By Chris Azzopardi | Photo by Global/Def Jam Recordings
Since serenading queer crowds at gay clubs as a teenager, Nathan Sykes has been the subject of prurient curiosity regarding his own sexuality. He’s British, so there’s that. And the whole boy band thing, which began in 2009, when Sykes joined Eurodance group The Wanted, didn’t exactly disband “is he or isn’t he?” rumors.
Now, with his solo debut Unfinished Business out in the midst of a band hiatus, the giggly 23-year-old opens up about ongoing interest in his sexuality (“I didn’t know I was gay, but OK!”), his sometimes-“bromosexual” relationship with Tom Daley and being “really drunk” at a gay club at 4 a.m.
You’re 23, but you sound like you’re 30, and that’s a compliment.
Thank you so much. That’s a marvelous compliment. It’s been part of this journey of self-discovery as an artist, which has been incredible.
What does your journey to self-discovery involve?
Just really figuring out for the first time who I am. I knew who Nathan from The Wanted was, and I lived my life for five years as Nathan from The Wanted. I’d be walking down the street (and people would say), “Oh my god, that’s Nathan from The Wanted!” (Laughs) Then, for the first time, I sat there, especially after the band decided to take a break, and I went, “Who the hell is Nathan Sykes?” And it was for me to figure out who that was, and it was an amazing journey of figuring out who I am as an artist, what music I wanted to create, how I want to be portrayed, how I want to look, how I’d like to come across. And then I was like, “Just be yourself,” and even that was a breakthrough moment. Because when you’re working so hard with four other people, it’s amazing for the first time to focus on being myself.
In so many words, you recently said that after you turned 21, gay men have been less subtle with their thirst for you.
(Laughs) I didn’t mean that in an arrogant way. That’s not a thing at all. I mean, I wish people had thirst for me! That would be amazing. It’s just a massive compliment. I can go out with my friends and have an amazing time, whether that’s at a straight or gay club. We always have an amazing time when I’m with people who are gay, who are just so amazing and so flirty as well, which is fun. So, what I was trying to say is that people don’t see me as a baby anymore; they don’t necessarily see me as the youngest member of a boy band. People are seeing me as an adult now for the first time, which is cool.
What’s been your best night at a gay club?
(Laughs) There’s been quite a few really, really amazing ones. I think just ending up in G-A-Y in London, drunk at 4 o’clock in the morning, because I’ve got loads of friends who are gay. It’s just fun and nice, and everyone is up for a good time and fun to be around. It doesn’t matter to me what the company is, whether you’re straight or gay, as long as everyone is happy and in a good place and having a good time. I draw off people’s energy, so as long as people are having a good time, I’ll have a good time as well.
How do you handle a gay man who makes a pass at you?
I mean, it’s a compliment for anyone to make a pass at you. I think people always say it as a passing comment, and it’s the same as if anyone flirts with you: You take it as a compliment and you’re very nice back.
When were you first aware that gay fans had an appreciation for you?
I don’t think ever. I still wouldn’t think that, because I never think that anyone would have an appreciation for me because I always go about my life just being me, so I wouldn’t really expect or acknowledge people having an appreciation. But when they do in person, that’s amazing. And when I see gay fans, it really is amazing. I make music for everyone, whether you’re straight, gay or any member of the LGBT community. Anybody who is a fan of me and likes my music, I’m always very grateful for them.
What was your introduction to the gay community?
You know what, I’ve been fortunate to have had a fantastic and open-minded upbringing, so I’ll always be grateful for that. I started performing at a very young age, and even from the age of 6, when I’d be performing and ended up on TV shows, I’d be around gay people. So, I’ve always been surrounded by gay people. When I went to Sylvia Young Theatre School in London – obviously being at theater school, I was around people who were gay. They’ve always been part of my life.
As a boy band member, how often did you get pegged as the gay one?
When you’re in a boy band, there’s always speculation that you’re gay. I think at one point there was speculation that all of us were gay – probably in relationships with each other!
It did not help matters that your bandmate Jay McGuiness said in 2013 that “most of us would have a dabble” with a guy.
