Yungblud at Reading Festival 2021: Gen-Z’s rock’n’roll star makes his bid for the top

August 29: the punk rock hellraiser provides the perfectly eclectic soundtrack to this teenage rite of passage

“Does anyone here think I’m a cunt?” asks Yungblud, straddling Reading Festival’s Main Stage West. “Well, you’re here so you might as well enjoy it.”

He needn’t worry. Dominic Harrison’s second album, ‘Weird!’, saw him hit his stride – and the joyful, jubilant, and optimistic record is the perfect soundtrack to Reading Festival 2021, which finds a generation finally being allowed their rite of passage.

Following a The Rocky Horror Picture Show-inspired introduction (on a screen, red-painted lips ask: “Are you ready to celebrate love and unity with every ounce of your being; are you ready to scream louder than you’ve ever screamed before?”), Harrison bounds onto the stage and kicks into the lusty rock of ‘Strawberry Lipstick’. It sounds absolutely monstrous.

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“Is anyone fucked-up yet?” he asks before the angst-ridden ‘Parents’, a track about teenage rebellion and self-expression. The ska-infused ‘I Love You, Will You Marry Me?” has the crowd drowning out Harrison, who takes a moment mid-song to mouth “Fucking hell!” to guitarist Adam Warrington. If he’s overwhelmed, though, he doesn’t let it show. Liam Gallagher isn’t the only rock’n’roll star on site today.

Harrison, dashing about the stage as flames erupt around him, is as unpredictable as ever (at one point he lobs a can of lager into the crowd, soaking a camera in the process, meaning the rest of his set is broadcast via the giant video screens through a sticky sheen), but his whole show is meticulously thought-out. ‘I Think I’m OKAY’ comes with a livestreamed appearance from Machine Gun Kelly, while the set ends with a slightly reworked ‘Machine Gun (F**K COVID)’, which was previously ‘Machine Gun (F**K NRA)’.

In among the moshpits, the lobbed pints and the crowdsurfers comes ‘mars’. “This one goes out to anyone who ever felt like an alien – I got you,” Yungblud promises before the slow-burning anthem of acceptance. At the end of the track, he keeps the refrain going – “Is there any life on Mars?” – creating one of the festival’s most poignant moment, all in the shadow of a giant inflatable duck. It’s all very him. “Love each other, cherish each other,” he implores.

Credit: Andy Ford

Anarchic, compassionate and with something to say, Yungblud is not a Reading Festival headliner in the making. As was the case with Billie Eilish’s record breaking appearance here in 2019, he’s already there, man, whether you like it or not.

– Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021

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