The pop star talks to Laurence Watts about his new album, Whitney Houston’s death and why he’d like you to follow him on Twitter.
Another year, another year older: the last time I interviewed Joe McElderry was in December 2011.
“It seems like a long, long time ago,” he tells me in his trademark, soft Geordie tones.
Back then he was promoting his second release on the iconic Decca label, Classic Christmas, a follow-up to his Popstar To Operastar-inspired album Classic. Combined, the two albums ratcheted up more than 300,000 sales. Not bad for a 20 year-old, northern-lad that had been ditched by Simon Cowell less than twelve months earlier.
After a busy 2011, that included winning Popstar to Operastar and two subsequent album releases, McElderry was read to take a holiday.
“I went to Switzerland,” he says, “skiing, which was lovely. I’ve been going for about six years now, so I’m not that bad at it.”
Even while he was on holiday however, he was listening to music, looking for ideas for his next album. That very album, Here’s What I Believe, goes on sale on September 10. When it does Simon Cowell will have another reason to regret parting ways with McElderry because at that moment Joe will become the only X-Factor contestant ever to have released four albums. I ask him if he’s the hardest-working man in pop music.
“I don’t know,” he laughs. “I enjoy what I do for a living and I think that’s why I work hard. I’m passionate about it. But if you enjoy what you’re doing, how can you call it work? My work ethic though, comes from a belief that you only get success through hard work and I want to be the best that I can be.”
Although I know he personally found and hired a new manager after his split with Cowell, I want to know if he’s still pushing himself or if he’s now someone who’s being pushed.
“It’s still me,” he answers. “At the end of the day, if I want to take a day off I will. But if I do, it’s not as if somebody else can sing or do interviews for me. I work hard because I want to.”
McElderry’s new album contains a mix of new and old songs, two of which he helped co-write. The first single off of, Here’s What I Believe, shares the album’s name and was written by Joe with industry stalwart Marcella Detroit, of Shakespeare’s Sister and solo fame.
“Working with her was incredible,” says McElderry. “She’s an incredible musician. I was really nervous about working with her because she’s such a respected songwriter, but we kind of went into the studio and just had a conversation. We chatted about every day things, relationships and together we decided we’d write a really good break up song. That’s how the song came about.”
The song is based, at least in part, on Joe’s breakup with a previous boyfriend. When I ask if he’s single at the moment, he confirms that he is. What does he look for in a boyfriend?
“Somebody who’s genuine and likes to have fun,” he replies. “I spend a lot of my life socialising with big groups of people and I have a massive group of friends, so he’s got to be very sociable as well. Someone about the same age, I would say.”
I don’t pry, but a lyric in Here’s What I Believe, makes it sound like Joe was cheated on. ‘It’s got to be me or the other,’ he sings, ‘good luck with you part time lover.’ It’s damning, but not on the same level as, say, Taylor Swift. Does he subscribe to her philosophy of writing songs to get back at exes? Joe laughs.
“I think when you write from personal experiences it just means a lot more, regardless of whether it’s a break-up song or a love song. I want to write about things that people can relate to and everybody falls. Everybody’s broken up with somebody.”
The album includes a number of ‘love songs’ and references to love, but I want to know if that’s really important to him right now. He’s just turned 21 and come through three mind-boggling years that took him from obscurity and affixed him in the national consciousness.
“I don’t search for it everyday,” he says. “I think it’s one of those things: if you look for it, it doesn’t happen. So I’m not trying to find it, but if it happens it happens.”
When I ask if that means he’s not regularly checking a Gaydar or Grindr account he laughs again, “Absolutely not,” he tells me, though I note that his denial at least means he’s aware of the two dating platforms I mentioned.
McElderry recently appeared at Perez Hilton’s ‘One Night in London’. Did he get a chance to meet the American blogger?
“I’ve met him quite a few times,” he tells me. “I met him at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park a couple of years ago. Then I went to his first ‘One Night in London’ back in 2010 and then obviously this year he asked me to be a part of it. It was good to catch up with him. He’s really fun. He’s lost a lot of weight in the time that I’ve known him and he’s looking great now. He looks a lot happier too.”
