Olly Alexander Opens Up On LGBT Issues, His Music and His Mental Health

Few stars in recent years have shot to fame as quickly as Olly Alexander.

The lead singer from Years & Years has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, being named Critic's Choice at the Brit Awards in 2015 and then posting a number one album, three Top 10 singles and whole host of industry awards.

What makes Alexander's story even more inspiring - and perhaps unlikely - is that he was, for years, crippled by doubts about his own talent, as well as issues relating to his homosexuality, his body and his mental health.

Credit:PA
Credit:PA

In his current life, he is a gay icon, noted for his elaborate costumes and unique singing voice, but his performing style and lyrical content is always informed by the fears that he had before he made it. Speaking recently to Shortlist, Alexander explained the situation.

"I get a real thrill for being 'overtly queer' in my aesthetic," he said. "I used to be scared of people thinking I was gay but now I'd be shocked if they didn't.

"I'd hesitate to say I had a more developed sense of self, though, because how I look doesn't take into account my mind, or how I develop internally."

His lyrics, in particular, deal with LGBT+ relationships specifically.

While some artists use generic words, Alexander is unequivocal about being a man singing about relationships between gay men.

"We're talking about how men express desire for one another," he told Shortlist. "I find the exchange fascinating - what each person gets out of it, or what it makes each person feel."

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

"With 'Sanctify', I wanted to write something about the journey of coming out. It's so drawn out. You come out to your friends, family, then the world, again and again, in hotels and on holiday and to cab drivers."

"And that can be painful. Sometimes I wonder about the guys I'd had these... sexcapades with, who identified as straight, and I wonder where they are now, in their own journey to understanding their sexuality.

"At the end of the day, these are just words we use to try to best describe ourselves. They're not perfect."

The other strand that runs through Alexander's career is his protracted relationship with his own mental health. He has spoken openly about going to therapy, and of the privileges that he enjoyed by being able to afford private treatment.

"I believe we all encounter these problems," says Alexander. "Some people get to their fifties or sixties and realise there are aspects of their mental health they've never addressed.

"The situation is quite dire. Who knows what will change? We have a government that has implemented austerity for the past eight years and has cut services for mental-health provision.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

"Talking is a great place to start," he adds. "But if there's nowhere else to go after that, then the development of dealing with your mental health will stall.

"You feel a bit raw and exposed from [talking about] this kind of thing. But I've arrived at a place where I feel pretty on top of my mental health. I get asked about it a lot.

"I've had moments recently where it almost felt like I was on a runaway train, and the train's left the station and it's hurtling towards hell, and I can't get off, I've said too much, and I think, 'Oh God, oh God,' and I panic.

"But this is relaxed and I feel in control. Sometimes I wish I'd kept that Pandora's box shut, but not today."

Years & Years' second album, Palo Santo, is out on 6 July.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Mike Wood

Mike Meehall Wood is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for LADbible, VICE and countless sports publications, focusing on rugby league, football and boxing. He is a graduate of Leeds University and maintains a fizzy pop obsession. Contact Mike at [email protected]

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