(Laughs) That is a very Jay comment. Obviously, people thought (we were gay) straightaway when we started off as a band. We started playing club shows and school gigs; we really started from the ground up. We’d be doing two schools a day and then probably two clubs in the evening, probably one straight club and one gay club, then potentially another one later. So, we were always very much aware of our gay fan base and the gay community, and had a lot of respect for any fan who came to see us because we obviously started out without any fans at all. Any fan we could get – I mean, we started off with more members in the band than we did fans! (Laughs) To build on that and have great success and sell something like 11 million records as a band is just a humongous compliment. And to have support from a fantastic gay fan base was obviously a massive part of that, so we’ll be forever grateful for all the support that we had as a band.
Ariana Grande, your collaborator on “Over and Over Again,” is a very vocal supporter of LGBT issues. She once called homophobes “dumb as fuck.”
I mean, I completely agree. I think as equal members of the community, everyone should be seen as an equal and there should be a lot of support. And also, I think education is important to bring awareness at a younger age because that’s when people are discovering who they are, and there needs to be the support there from friends, teachers and the community. Anything that can be done to help any issues in the LGBT community is incredible, and it’s one that I feel strongly about and that I think is massively important.
I’m someone who really prides himself on being close with my fans. I’ve grown up with a lot of them, and I’ve seen people go on their own journey of self-discovery. There was a fan the other day who turned up to a gig and introduced me to her girlfriend, and it was just the most amazing moment because I’ve seen this very quiet girl go through this journey and come out a wonderful, confident human being. And to introduce me to her girlfriend, which you could tell she was a tiny bit nervous about, it really was an incredible moment. It really got me, and I was like, “I’m just so proud of how confident and how comfortable you are.”
What did you make of people thinking you were the gay ex-boyfriend Ariana was referring to during her song “Break Your Heart Right Back”?
That was news to me! I’m not gonna lie. I woke up with a lot of messages on Twitter congratulating me, which I was quite confused about. Then, when I looked into it, I was very confused because it was news to me. I was like, “I didn’t know I was gay, but OK!” I think it was a misunderstanding that she later went back and (acknowledged).
Are you familiar with the term “bromosexual”?
I’m not, no.
It’s basically a straight guy who has gay friends. Would you say you have a bromosexual relationship with Tom Daley?
You know what, I think I have a bromosexual relationship with quite a few gay men, but I’m not sure Tom is one of them. Tom is a lovely, lovely lad. I haven’t seen him in a while. Every now and then we cross paths, so I think when we do cross each other we probably have a bromosexual relationship. That’s gonna be a word I’m gonna be wrapping my head around. I’m out for a friend’s birthday tonight who’s gay and that’s definitely going to be a topic of conversation. I’m going to be like, “I learned a new word today and I need to share it with you.” So, thank you very much.
You’ve expressed interest in recording music with your friend, Sam Smith. What’s the latest on that venture?
Nothing further, really. Whenever I see Sam, it’s as a friend. He’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He really is just the sweetest person, so whenever we do see each other, it’s as friends and not as potential collaborators. As a massive fan of Sam’s, I’d love to collaborate with him. He’s phenomenal in so many ways, so it’d be an honor, but it’s not something we’ve both spoken about. I think it could be really cool!
Lastly, I want to acknowledge your shirtlessness in videos for “Give It Up” and “Over and Over Again.”
Yeah, sorry about that. I do apologize.
Was it just really warm on set?
It was really, really warm. During “Give it Up,” it got so hot I had to get in the shower just to get away any sweat. You know, you do get very nervous and quite self-conscious because you have quite a few people (there). My manager is never going to forgive me for saying this, but at one point I had two pairs of boxers over each other for the “Give it Up” video. I walked into the room and went, “Should I wear these boxers?” and then I took them down and went, “… or these boxers?” Of course, she had the fright of her life because she thought I was just taking them off completely, but yeah, I mean, you do get quite nervous and like, “Should I contour my abs?” But in the end, I was like, it’s natural and everyone has different bodies and everyone’s body should be celebrated. People shouldn’t feel pressured into looking a certain way, so I was like, I’m not going to try to contour my abs into something they’re not, because if people see them in real life, they will be disappointed. (Laughs) I am who I am who, and I’m just gonna be that way.
Touched By An Angel
By Chris Azzopardi | Photo by Capitol Records
Hello, it’s… Emeli Sandé, this generation’s only performer able to rival Adele as a powerhouse, tear-jerking force of nature.
