In the 3 years since Years & Years broke into the music scene, lead vocalist Olly Alexander has been hailed as a pop rebel with a cause in today’s culture.
At 28, the vocal pop star has used not only his voice to share his platform with the queer community but also raise awareness on mental illness. Following the success of their debut album, “Communion”, Years & Years have released “Palo Santo”. Influenced by religion and spirituality, their sophomore album explores the intricacies of sexuality.
Here are 10 things we know about Years & Years’ “Palo Santo”:
1. The meaning of “Palo Santo”
“This stick of wood that you burn, the smoke is meant to purify your space from all evil spirits and negative energy and it’s called Palo Santo. That’s the name of track 10, that is the name of the album,” Alexander explained during one of his previous Instagram live sessions.
He added that he liked “the idea that you could burn something and it would cleanse the negativity. (…) That’s kind of how I see music and see songwriting.” In Spanish, “Palo Santo” means “holy wood”.
2. How “Palo Santo” is illustrated as a concept album
“I wanted to create this kind of fantasy world that music would go alongside – pop music is always about fantasy and escapism to me, so we should just create our own world that all of the music videos we make and our live show, the visuals and the artwork, the merchandise – everything can be consistent from this one unique world, and that world is called Palo Santo,” the Brit was quoted as saying.
Palo Santo is basically a fantasy world that takes place in the distant future ruled by human-hunting androids. Fuelled by their desire to experience human emotions, androids have regard human beings as celebrities and entertainers for their own amusement.
Alexander’s fascination with a genderless society in Palo Santo came about with question ideas like:
- “What is an android’s sexuality?”
- “What is an android’s gender?”
- “How would an android experience love?”
3. The 1st single, “Sanctify”, was based on his sexual experience
— Years & Years (@yearsandyears) July 12, 2018
The pop star hasn’t been shy about his sexuality over the years. 1 particular hook up with a straight man, however, left a lasting impression. “There’s so much that goes on in an experience like that. On the one hand, the guy is struggling with his sexuality and feeling unable to express himself as anything other than straight while also desiring me,” he told Nylon.
“I’m on the other side feeling like both a sinner and saint or a devil and angel, leading this guy down a path of ‘sinfulness’ while, at the same time, helping him explore his sexuality,” Alexander elaborated. For example, when he sings on the 2nd verse, “You don’t have to be straight with me, I see what’s underneath your mask“, he’s calling out the mask of masculinity in which they’re hiding behind.
4. “Sanctify” combines kinky gay sex with a little sacrilege
The chorus for “Sanctify” reads, “So don’t break. Sanctify my body with pain. Sanctify the love that you crave. Oh, and I won’t, and I wont, and I won’t be ashamed.”
“Yeah there’s this S&M vibe. 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,” the entertainer admitted to Paper magazine.
5. The pop star explains “If You’re Over Me” in detail
When a relationship ends, more often than not, we often go back and analysed certain events. “Wait, all those things that you said and did, were you actually not being truthful?” Alexander contemplated. In this interview by Genius, Alexander breaks down the single “If You’re Over Me” lyric by lyric and explain the meaning behind them.
6. A snippet of “Hypnotised” first debut in October 2017 and it was for H&M
“Hypnotised” was a result of the collaboration between H&M’s promotional campaign film, “The Secret Life of Flowers”, with Turkish-Canadian fashion designer Erdem. Director Baz Luhrmann wanted a haunting song to capture the essence of his modern love story.
Written with Mark Ralph, “Hypnotised” is about Alexander “falling head over heels for somebody and it totally upends everything you thought you knew about yourself” and wondering “if I am ever going to fall in love with someone again“. In case you’re wondering, it was about Neil Amin-Smith (formerly of Clean Bandit).
7. Principal songwriter Olly Alexander wrote the entire album
Palo Santo… the second album !! Coming 6th July 2018. Pre-order tomorrow 9AM BST ?? pic.twitter.com/XIUHBMILh0
— Years & Years (@yearsandyears) April 25, 2018
— Years & Years (@yearsandyears) April 24, 2018
Just like Years & Years’ debut album, “Communion”, Alexander wrote all 14 songs in “Palo Santo” (including the 3 bonus tracks in the deluxe edition). Of course he had help on a number of tunes. For example, “Hallelujah” and “Preacher” received writing credits from A-list songwriters Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels. Bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen also contributed to lyrics for “Rendezvous” and “Howl”.
8. 8 lyrics from the album to get over your exes
— Years & Years (@yearsandyears) July 4, 2018
To quote Billboard, “if love is sometimes messy, breaking up is a full-on catastrophe”. If you’ve ever wondered what cutting off an ex sounds like, and the liberation of leaving behind a toxic ex, plug your earbuds into the synth pop band’s latest offerings:
- “Hallelujah” – Want to taste you on that lips to make you jealous/ Make me forget I feel much better
- “All For You” – You look like you’re so damn scared/ I don’t really think you care/ You know, you know that our time is through/ It’s over when I leave,’ you said, ‘we’re never gonna meet again’
- “Karma” – Daddy said I never could win/ That’s probably why I never pretend/ But good things are coming to me
- “Rendezvous” – Do I have to keep you safe and warm tonight?/ Didn’t no one ever teach you wrong from right?/ I don’t wanna be something objectified
- “If You’re Over Me” – Yesterday you said I’m the one/ But now you say you’re done/ Stop telling me what I need/ Baby, if you’re over me
- “Lucky Escape” – You’re so deluded, you’re such a fake/ And now you got somebody else to manipulate/ I think I dodged a bullet/ I made a lucky escape
- “Palo Santo” – I’m waking spirits tonight/ And I can’t hear your voice/ I’ve got nothing to hide/ ‘Cause you’re with another boy
- “Up In Flames” – And we’re dancing to the sound/ Of your demons falling down/ And our past is going up in flames/ And the future will be rearranged
9. The album is “Westworld” inspired
Turns out, HBO’s hit show “Westworld” was a huge inspiration for the album. “I love sci-fi… creating worlds, so that seems like what we set out to do. The concept of this android universe, ‘Palo Santo’… is kind of like if you flipped the roles in ‘Westworld’, cause like ‘Westworld’ is kind of about an android situation, like their all robots situation.. but this way is a bit more flipped, like the humans are outnumbered by the androids,” explained Alexander during an interview with Z100 studio.
10. A graphic novel was also launched ahead of the album’s release
Back in March, Years & Years pushed out a graphic novel based on the world of “Palo Santo”. Subsequently, a few more chapters have been released. You look through these captivating novels on the band’s saved Instagram stories and previous posts.
Years & Years’ “Palo Santo” is out now. Listen to their awesome record here.