Here’s What I Believe contains a number of covers and I want to talk to Joe about some of the stars who originally sang them. I start with Freddie Mercury. What made him decide to cover Love of My Life?
“It was actually somebody I work with who said I should try singing it,” says Joe. “I’m a massive fan of Queen and was lucky enough to sing with Brian May and Roger Taylor on X Factor a couple of year ago. That was a dream come true. I didn’t know Love of My Life as well as their other songs, but when I heard it I loved it and I thought it would be nice to try and do my own interpretation.”
I ask Joe if he saw the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, which featured a projection of Mercury onto giant screens inside the stadium.
“Yeah, it was incredible,” he says. “He’s an iconic musician, part of British history, so it was right for him to pay tribute to him alongside other greats like Kate Bush, David Bowie and John Lennon.”
McElderry has also recorded a cover of Whitney Houston’s I Look To You. A little research by me reveals that Houston’s untimely death occurred right around the time that Joe was short-listing tracks for his album, February.
“I’d heard the song a long time ago and I knew I had to cover it. It’s such a beautiful song. When she died the song struck a chord with me again, so the studio wrote a version of it for me that would suit my voice. It’s an honour for me to have it on the album. Her death was so tragic. To watch the public demise of someone is a very sad thing. It’s sad that she wasn’t able to have a private ending to her life.”
I tell him there’s a lesson in her story about mixing pop and rock stars with drugs and alcohol.
“Totally,” he agrees. “That’s one thing that I’m always very strong about: surrounding myself with the right people. I imagine she wasn’t surrounded by the right people; she was surrounded by yes-people.”
Thus far in his career, McElderry has done nothing to detract from his wholesome, honest, hard-working public persona. Would he ever detract from that image, carefully honed or otherwise, and say, swear in a song?
“To be honest with you, I don’t really see the need to swear in songs,” he answers, “I don’t need swear words to fill my songs with passion or emotion, that’s what my voice is for. There are much cleverer ways of expressing how you feel or what you want to say without swearing. It’s got nothing to do with my fan base or who I make music for, it’s about me personally and I really feel I’ve got better words to sing.”
Shortly before our last interview I compiled a list for The Huffington Post of the world’s most powerful LGBT people on Twitter. McElderry came in 26th place with just over a quarter of a million followers. These days he’s up to 324,000. Does he have any aspiration to become what some have termed a ‘twillionaire’?
“It’s nice to see my number of followers going up,” he tells me. “I suppose that means I’m doing something right. But to be honest, so long as I have support on there I don’t really care how many followers I’ve got. I just enjoy connecting with people. Twitter’s a great way to be in direct contact with your supporters and it enables you to talk to them directly and hear what they have to say. It has its downsides, but overall it’s great.”
By ‘downsides’ I wonder if he’s referring to spamming and trolling. He’s not. What are the downsides then to Twitter, as he sees them then?
“Sometimes,” he explains, “if you get spotted somewhere, within minutes the whole of Twitter know where you are. It limits privacy a lot more. Sometimes I don’t want people to know where I am.”
I ask if that means he ever leaves the house in disguise, to avoid being spotted.
“Sort of,” he confesses. “If I don’t want to be spotted, I stick a pair of glasses on and a cap. Normally, I can then just blend into the crowd.”
With four albums now under his belt, I ask him what comes next. Can we expect the obligatory Greatest Hits compilation sometime next year? His answer is surprisingly frank.
“I don’t think I’ve had enough hits yet to have a greatest hits album. An album like that should be full of huge hits and I feel I’ve got more to make. I want to do a lot more song writing and I’d love to work with people like Max Martin and Dr Luke. They’ve written some amazing songs.”
With that, our time is up. If McElderry does get to work with Max Martin, I’m guessing the result won’t be similar to ‘F**kin Perfect,’ the song Martin co-wrote with Pink, given McElderry’s aversion to swearing. I’m also thinking that if Tom Daley’s bromance with OneDirection’s Liam Payne doesn’t work out, Joe should give the British diver a call. They’re about the same age and Daley seems sociable. AND he’s a twillionaire. Be a love, Joe, and follow me on Twitter?
Here’s What I Believe will be released on September 10 and is available now to pre-order.