The Scottish vocalist (born, funny enough, Adele Emily Sandé) is back for your pillow-sopping nights with her much-anticipated Long Live the Angels, a rumination on new versions of events, particularly the dissolving of a decade-long relationship that ended in divorce in 2014. Among the best albums of 2016, Sandé’s triumphant catharsis pushes through the pain with spirited, choir-lifted credos of faith and love-led empowerment.
In this revealing interview with Sandé, the 29-year-old opened up about the gay fans who helped her realize she needed a break, discovering President Obama’s daughters listen to her music and how Mariah Carey helped her feel less alone.
It’s been nearly five years since you released your debut, Our Version of Events. Why the wait?
I was just going through such a personal and spiritual growth. I mean, we spent so long promoting Our Version of Events, and it was amazing, touring, but I found it almost impossible to get back to ground zero and write music. I needed a timeout. I also was going through stuff myself that I needed to understand before I could put it in music and feel steady enough to go out there and give it to other people. So, it was a combination of both. I feel like for two years I just needed that time to dedicate to making this music.
How would you describe the process of writing these songs while going through something as difficult as your divorce?
I was always writing; this kind of feels like real diary entries. With every song, it was almost like I was sponging up my life. I find it a lot easier to express emotions through music, so I was acting like I was fine, but the music was all telling the truth in what I was feeling internally. It was all kind of me writing my emotions as I felt them, or if I’d do sessions, whatever I was going through at that time in my life, it just kind of came out.
Do you get emotional singing these deeply personal songs?
Not really. I feel quite empowered when I sing them just because it gives me an honesty on stage. Obviously, I hope they’re entertaining and they make people feel great, but it was really my truth. So, when I’m on stage it feels like I’m connecting with the audience and just kind of sharing myself fully. So, seriously enough, I kind of feel quite strong when I sing them. I feel liberated to tell the truth on stage.
Tell me how your connection with your gay fans has evolved since releasing your debut album.
During every show, I can feel my gay fans out there, and there’s a real kind of depth and understanding. I remember I was doing a show at KOKO in London, and it was around the time everything was going so fast, and I got a couple of notes from fans. A gay couple wrote, “Are you OK? If you want to come hang out with us, you can come on holiday with us.” I just thought it was so nice that they recognized – I must’ve been exhausted at that point, and I think they could see that. I really appreciated that letter from them. And I just appreciated all the different stories. I just love that I can also empower them through the music.
Did you end up going on vacation with this gay couple?
(Laughs) I didn’t end up going on holiday. But I just thought it was such a sweet offer, and it showed there was a real level of understanding and empathy. I never even got a chance to thank them, but it meant the world to me. I just kept going at the time. But it was really empowering to be like, “Actually, maybe I do need to take time off if it’s that obvious to the audience.”
What kinds of stories do gay fans share with you?
When I was in Washington, there was a guy – a big fan – and he was just saying how much he loved “Read All About It,” and Our Version of Events helped him through coming out. He was there with his mom, and it just felt so amazing. And, recently, I’ve had a few gay fans talking about how (that album) empowered them to express their love to one another, how everything I had written gave them those words as they were getting married. I love stories of love. It really keeps me going and encourages me to write songs about that.
How do your outsider feelings, which you’ve acknowledged you felt as someone growing up biracial, play into the music you write?
I feel like that’s why I give music 100 percent of myself, because it’s always been this confidante in my life where I’ve found my own identity. Growing up feeling pretty different in Scotland, I started to identify with soul music and black music, and that’s the reason why I’ve always put everything into my music. It’s never been something that I wanted to be too shiny. Like, I’ve never faked it. Having that kind of release and anchor in my life, it’s always just made me want to be 100 percent honest in what I’m doing, so hopefully that speaks through the music.
I remember how alone I felt and what comfort music was to me, and that was only through artists who were telling the truth and being so real. So, that’s how I wanted my career to be. Even if things are difficult to speak about or process, it’s important to me to keep doing it as is, so if people are like me when I was younger, they have someone who is telling the truth and making them feel not so alone.
