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 is 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.
Dallas Voice: You’re 23, but you sound like you’re 30, and that’s a compliment. Nathan Sykes: 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!” 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. 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? 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. 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! 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. I am who I am who, and I’m just gonna be that way.
— Chris Azzopardi