did nothing and read books and stuff at home. But I also went to Taiwan and Bali by myself. It was a really good trip. It was fun.
I love being alone. [A solo vacation's] not for everybody, but I just like how you can do your own thing at your own time. You don't have to give a shit about anyone else's preferences, what they want to do. And you make friends and stuff.
Have you always liked being alone?
Solitude is very restorative for me, especially because I spend so much time around other people and performing to people. And when you're on tour, you're sharing a bus with 20 people.
How did you handle needing solitude on the road?
It's tough because you're constantly traveling, and you're in this whirlwind with no stability. I definitely got better at creating my own personal alone time within the company of lots of other people. It would be like, "Don't talk to me. I'm reading my book. I'm inside my bunk on my tour bus, and it's like literally a coffin." No one can come in, and I can just close the curtain and be here and be alone. And then, also, I would do things. It's fun touring. In America, the drives are so long, and then you make a stop over in El Paso or Cleveland. In Cleveland, I remember we had a day off, and I just Googled "things to do in Cleveland," and number three was "the cemetery." So, I went! And it was a good cemetery. Spend more time in cemeteries.