For me, Mariah Carey’s Butterfly album made me feel that way. I identified with a song on that album, “Outside.” For you, what was –
(Laughs) Me too! Oh my god, I love that album, equally. It’s so funny you mention that song, too, because it was one of my favorites. When she speaks in interviews about how she felt being mixed race and how certain songs were based on that – and even though this was someone I’d never met, and we were on different ends of the world – I felt comforted by that.
Have you been able to share that with Mariah?
I have never been able to speak to her about the music, but I met her a couple of times. I met her on American Idol once and she said, “You’re the girl who’s writing all those songs!” and I’m like, “Oh my god, Mariah Carey knows that I write songs!” (Laughs) I was completely starstruck. And I remember “Hero.” I remember that song she did on the Rainbow album, “Can’t Take That Away.” I would love one day to meet her properly and tell her how much her music influenced me.
Do you call yourself a “lamb” like the rest of her hardcore fans?
I didn’t even know that’s what we were called, but yeah!
I’m envisioning a collaboration.
That would be a dream.
How would you compare Our Version of Events to this new album?
This album is a lot more personal and specifically about things that I’ve experienced. I wanted to make a conscious effort to be that honest, because it was such deep emotions for me that I didn’t want them to be generic. I wanted to get straight to the point. So, it’s a lot deeper, a lot more grown up. This is me stepping into womanhood, like a crash course in life bottled in an album.
Which song did you write at your rawest moment?
“Shakes.” The weird thing is, I didn’t feel like it was me channeling this emotion into this song, but when I listen to it now, I was almost predicting the future. “Shakes” was pretty deep. But “Sweet Architect” is probably the rawest moment on the album, where I just – beyond relationships, beyond the music industry – this was my direct prayer to God. That’s probably the rawest and deepest moment on the album.
Which song in particular do you think might resonate with your LGBT fans?
I love “Babe.” “Babe” is the last song on the album, and I feel liberated when I sing that song. It’s all about letting love be love and letting go of any kind of fear. So, for the gay community and the rest of the community, I just feel like allowing yourself to love and feel and take care of someone and be good to someone else – I hope that one resonates.
On the heels of World AIDS Day, tell me why it’s important to you to be a part of Elton John‘s AIDS Foundation.
It’s just so important to me, especially when you’re looking at Africa. My father is from Zambia, and you just see it’s affected the country and a lot of communities. If there’s more research and awareness about it, so much suffering wouldn’t have to happen. So, I’m really proud to be a part of Elton John’s foundation and spread awareness about it. It’s so important because a lot of things are preventable, especially what’s happening in Africa.
In 2013, you performed in front of President Obama and the First Lady. How many Xanax did you need to take beforehand?
Just a couple of glasses of wine! (Laughs) I remember stepping into the White House with all the security you have to go through to get there and walking through the corridors, and we got a little tour before. And meeting them – they’re so tall. That was the big thing. I’m like, “Wow, you guys are superhuman.”
They were talking about the music, and he was such a rock star. He was just so chilled out, and he made us feel relaxed and charged up. He had a chat with all the performers: “OK, let’s put on a show!” He made us feel like we were a part of some football team. He’s a true leader.
Does Obama have a favorite Emeli Sandé song?
He just said, “I think my daughters know your music!” And I was like, “Wow. My music might be getting played in the White House!” (Laughs)
Love Is Love Is Love
By Chris Azzopardi | Photo by Warner Bros
“You know what I’ll be Googling tonight: Bublé, gay, queer, all that stuff,” says Michael Bublé one recent afternoon, after being informed that said search terms render colorful results.
All you lovers, though, needn’t search beyond the dreamy crooner’s recently released album, Nobody But Me, and its 10 feel-good tunes, including several new originals and reimagined classics gleaned from the Great American Songbook.
Love, naturally, is featured prominently on Bublé’s ninth studio album, as well as in our recent chat, during which the affable ally spoke about the “joy” the LGBT community has brought him and the importance of standing up for queer issues. And no, not solely because he’s a staunch LGBT-rights advocate – when his kids grow up and read this interview, he says it’s important to him that they feel “proud.”
In 2010, you performed on a stage you deemed “phallic” because it resembled a penis. Then, a gay man threw you his keys, and you were not shy about bending over and picking them up.
