Olly Alexander Talks Exploring Kink, Pain in New “Paper” Spread

The Years & Years frontman is done being repressed.

“In many ways, this is the very best time to be a gay artist ever,” says Years & Years lead singer Olly Alexander. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without all the gay artists that have come before us and broken down so many barriers.”

In Paper magazine’s latest Pride issue, the 27-year-old Brit addresses lingering homophobia in the music industry and writing music that truthtfully reflects his experiences as a gay man.

“[The] barriers aren’t gone. Particularly for less privileged members of the queer community,” Alexander continues. “There is this very insidious casual homophobia that exists in the fabric of everything including the music industry.”

Joshua Wilks

“Labels and people in positions of power pay lip service to supporting LGBTQ artists, but I just think from my personal experience, the amount of comments like ’Oh, this is very gay’ or ’This is going to turn some people off’ is a real problem.”

Alexander says those experiences and encounters swayed him from using male pronouns and explicitly queer language when penning Years & Years’ first album Communion, which hit the top of the Dance/Electronic Albums chart in 2015. But now, the performer says he’s “engineering this brave new frontier of queer music to infiltrate the masses with my gay agenda.”

Years & Years’ sophomore record, Palo Santo, doesn’t hold back on the queerness. The lyrics—and the video—do more than wink and nod to gay listeners. “You don’t have to be straight with me. I see what’s underneath your mask. I’m a man like you. I breathe the rituals of the dancer’s dance,” Alexander sings.


“Yeah there’s this S&M vibe,” says Alexander. “I’m definitely interested in that part of the human psyche, that pleasure and pain kink zone—our deepest sexual fantasies and desires. And I wanted to write something that spoke to how painful the experience of being gay can actually be. How we kind of interrogate our desires, and there’s a part of us that wants to be hurt and we enjoy the pain.”

Palo Santo is out now. See the full shoot and interview on Paper.

Lamar Dawson is a pop culture junkie and pop diva addict living in Manhattan. Follow him on everything @dirrtykingofpop.