This Will Be Our Year: Years & Years

This Will Be Our Year: Years & Years

WHETHER THEY FOUND THEIR CREATIVE FOOTING OR WERE GIVEN THEIR FIRST SHOT AT STARDOM, THESE ACTORS, MUSICIANS, AND DANCERS LIT UP 2015 AND WILL ONLY SHINE BRIGHTER FOR YEARS TO COME

THIS STORY IS AN EXCERPT FROM V98. ORDER YOUR COPY HERE NOW.

WHETHER THEY FOUND THEIR CREATIVE FOOTING OR WERE GIVEN THEIR FIRST SHOT AT STARDOM, THESE ACTORS, MUSICIANS, AND DANCERS LIT UP 2015 AND WILL ONLY SHINE BRIGHTER FOR YEARS TO COME

THIS STORY IS AN EXCERPT FROM V98. ORDER YOUR COPY HERE NOW.

Photography: Ben Hassett

Styling: Anna Trevelyan

Text: John Norris

“People never expect us to say something smart,” confesses Emre Turkmen, synth player for Years & Years. “Or blunt.” Why would that be? Is it because the eminently danceable synthpop they make leads people to assume they have nothing to say? Rest assured that Turkmen, bassist Mikey Goldsworthy, and singer-cum-pop-culture-avatar Olly Alexander—are whip-smart, have plenty to say, can in fact be blunt, and are currently caught up in the whirlwind of being the U.K.’s most talked about new act of the year.

British bands hoping to break America usually must, as Alexander says, “Either tour a shitload, or go out and promo everywhere and get on Top 40 radio, which is mind-boggling because there’s like 5 million radio stations.” But Years & Years did neither in 2015. And yet, on the first night of a North American tour in September, the 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 in New York was packed to bursting with the sort of fans who sang every word.

That’s likely because July’s Communion is a record so infectious it refuses to be ignored: a string of sparkling R&B pop jams, a couple of aching ballads, but mostly dance floor fillers, led by Alexander’s voice, at once soulful and wistful, and an insane collection of ear-candy hooks, particularly on “King,” as flawless a pop single as was released in 2015, with a perfectly chest-bursting chorus. “Yeah, well, Olly is a living hook,” says Turkmen. Goldsworthy adds, “He’s Captain Hook.”

It wasn’t always that way. Years & Years began in 2010 as a different kind of group—a quirky indie-pop five-piece that featured guitar and ukulele, and mustered U.S. blog attention with the 2012 single, “I Wish I Knew.” Soon though, they began what Goldsworthy calls a “gradual evolution” to something more electronic. Turkmen turned to beats and synths, having gotten “seriously bored” with guitar. Meanwhile, Alexander was learning that when it comes to songwriting, less is sometimes more. “I used to write in a really convoluted way,” he says. Eventually, he stopped being afraid of the simplicity of pop music, and appreciated the paring-down skills of Y&Y producer Mark Ralph. “Suddenly, it worked. It just all came together.”

Parallel to the rise of Y&Y has been Alexander’s own burgeoning profile as a gay icon, in Britain and beyond. With an acting career stretching back to his teens, the 25-year-old has boundless charisma, his lyrics make no-big-deal reference to guys and use male pronouns, and he has no hesitation discussing his much-publicized yearlong relationship with Clean Bandit’s Neil Amin-Smith. “I can either speak about it, or try and keep it very quiet,” he says. “And why do that? Also, I think that if you’re really open about yourself, willing to give a bit to the media or whatever, they won’t go hunting for it so much. There’s no story there.” Just as heartening is Alexander’s frank outspokenness on Twitter and elsewhere, where he’s given a thumbs-up to new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and LGBT campaigns the world over, and excoriated the likes of Prime Minister David Cameron, sexism, lazy journalism, and general small-mindedness. In a world of pop tyros with an eye on the bottom line, who never utter a controversial word, we could use more of Alexander’s kind of sociopolitical cojones. What’s more, says Turkmen, “We’ve never thought, We can’t say this because of how it might play in some market. That kind of thinking is anathema to who we are.”

Y&Y began the year by winning the BBC’s annual Sound Of… poll, and they’ve had a string of pinch-yourself moments ever since: the BRIT Awards, SXSW, The Tonight Show. And their charmed life doesn’t look to finish any time soon. “It’s like you’re rewriting the expectations of your life,” says Alexander. “You keep experiencing things that you thought were out of the realm of possibility.”

FROM LEFT: GOLDSWORTHY WEARS JACKET COACH SWEATER CALVIN KLEIN COLLECTION JEANS BLK DNM ALEXANDER WEARS CLOTHING PRADA NECKLACE CHROME HEARTS TURKMEN WEARS JACKET AND SHIRT KENZO JEANS FRAME DENIM
Credits: Makeup and grooming Marla Belt (Streeters London) Hair Tamara Mcnaughton (Management + Artists)  Manicure Naomi Yasuda (Streeters)  Digital technician Carlo Barreto  Photo assistants Roeg Cohen, Nick Krasznai, Ian Barling, Ayesha Malik  Stylist assistants Coco Campbell and Paulina Olivares  Hair assistant Erin Herschleb  Location Fast Ashleys

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