(Laughs) I remember! That was a guy named Paul O’Grady, and he’s very famous in the UK. He does an act where he dresses up as a woman, who is also very famous, almost like Dame Edna. He’s a sweetie pie. I was so happy that he did that that night because it just gave me so much.
How would you describe the affection for you from the gay community?
The truth is, I don’t think I could’ve given them as much joy as they’ve given me. I’m in a business where, as you can imagine, I’m surrounded by the gay community. I mean, that’s just my life. I’m an artist, and so I’m surrounded by other artists. And everyone from my hair stylist who lives with me on the road to (my stylist) Jeff Kim, who puts me in my suits every day – I mean, god, the question isn’t who’s gay? The question is, who isn’t? (Laughs) And by the way, the ones that seem the most macho, they’re probably gay.
Now would be a good time to talk about how your wife, Luisana Lopilato, thought you were gay when she first met you.
(Laughs) Yes, she walked in this room with a man, and the man was so good lookin’ that he made Brad Pitt look dumpy, so I assumed they were together. I naturally assumed that this was her boyfriend or her husband, so I refused to hit on her. And listen, it didn’t help that she didn’t speak English either at the time. Not a word. But the more I drank that night, the more brazen I got about trying to find out what the situation was between them. Finally, after two hours – and I don’t know how many shots and glasses of whiskey – I finally said, (effects a drunk slur) “You guys are such a beautiful couple,” and he said, “We’re not together.” He said, “She came because she likes you.” And at the same time, she was on the phone texting her mom saying, “Oh my god, Michael Bublé is all over my friend. He’s so gay.”
She knows you’re straight now, right?
(Laughs) I assume so. I mean, after the kids. Also, I assume she thinks I’m not gay when every night I say, “Mmmmm?!” and she says, “No, I have a headache.”
You recently donated items that were auctioned off to benefit the Stonewall National Monument.
To be honest, I’m doing more because of (my publicist) Liz Rosenberg. There’s something I have in the works. There’s the Harvey Milk High School that she was talking about here in New York, and I want to help there too. Listen, I love being able to spout words, but sometimes you gotta put your money where your mouth is. (Liz) said, “Should I call your manager to find out if he thinks it’s OK?” So she called my manager and my manager said, “Why are you asking me? Of course!”
How long before there was a pic of you suggestively eating corn on the cob did you become aware of your gay following?
(Laughs) I think it was hours.
Hours! You know, that day I took my godson, my best friend and his wife to Disneyland, and I was looking after him because he’s a little guy. He’s 4 years old and he had this corn, and butter was everywhere. So, I was trying to help him with napkins, and then I grab mine and it was dripping… and my first thought was… oh god, you know what I mean. It was just the worst timing ever. The truth is, I had fun with it. There are so many terrible things you could do to land in the press or go viral with, and if that’s the worst thing, then you know what, I just gotta laugh at myself.
But seriously: When did you know you had a gay following?
Listen, I’m not Madonna. I don’t look out and see thousands of gay couples out at the shows, but even at the start, man, when I played the Blue Note (a jazz club in Greenwich Village, New York City). I’ll tell you the honest truth: I played the Blue Note 16 years ago, and the other night I had a show there, and I’m still close with one of the first fans I ever had in America. Forget about the world. In America. And his name is Johnny Blue Note, and he’s about 6-foot-5, a New Yorker with a huge personality, and he’s beautiful. I got sentimental the other night. I did a big radio show to open up the record, and I looked into this little, intimate club, and there was Johnny Blue Note. And I got sentimental. I talked about (him) during the show.
So, I think from the very start there was Johnny. That was my first ever gig, and one of my greatest fans and harshest critics was Johnny. He was my foray into my relationship with the gay community and me as an entertainer. Even before my music director was Alan Chang, there was Bryant Olender and Bryant is this really smart, funny, talented, slutty, very gay musical director.
You say you’re no Madonna, but still, you’ve performed with several gay icons: Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue…
Kylie Minogue, yes. I sang with her, and actually, I was supposed to see her in Vancouver. She was going to come over and have tea with me, but I had to fly to Europe. She had been there and was going to come over, because I happened to sing with her on a Rod Stewart special and we really got on and liked each other, so I was just gonna hang out with her literally weeks ago.
