Olly Murs Talks One Direction, Demi Lovato and the Stigma of Coming From Reality TV

by | PopCrush
Olly Murs
Tim P. Whitby, Getty Images

Olly Murs may not have won The X Factor back in 2009, but let’s put that loss into perspective for you: One Direction didn’t win their year, either. While he went on to have major success in the U.K. immediately following the release of his first album, it wasn’t until he was an opener on One Direction’s first U.S. headlining tour in 2012 that he broke into the U.S. market. His song “Troublemaker,” propelled him to U.S. radio and it’s been a slow but steady climb ever since.

Armed with some seriously catchy pop songs, a few stellar guest features and an innate charisma, Olly’s ready and determined to win over the U.S. in a huge way with his latest release, Never Been Better.

We had a chance to speak with Olly about working with Demi Lovato, his desire to win over more U.S. fans and whether there’s still a stigma attached to singers who come from reality shows. Read on!

Let’s talk about X Factor first. I auditioned for X Factor a few years ago, too.
Did you really!? In the U.S.? How’d that go?

Not great. I don’t even know why I bothered, I do not have an amazing voice.
Why’d you do it then?

I don’t know! I just figured I might as well try.
You never know! I think most people who do audition for the show — unless they’re really self-confident and have an amazing voice and they know they’ve got an amazing voice — I auditioned for the show with that same belief that you had. So I didn’t really think, “Do I have a good voice or not? I’m really not sure.” I kind of just took a leap of faith and luckily for me they said that I did.

Yeah, but when you were up there you seemed to know exactly what you were doing.
I kind of just had a vibe. I just wanted to have a good time up there. I didn’t want to be someone that I wasn’t. I just thought, “You know what? I’m never gonna get this opportunity again so I might as well see if I can take it with both hands,” you know? So I just jumped in there, had a bit of a laugh, danced a little bit and they seemed to like it. I think the Stevie Wonder song helped me a lot.

If you had to re-audition with a different song what would you pick?
Ooooh. I would probably pick “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, because it’s really cheeky and fun. [sings a line from “Uptown Funk”]

You should definitely cover that.
One day, maybe!

A lot of your U.S. audience doesn’t know you originated on The X Factor, which is kind of cool. Do you think there’s still a stigma attached to artists who come from singing competition shows?
I think there is, but then you’ve got to look at the likes of One Direction and say, “Is there really a stigma?” To be honest with you, it is sort of a breath of fresh air coming over here and just being judged on music, but I think I’ve sort of always been involved in TV in some shape or form, and although my music does its own talking, I like to be in front of the camera. I like performing, I like to be on TV, so The X Factor was kind of a perfect fit for me, you know what I mean? Everything sort of felt right doing the show. Whether there’s a stigma or not, I just love performing, I love music like everyone else. Whether you come from a non-reality background or you are on reality TV, the similarity between everyone is that we’re all here because we love music. It doesn’t really matter where you come from — whether you come from the ghetto, whether you come from private school, whether you come into this industry from a reality TV show. I think if you can sustain long enough and you can have a career and be a proper artist — which I’d like to think I am now — I think it doesn’t really matter where you come from.

"To be honest with you, it is a breath of fresh air coming over here and just being judged on music."

You’ve been in the industry for what, five or six years now?
Yeah, I’ve been around since, 2010, really, was when I got signed, so it’s been five years. It’s been fun! It’s been exciting. I’ve loved every minute of it. This year is like my fifth year in it and I still get the same buzz and excitement everywhere I go, it’s great. It sounds like I’m a veteran, but I’m not! I mean that in a sense of… I just love my job. We all go into jobs and we don’t know how long we’re going to be doing it. When we walk in, we have the audition or the interview, we sit down, we get told, “This is your new job,” and you’re like “Okay, cool.” You don’t actually know it’s going to last. You don’t know if you’ll be in it for a couple of years and then move on to something else. I’ve been doing it for five years and still absolutely love music, I love performing it, I love the industry itself. I love everything about it so, yeah, I’m enjoying it.

