Prepping for this interview, I find myself struggling to choose an angle. Grimshaw’s PR bio reads like that of an indie darling. Part tortured artist, part fledgling adult out to have fun, the singer seems to be taking the cool muso thing seriously. Yet Grimshaw also made his fame on the back of Simon Cowell and his commercial pop-star making machine. Despite a long break and a restyle the singer is still probably best known for coming seventh on the X Factor a few years ago. Still not sure who he is? Remember the lad with the quiff who sang ‘Mad World’ as if he was in a straightjacket in the year with Matt Cardle, Rebecca Ferguson and One Direction? Yeah, that’s him. I find myself musing about whether or not I can ask questions about Cheryl Cole without getting sneered at for not being hipster enough to resist asking about (last year’s) national darling…
I needn’t have worried. Despite surprising Grimshaw with an impromptu phone call, he handles the interview with relative ease. After getting used to his adorably high-pitched awkward giggle and a post-adolescent mumbling that rivals my own fast-paced garble, we get round to talking about his music. After a year and a half off from the X Factor, Grimshaw finally released his debut album Misty Eye in August to a rather lacklustre response. Critically the album received a mixed bag of reviews, with the most common criticism being its lack of cohesion. Arguably, this is true. Misty Eye jumps from power ballads to dubstep, mixing in a bit of funk, trip hop and good old-fashioned pop along the way. It doesn’t quite hang together, but given the short attention span of a social media obsessed generation who rarely download entire albums, perhaps this isn’t a bad thing.
Grimshaw offers a much less cynical explanation: he just wrote to reflect how he was feeling. At twenty years old, this makes sense. With an eclectic music taste and little life experience, the writing process threw together whatever caught his attention. Bringing ideas together with songwriter/producer Jarrad Rogers (best known for his work with Tinchy Stryder and Lana Del Rey), Grimshaw spent his time off figuring out more what his musical style is not than what it is. Evidently he’s still not figured it out, but in many ways this is refreshing. Far from the manufactured pop of his fellow contestants on the X Factor, Misty Eye successfully tackles nearly every genre it attempts, with Grimshaw’s powerful and emotional voice carrying it throughout.
If he’s indecisive about his musical tastes, Grimshaw certainly knows his mind about live gigs. Despite suffering from a cold, Aiden audibly lights up (apologies to any English tutors groaning at my mixed metaphor!) at the mention of his tour. Even battling through the sweatboxes of Academy venues it’s clear that he loves playing to fans. And they obviously love him. There are the predictable teenage girls devotedly supporting him from his first X Factor audition, but amongst them are a smattering of people who are there for the music alone.
Here, his PR team’s risky game has started to pay off. Grimshaw is HOT. After happily whiling away a good quarter of an hour on Google images for the sake of ‘research’, I’m confused as to why his face isn’t plastered all over his CD covers. We’d all like the music industry to revolve around the songs themselves, but realistically, good looks sell. Yet he barely features in his music video for debut single ‘Is This Love’. The singer trots out the usual spiel about it being “all about the music”, but I suspect it’s more a case of distancing himself from his reality television foray and breaking into serious music instead.
But as Grimshaw asserts, he’s not “boy band material”. Given that Grimshaw could potentially have been picked to join One Direction, it’s hard to avoid mentioning such selling out. Instead of chatting to student journalists like me, Grimshaw could have been embarking on a world tour and cashing in on the boy band’s estimated 12 million record sales and $50 million business empire. He seems unfazed: “I drink whisky, my shoes are dirty, I don’t like open top buses and I’m no good at eye grabs.” I try to help by initiating a brainstorming (ahem, thought-shower-ing) session for merchandise ideas. If even Justin Bieber can produce a scent I’d consider wearing, surely we can manage something that will vaguely entice the general public’s olfactory system? After Grimshaw offers up hummus as a key note in the ‘Essence of Aiden’ fragrance brand I give up… I can definitely believe his non-boy band claims now!
As Grimshaw’s tour draws to a close, he seems remarkably laid back about the future. Far from worrying about where the fickle world of popular music will take him, the singer is merely looking forward to crashing out at home, possibly stretching out to buying a Christmas tree if he can muster the energy. If his record label’s attention begins to wane, I sincerely hope he makes up his mind enough to drive his own career forward. Misty Eye shows a lot of potential, and Grimshaw is building upon his previous drama school aspirations to become a solid performer.
If all else fails, he’s still having fun. When asked about who he’d like to collaborate with, he draws a balance between musical and laddish ambition: “Outkast’s André 3000…he’d be a good wingman, wouldn’t he?”