And Elton John is somebody I’ve gotten to know. I love him very much. Obviously, we don’t have to talk about how talented he is – we know how talented he is. He’s also really warm and effusive with me, and I just saw him in Vegas. I went backstage and gave him a big hug. He was so happy, and he really enjoyed being there. It’s funny, man, because I gotta guess that there are people out there who are gay in this business but won’t tell anyone.
Have you met these closeted stars?
Yeah, I meet them and I get the impression. And listen, I’m not gonna be the guy who outs the person, but it always made me wonder: “Why?” I understand if they are afraid, or they don’t want to tell their parents, but the fact that it could be a question within this business of hurting your business is just mind-blowing to me.
Do any of them confide in you?
No. I mean, I have the worst gay-dar ever. I really do have the worst gay-dar. I could be hanging with somebody and my friends will be like, “Michael, he was hitting on you hard,” and I’m like, “What are you talking about – he’s just a really nice guy!” Sometimes I don’t pick up the shit people are puttin’ down.
If a gay couple asked you to sing any of the songs off this new album at their wedding, which would you sing and why?
Aww. I think maybe “The Very Thought of You.” And to be honest with you, man: I don’t care if it’s a gay or a straight or a black or a poor wedding – love is love. And I think that would be a really beautiful, romantic first dance.
In the past, you’ve man-crushed on Blake Shelton and One Direction’s Niall Horan. Who are you currently man-crushing on?
That’s a good question. God, you wanna hear who I’m man-crushing on? There’s a couple of them. My No. 1 man crush is probably John Oliver (host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver). The other is (The Daily Show host) Trevor Noah. Goddamn – what a stunning South-African man. You know what I love man? I love that they’re self-deprecating and funny, and I know they’re empathetic because their point of view tells me that. Obviously, they’re liberal, progressive, self-confident; they have a great sense of humor. I just love that. (American astrophysicist) Neil deGrasse Tyson too. And god, the late (Anglo-American author and essayist) Christopher Hitchens. If you can man crush on a dead guy, I am man-crushin’ on a dead guy. (Linguist and philosopher) Noam Chomsky, I love. I’m trying to think of people I spend most of my evenings with, because this is who I spend most of my evenings with. Oh, Lawrence Krauss, the greatest astrophysicist. Honestly, their intelligence and skill at orating just… I mean, I’m wet.
Is it true that your Uncle Frank and Uncle Mike, who have been together for over 40 years, taught you acceptance and open-mindedness?
With or without them, the truth is, my father and my mother were so progressive, and I’m so lucky that my father just made it very simple. He just said, “It’s nature. A man can love a man and a woman can love a woman, and this doesn’t just happen with human beings – it’s science. It happens in nature. It happens with almost every animal.” Having two boys of my own who I love more than I’ll ever love myself, I can’t tell you how crushing it would be if they couldn’t feel that they could tell their father that they were gay – or different in any way. To me, (because of them), it just became a much bigger issue.
If one of your sons were to come out to you, how might you respond?
With nothing but love. And I’m not saying that to you because it’s you or the magazine. It’s because I love them, man. I love them so much that I just want them to be happy. My goal in life is to make them beautiful, happy human beings, and if that’s who they are – because I’m killed, just devastated, when I hear people saying they “choose.” “Choose”? What are you fucking talking about? You don’t choose. It isn’t a choice. It is genetic.
And I understand some people have an issue with the whole marriage thing and the sanctity of this word “marriage.” I mean, I don’t get it, but I can choose to listen to their point and hear it. I don’t agree with it. I always joke, everyone jokes: Why can’t gay people be just as miserable as straight people who are married? But listen to me, we are in a world – a dangerous world – right now, and if you’re not standing up against intolerance, then you’re for it. God, I sounded like George W. fucking Bush right there, holy shit. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”
As an ally with a massive platform, it’s important for you to say that for this movement to move forward.
I agree. And you know what, I think people are so afraid of losing fans.
Are you afraid of that?
No, no. I’m not. Because you know what, years from now, when my kids grow up and they read this, they’re going to be proud of their father because their father was on the right side of the line.
There are a lot of people, and time does this, who are going to be severely embarrassed for their bias and intolerance. And they’re going to have to live with that; that’s going to be their legacy. I refuse to have that as part of my legacy.