THE HOMEGROWN TEEN IDOL IS BACK FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER IN HIS CAREER. AND THIS TIME IT’S ON HIS OWN TERMS.
There are teenage girls everywhere. Teenage girls and parents of teenage girls. It’s a chilly Saturday evening and we’re at a small live venue in Sydney’s Kings Cross, waiting for Cody Simpson to arrive. The dark is setting in, but fans have been lining up outside since 10am. We meet the 18-year-old in a modest backstage area. Tall and tanned, he’s dressed in a denim jacket and jeans; his hair, that just a couple of years ago was whipped into a stiff peak is now relaxed into a long, blond wave that curls around his ears. “I’m only really confdent when I’m up there playing,” he says, settling into a couch and refecting on tonight’s performance. “It’s the only time I feel 100 per cent comfortable in my own skin. It’s how a lot of musicians feel, like they’re being judged anytime they’re not able to prove themselves by playing.” Simpson, born on the Gold Coast in 1997, has spent a third of his life in the spotlight. At 12, he posted a series of song covers to Youtube, which caught the attention of US record producer Shawn Campbell. “I think he’s the next Justin Timberlake,” Campbell told ABC’S The 7.30 Report in 2009. Simpson quickly moved stateside, to Los Angeles, and signed with Atlantic Records on his 13th birthday. He then released four EPS in as many years, hired Justin Bieber’s manager, appeared on the US version of Dancing With the Stars, and built a social media following almost equal to Australia’s population. It was exactly how a pop star’s career is supposed to go. But then Simpson took control. He dropped Atlantic Records in August 2014, and launched his own label, Coast House Records. “I’m not calling them out, but being so young and not having the courage to voice my opinion, I just went for the ride,” he says, looking back. “It took a while to realise how far I’d been taken from my authentic roots.” What were they turning you in to? “A full-blown manufactured pop star, and that’s not what I am. So I pulled the plug.” The result was his frst independent album, Free. Released this July, it features 14 tracks written by Simpson that deliver the same laid-back, surfy vibe that sent Hawaiian Jack Johnson to the top of the charts in the early 2000s. “It’s more responsibility on my part, but I’ve always liked doing things by myself,” he says. “I don’t really care
if it goes down, to be honest – I’ll make another one and I’ll only be 19 or 20. I’m in no rush.” Some of the pressure is no doubt relieved by Simpson’s already massive, loyal fan base (the album’s frst two offcial videos quickly racked up more than 3.5 million Youtube hits). Still, social media can cut both ways. “I tweeted about legalising cannabis the other day because it’s stupid that cigarettes are legal and weed’s not,” he says. “It causes no harm. All these prescription pills kill people every day. Weed has positive effects.” Do you smoke? “Every once in a while, if I’m chilling with some music; at the end of a long day, if I just want to sit down and play guitar – I don’t do it to escape anything. It’s more of a recreational thing.” Not everyone in his circle of friends is so relaxed – a fact revealed when he posted a Snapchat video of him jamming with Bieber and One Direction’s Niall Horan. Media outlets spotted a ‘suspicious’ yellow object in the footage and ran with it – some suggesting it was a crystal meth pipe. “It’s obviously a weed pipe,” says Simpson. “I wasn’t really bothered by it, but it was more that there were other people who needed to look out for their public perception.” It comes with the territory. After all, Simpson’s star-studded social feeds regularly feature Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner and model Gigi Hadid, who he dated from 2013. The pair broke up in May this year, but remain close. “It was a super-cool experience, having a frst love like that,” he says. “Then people started paying way more attention to us, which took its toll because I didn’t want to be a celebrity – just some guy who’s dating models. It started getting super gnarly where we couldn’t go out to restaurants. I got scared. Then I had to go away on tour, and we ended up splitting up.” Talk turns to Simpson’s four tattoos, all inked in LA. “I don’t ever want to get a sleeve or anything, but I like little symbols – I have one here,” he says, pointing to his right forearm and revealing a small anchor that sprouts into a palm tree. It’s tasteful. “I guess it’s symbolic of staying grounded, but having my head in the clouds.” Though he owns a house in the US – “the only big thing I’ve purchased” – his family lives just 10 minutes down the road, and he credits them with keeping him grounded. So too, Miley Cyrus. “Miley is one of my best friends and she helps with some of that transitional stuff – trying to escape your childhood. She’s super open-minded and I’m working on becoming more like that.” Tonight’s venue is now a sea of glowing phone screens. Swapping a denim jacket for a leather one, Simpson makes his way on stage and slings a guitar around his neck. “Hi, I’m Cody Simpson,” he announces to the screaming crowd. They already know that, of course. But for the frst time all evening, it seems the young man from the Goldie might just believe it, too. It’s time to play. n
Vintage leather jacket, vintage cotton top, and hat, all from Cream On Crown; cotton ‘501’ jeans, $140, by Levi’s at David Jones.