What do you think it is about you, specifically, that keeps people interested?
I’m just all about positivity and having a good time and for people to hear fun pop music — I don’t try to do anything that’s too depressing or sad, you know? There are times in my music, especially on my album, where I do portray that, but really for me it’s just putting my music out there in a positive sense, showing people who I am as a person. I think everything I’ve ever released is a true reflection of the kind of artist I am and the singer I am.

Why did you decide to go into pop music? Is pop your favorite genre?
No, I think for my music, even though “Dance With Me Tonight” has that sort of doo-wop stuff, and obviously “Wrapped Up” has that old school element to it, I’ve released a couple of songs that probably a lot of Americans wouldn’t have heard, but I always kind of mix it up. My next single, “Up” featuring Demi Lovato, has almost a country feel to it, you know? So I’m always testing myself and trying to show people different sides of my personality and different sides of my musical knowledge. I try to jump into different genres of music and show that I’m versatile, you know? And also for my fans, kind of to freshen their ears in what I’m doing. I don’t want it to be boring. I want people to genuinely love watching my videos and love my music.

What was it like working with Demi?
Brilliant! Really great. You always hear horror stories from other artists when they work with other people and you hear all these stories and you think, “Oh, I hope Demi’s what you expect.” But she was more than that. She was brilliant. She was fun to be with, good laugh, good energy, positive person. For someone who’s been through so much in her life as well, it was just great. It was a real pleasure to meet her and a real honor to be in her company and I really enjoyed it. She’s a great person.

What about Travie McCoy? I know he’s also a solo artist now, but I remember him from his Gym Class Heroes days.
Well I’ve come to the point where I call him Trav. I’m good friends with him now. I’m like, “Alright Trav, what’s happening?” I think Travie’s brilliant. We had difficulties at the start because he did the song and he was brilliant and he did the vocal. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make some of the dates that we had for the video. We did the first live performance of the song in the U.K. on The X Factor and we didn’t have him to do the performance, which was a bit of a bummer. So it was a shame, really, and I sort of thought, “Oh, does he not like the song anymore?” But obviously there were genuine reasons why he couldn’t make it.

What was great is that I came to New York and finally met with him. We did the Today Show together, which was brilliant, and we did a performance at the Kelly and Michael Show. Every time I see him now it’s like he’s one of my mates. He’s a proper down-to-earth, fun guy to have around.

Did you guys record “Wrapped Up” together or did he add his vocals later?
No, it was recorded separately. He did his thing — did his thang. It’s quite an exciting moment actually, when you send your song off. It’s like sending your kid to school. You send your song off that you’ve been working on for a couple of months and all of a sudden you see what someone else’s opinion is, 1) Of the song, if they like it and, 2) How good’s their rap gonna be? And Travie just came back with this amazing, sick Travie McCoy-esque quality rap.

"It’s quite an exciting moment actually, when you send your song off. It’s like sending your kid to school."

So you got to approve it?
Yeah, in the past, I remember when Flo Rida did “Troublemaker,” and he sent back this rap and it was quite explicit, so we had to ring his team and say, “Flo, we loved your rap but there’s just parts of it where you can’t really say what you’re saying.” So he kind of tamed it. But with Travie we just explained before, we said, “Look, it can’t be explicit but we want it to be cheeky, fun.” And, obviously, the sort of concept of the song is me pretty much with this girl, and I’m sort of wrapped up in her love and she’s a real incredible person and a real incredible woman. So he was like, “Okay cool,” and he did this amazing rap where he mentions Spider-Man and stuff. Got her in the web and now she’s turned my life upside down, and it’s like, innuendos around Spider-Man, so that just shows you the class of the guy and the talent that he is. Even though he hasn’t been around for like the last three or four years, someone as talented as him will be back with more singles I’m sure.

Some of your U.S. audience might not be as familiar with him, but you also did a song with Paul Weller. What was that experience like?
Yeah, I’m not too sure when people ask me! If people are reading this, you should Google Paul Weller if you’re really into music, because he was like the voice of the ’80s in the U.K. and probably across Europe, and maybe in some parts of the U.S. He was in a band called the Jam and he’s just like a god in the U.K. There’s many gods, but he’s one of them in the U.K. in terms of music. He’s definitely up there in the folklore of legend status.

