Welcome to Metro.co.uk‘s Big Questions, where we ask, well, the big questions (and the smaller ones too) and this week, we’re diving deep with James Arthur.
The singer rose to fame after winning the X Factor in 2012 and has since taken the music world by storm. Returning with another set of soulful bangers, his new album, It’ll All Make Sense In The End, charts his struggles with his mental health and details his time during lockdown.
Not afraid to show a more personal side to himself through his music, the singer chats with us about the importance of breaking down stigma within mental health and not letting the trolls win. Plus, you know, counting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Adele and Maneskin as fans. Because it’s the weekend.
Your album, It’ll All Make Sense In The End, came out yesterday. How are you feeling?
I think it’s my personal favourite album, but I think I’m a bit biased. I have so much creative license on this one. Not that I haven’t on the other ones, but just because of the process of making it, being from home and trying to push the boundaries as part of the sound, making a cohesive sound with a goal. I’m really happy with how it sounds, it’s a mood and it’s a vibe.
You haven’t shied away from being open about your own mental health struggles, and I can only imagine the response you’ve had from fans there…
When I started to struggle in my personal life, speaking about it was so, so helpful and profoundly important. Ever since, I’ve made an effort to raise awareness where I can. I put a lot in my music, it’s what I use my music for, where to channel that stuff. It’s a therapeutic thing for me.
There seems to be a turning of the tide of stars using their platforms to open up more.
I think the subject of mental health has historically been a bit of a taboo subject, I think we’ve kind of, as a society, become more open to talking about it and raising awareness and removing that stigma. It’s kind of been normalised now and hopefully I’ve been a part of that movement.
We see in the SOS video, it’s almost art imitating life with you opening up about your past battles. Do you have to take a moment to yourself when you’re filming these clips or is it almost like a therapy session?
Certainly more recently I’ve put a lot more care into the writing and treatment of these music videos. I like the challenge, the art form of visuals. I’m a huge film fan but I guess I didn’t have the confidence to write; I’ve come up with the ideas and a direction will come along and form the video.
I guess, looking for other avenues to express myself I got really into being more front and centre in an acting capacity instead of it centring around a performance. I didn’t want to make any more of those [videos]. They didn’t move me very much. I trust my instincts and visions that I have and try to bring them to life. In [music video] September I wanted to make people laugh, and SOS I had a really strong vision for that.
You looked like you had a hell of a lot of fun on the September shoot [which saw Arthur bond with his fictional father-in-law, who was a mobster]
September was a bit of a blur. I flew out to LA to make it, for a two-day shoot and by the time I acclimatised I flew straight back. When I saw it, I thought, woah. It’s funny.
Social media makes up such a huge part of what you do, how has your approach to your own accounts changed?
I guess I’m still trying to navigate it. There is something about social media that isn’t really a fit for me as a personality. I’ve never felt comfortable putting myself out there in that sense. For other artists and businesses, it’s a promotional tool. I think if I wasn’t doing music or trying to promote my music, I don’t know whether I’d be as present on social media.
It’s about trying to find a balance, it’s a necessary thing these days for us. It’s evolved in a way that is a bit more authentic, I think. I try not to put anything out there that feels forced, which I struggle with on TikTok. Mime to my own song? That’s the one I’m trying to figure out. Instagram and Twitter, I share what’s going on in my life. Authenticity is key for me.
You’re not afraid to call out trolls, either
We’re seeing it more and more. I was always told don’t rise to it, but I’m not opposed to telling someone you need to sort yourself out. We all talk about it in our private space, anyone who goes on and says something negative they’re clearly not very happy.
I think we should shed light on it. We see it with racism, the way to stop people spreading hate is to illuminate it and name and shame the people, or bring them to light. I’ve always clapped back at people, but I try not to let it take up too much energy. But If I feel like someone is being a d**khead, I let them know.
What is something that you still can’t get used to when it comes to being famous?
Whenever I meet people they say, “oh you’re very down to earth and normal aren’t you?” like I’m going to be some weird creature. I’m just a human. I eat, sleep and do whatever else any other human does. I think that’s always the odd thing. This person is acting the way they’re acting because they can’t wrap their head around that we’re not the same in some way. They might have seen me on TV or whatever. I come from a working class background, so I’ve never really lost that, I don’t think, apart from having nice things. I’d like to think I’m like the every man in a way.
And you’re moving back up north [Arthur hails from Middlesborough]?
I’m about to move back up north. I moved out of London about two years ago, outside London, because I wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle and have a little space. So I moved to Surrey, then during the pandemic I decided I wanted to get back up north. With Zoom there isn’t as much call to be back south. Ten years later I’m excited to go north and be around friends and family. Just being close to your roots is good for your soul I think.
I don’t know if you saw, but this week Damiano David from Maneskin revealed you were the first artist he fell in love with…
I did see that and it’s such a huge compliment. I’m a big fan of them as well. I actually performed with them years ago when they were on Italian X factor. I don’t know if they were called Maneskin at the time, or even the same line-up, it was a bit of a blur for me. I could be wrong…
[We can confirm that, yes, Arthur did perform with Maneskin, joining the band onstage for a rendition of Prisoner in 2017]
That’s really kind of them to say and they’ve having a huge moment, and I can see why.
Any other celebrity fans who have taken you by surprise?
I’ve been quite lucky over the years. I’ll never forget when I was on X Factor, Adele dropped me a note when I performed her song on the show saying I did a really good job. That was cool.
I always get very starstruck by footballers. Cristiano Ronaldo asked me to sing at his birthday party. That would be the pinnacle for me.
Where do you even go from there?
There’s not much more I could ask for, to be honest. That’s the one. If you’re a football fan, he’s a god. The fact he even knows who I am. He’s a phenomenon.
Who’s on your collaboration bucket list?
Eminem is definitely on it. He was such a big part of my youth growing up. I’m a huge fan of J Cole, I think he’s really sick. I mentioned Adele, would love to collaborate with her. I’m a huge hip hop fan so I’d love to feature on a Drake song or something. A Drake collaboration would be awesome. Maneskin as well, that would be pretty sick.
We see singers like Ed Sheeran turn their hand at other creative pursuits, like acting, what is something so far away from singing you’d love to try your hand at?
I’m actually about to shoot a couple things that involve me acting. Not too far from music, people might not expect that from me. The acting thing is definitely on my radar.
At some point I’d love to take a break and focus on the acting thing, I’m really serious about that. Other than that, I’m quite a simple bloke. I like to chill with my family and friends and watch football and movies. I guess the creative thing is the most interesting thing about me.
You’re about to head back on the road, with a little show at small venue the Royal Albert Hall, no biggie
That’s one to tick off the bucket list. Some greats have graced that venue, such a historic, famous place. I’m very ready to do shows again, for sure. It’s been way too long.
Alright then, what’s on your rider?
I guess I do need some coffee. I’m a big fan of my oat milk lattes. Me and my band, we curate the riders together. There’s a lot of vegan meats, a lot of crisps…and lot of alcohol, a lot of beer. I’m a big fan of Hennessey, that’s it really. Nothing too exciting…
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