Olly Alexander has been suffering for his art. All yesterday, he was in rehearsals for Years & Years’ Night Call tour, and he is feeling it this morning. “It’s a very thigh-heavy show,” he says with a laugh. The leg pain is not helped by the massive, thigh-high boots he will wear on stage and the fact he has been running on a treadmill while singing to improve his stamina – a lesson he learnt from Beyoncé. If you couldn’t tell, this era of Years & Years is pure pop star.
“Almost every day I think to myself, ‘What have I got myself in for?’” he says via video call from his rehearsal space. “But I’m on our third album now. I’m used to the sheer panic. I’m used to freaking out and knowing that nothing makes sense until the last minute. I just have this faith that everything will work out in the end.” He takes a second. “This must be what ‘experience’ feels like.”
Years & Years have been going for more than a decade now – but are very different to when they formed in 2010. Back then, they were an indie-leaning electro-pop five-piece. They were down to three members by the time they released their glitzy 2015 chart-topping debut album Communion (including breakout singles “Desire” and “King”), which was followed in 2018 by the dance-pop party of Palo Santo. Then in 2021, it was announced that founding members Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen would also be leaving. “[Night Call] has been an Olly endeavour and we’ve decided that Years & Years will continue as an Olly solo project,” read the statement. That excitement, that lust for life, and the jubilance of the music remains.
For the Night Call tour, Alexander has been trying to challenge himself. He has already nailed one death-defying magic trick, and one week before the tour kicks off, has decided he might try to learn another. “It’s definitely going to be a spectacle,” he says.
There are no plans to tone things down – even after the BBC’s Big New Years & Years Eve Party drew official complaints. Apparently, seeing Alexander perform emotional, pulsating pop with Kylie Minogue and the Pet Shop Boys was too much for some people. “179 people complained I was too sexy!” he tweeted a few days later.
Alexander says those complaints were “typical” of the kind of knee-jerk criticism that every LGTBQ+ person has to endure. “They see me saying something about non-binary people on TV, and to them, that’s offensive. I don’t make explicit political statements in my music, but by being who I am, I’m trying to do my own Trojan Horse-style subversion. I’m not going to shut up about being gay, or being sexy either.”
That New Year’s Eve show, he continues, “was just a practice run” compared with the tour. “It’s definitely a very sexual show,” he says. “There will be elements that will really shock people, but it’s never explicit. Night Call is a very liberated, good-time album about a good night out. I felt lost and not very confident when I wrote it. I was having very little sex and very little intimacy, so it was almost like I was playing a character. It was all about fantasy.”
Fantastical and bold, Night Call is full of rave-ready pop anthems about lust, love and physicality. It is an album born from loneliness, designed to bring people together. The pulsating “Starstruck” is about being head over heels; “Crave” is a wide-eyed anthem of longing; “Make it Out Alive” blends doom with twinkling escapism.
For a brief moment, Alexander wanted to use this tour as a chance to prove he could do it alone – but “not so much any more”. The success of Night Call (it topped the UK album charts when it was released in January) helped stem those fears, as he says: “I always feel like I’ve got to prove myself no matter what. I am so determined to push it to the next level, though. Now that Years & Years is just me, I’m really committed to making it as queer and excellent as possible”.
Growing up, Alexander went through phases of wanting to be a pop star, musician or actor – someone who had a talent, whom others respected. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to learn an instrument or write a song,” he says. “I didn’t imagine myself doing what I’m doing now, but I’ve definitely discovered myself along the way. I guess I’m as comfortable as I can be.”
However, fame is “pure neurosis”. His stardom reached new heights with It’s a Sin. In the phenomenal Channel 4 drama that aired at the start of last year, he played Ritchie, a charming yet complicated aspiring actor who struggles with, then revels in, his sexuality amid the Aids crisis of the 80s. “I was so excited to play him, but I was so annoyed at some of the choices he made – like the fact he voted Tory,” says Alexander. “I really fell in love with him, though. A lot of the stupid things he did were because he was lost. He was just hiding from himself. He’s not the most lovable character on the show, but the audience seemed to love him anyway.”
Between his honest lyrics, the gut-wrenching portrayal of Ritchie and his frank 2017 BBC Three documentary Growing Up Gay, Alexander seems to be drawn to making revealing, even exposing work. “You usually discover some real strength when you go towards your most vulnerable places,” he says.
Despite the success of It’s a Sin, Alexander still considers himself a musician who occasionally acts despite making headlines late last year when it was rumoured he could replace Jodie Whittaker on Doctor Who. “That was just never going to happen,” he laughs. “But Ncuti [Gatwa] is the perfect Doctor. Maybe they’ll get me for something else.” Well, he has mentioned wanting to play a villain. “I could be a baddie! That would be fun.” He stops himself. “We’re going to start another rumour…”
Alexander is already starting to figure out the next Years & Years album. In fact, he is heading to the studio after this interview. “Some people really lose their way with music, but I still love doing it,” he says. “When we first started out, we had so much going on, I felt really overwhelmed all the time. I feel much more together now.”
That self-belief is the result of a lot of therapy, and the unwavering support of fans. “They showed me that they would accept me for who I am. They liked me being honest and it made them want to share things about themselves, like their struggles with sexuality or mental health” he says. “It’s become this two-way thing.”
Everything about Night Call has been about celebrating queerness. “I’m trying to encourage as much queer joy as possible,” says Alexander. With this album and this tour, “I want people to feel this wild release of liberation,” he adds. “I want them to be transcendently liberated. I’m so excited to share it with so many other queer people, but everyone is invited to the party. To me, that’s a truly queer experience.”
In pursuit of that, the tour will feature an all-queer support bill – L Devine, Cat Burns, Eddy Luna and dance collective Queer House Party. “When you’re playing festivals, it’s so rare to see other queer artists,” he says. “If I’m putting on my own show, why wouldn’t I get as many queer people involved as possible?”
The Night Call tour is at Manchester’s AO Arena tomorrow then continues until 6 August