So to work with him was just — he was an amazing guy. And someone who’s been in the industry for so long, regardless of the success, regardless of the plaques, regardless of all that success that he’s had, he’s just really down-to-earth. And I find that a lot — there’s a lot of people in the industry that aren’t down-to-earth. But you do find that the ones that really know themselves as artists seem to be the most real, you know? And I’ve been very fortunate that hopefully I’ve been gravitating towards good people, because everyone that I’ve worked with has been great.

Who would you most like to collaborate with today?
Stevie Wonder would be my one. I don’t know, there’s just something about Stevie. Obviously he’s one of the most iconic stars ever. I think for me, to go full circle, I obviously did “Superstition” on The X Factor — I don’t know what happened, it just came off the top of my head to sing it, and I did it and obviously it was incredibly successful for me. So to kind of go full circle and to do a song with him would be pretty special.

What if you had to pick someone dead?
Oh, Michael Jackson. I don’t think there’s anyone on earth, if he was alive now, and they had the opportunity to work with him, that would ever turn it down. I mean, even when we were on the train to New York and we were listening to Off the Wall, and like, the guy was so ahead of himself. Quincy Jones and himself were so ahead of the game it’s sort of frightening. Yeah, Michael was out of the industry for a little while, and he didn’t release albums like he did consecutively as he did in the ’80s and the ’90s, but whenever he released an album they were just incredible — the songwriting, the words, the music, melodies, everything about it was just in a different world. You listen to a Michael Jackson album now and you could release it now and it would still be as big as it was back at the time. Some albums are just fitted for that time or that era of music, but I think if you get Thriller now and play it in this room you’d just be blown away by how amazing it actually is. So I think that he is like the standard, you always strive as an artist to match that sort of level. I mean, there’s no one that could match that level, but it’s that quality of album and that quality of song, constantly. I don’t think there’s enough writers I could think of — well, there are a few I can think of — that have constantly big records, one after the other after the other. I mean, “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” “The Way You Make Me Feel”… It’s just constant, and that’s just four or five off the top of my head.

Would you ever collaborate with One Direction?
Definitely! Yeah, I love the lads! You know, the boys are in the studio a lot more writing songs, I mean they’ve written on every album I think, anyway. I don’t know if people know that, but they’ve been writing ever since they did the first album. So I would 100 percent write with the boys, I’d love to! I’d love to collaborate with Niall and the boys, do something crazy. They’re good mates of mine, so I’d definitely be up for it.

"I really think [One Direction are] the benchmark in terms of how to smash it here in the U.S. in a big way."

Did you know that they play your music video for “Troublemaker” to warm up the crowd in between sets?
That’s amazing! No, that’s really cool! Obviously we’re part of the same management, and to have the boys allow that to be on there is great, it means a lot. I remember doing the tour with them back in 2012 across the States and it was amazing. It was a real eye opener to how big this country is, but also how there’s so many fans out there, you know? My job as an artist is to try and get my music out there as far as it can go and try and win new fans over, and that tour definitely did that. But still, even now I’m really hungry to get more fans and One Direction are like… I think for everyone, well not everyone, but for me particularly, I really think they’re the benchmark in terms of how to smash it here in the U.S. in a big way. And you’re constantly trying to, you know, let’s keep going, let’s keep going, there’s fans out there, there are people that’ll buy your music you’ve just got to get them to hear it, and if I can do that then fingers crossed.

That tour really started off my U.S. career in a big way, and I can’t thank them enough, really.

You’re doing a U.K. arena tour this spring, but do you have any U.S. tour dates planned for later this year?
Not yet. I think it was after we did the last album, when we did “Troublemaker” and the success of it we were able to tour after it because “Troublemaker” was big. I think with this album we’re just going to wait. We want to make sure we can get the album out and I’m sure we can sell some shows, but I really want to do it and do it big. Not do it big, but the right way. When you do a tour I want to do it off the back of a good single, a big single, and I think we’ll see what happens in the next couple of months. But we have got plans!

Check back on PopCrush for more from our exclusive interview with Olly Murs — in which he dishes about the stress of shooting a music video — later this month!

Next: Olly Murs + Demi Lovato Perform 'Up' on 'X Factor'