How does it feel to be the hottest boyband in Britain right now? Mark Butler talks to JLS, the X Factor runners up who became winners.
Boyband JLS have well and truly bucked the TV talent show curse.
While the likes of Bradford lad Gareth Gates have long-since slipped out of the hit-parade limelight and abandoned the pop charts altogether, JLS are still going strong four years after they shot to fame on The X Factor – with six million album sales and five number one singles under their belts.
Simon Cowell must be absolutely kicking himself for passing up the opportunity to sign the boyband. But de facto frontman Aston Merrygold believes it’s a good thing he didn’t – as the ultra-confident quartet would have been too hot for the pop supremo to handle.
“We’ve never teased him about turning us down,” says the 24-year-old. “To be honest, we’ve always been very headstrong, so I don’t think he’d have been able to mould us into a traditional pop band. We wouldn’t have wanted to sit on stools and sing ballads.”
If Merrygold’s descriptions of the band’s exploits on tour are anything to go by, then he really isn’t wrong. Life on the road with JLS sounds much more raucous rock ‘n’ roll than clean-cut pop.
“It’s always crazy, wild and hectic when we’re on tour,” says Merrygold. “You need those experiences. Every band has them. We’ve done a fair few two-dayers, where we’ve finished a show, gone out and hit the clubs, and just carried straight on with the tour afterwards. Our dancers get terrorized. They can’t keep up. We know what the limit is, but we like to have a good night.”
Indeed, this is one of the very reasons why the lads have decided to play nightclubs this winter – including the Pozition in Hull – when they could be filling arenas instead.
“Me and the boys have a passion for nightclubs,” explains Merrygold. “Marvin even gets up on the decks now. We’re young guys, and we like to go out, drink and party. It’s all about having a good time.”
That said, they’ve no fear of the bigger venues either – and JLS became the first band to confirm they will play the new 13,500-capacity Leeds Arena, which opens in 2013.
“We are so excited to be the first band to announce a show at Leeds Arena.
“Our Leeds fans are amazing, and to have the opportunity to headline a show in the city for the first time is incredible. We can’t wait to perform there.”
In just three years since they hit the big time, JLS have released four multi-platinum albums, netted ten top 10 singles and scooped 14 music awards, including two BRITs.
Along with this has come flash mansions, fast cars, and an extraordinary level of fame.
“It’s been weird,” says Merrygold. “We started this band with nothing, and in our early days we hung out in these dingy little studios.
“Being recognisable isn’t a problem. But we do have to put in a lot of hours. We hardly ever see family and friends because we’re working all the time. It’s 24 hours a day sometimes. It’s a sacrifice – but we treasure it and don’t want to lose what we’ve achieved.”
Given how proud the lads are of their status as Britain’s biggest boyband, you have to wonder whether they feel threatened at all by the rapid rise of One Direction. But Merrygold dismisses any notion of this instantly.
“There’s no rivalry. There’s no way to compare us – so how could there be? We’re worlds apart in terms of style and what we do.
“But it’s great that they’ve done so well in the USA. People are looking at the British for musical inspiration again.”
Merrygold is speaking at a significant moment for JLS. Our conversation is taking place on the eve of the band’s live X-Factor performance in October – just hours before their return to where it all began.
“It was a big risk going on X-Factor back then,” muses the singer. “It can hurt you, going on a show like that. But we took the chance and it’s got us where we are. It was life-changing.”
So what has been the secret of JLS’s success, when so many X-Factor graduates before them have flopped so badly?
“It’s not a secret at all,” says Merrygold, who denies he’s going solo. “Everyone knows. It’s down to the fact that we’re friends. We support each other – and that only gets stronger by the day.”
Runners up return to show why Boys are back in town
Made up of Aston Merrygold, Oritse Williams, JB Gill and Marvin Humes, JLS were runners up to Alexandra Burke on the 2008 series of The X Factor.
Following their appearance on the show, they were signed to Epic Records and their first two singles, Beat Again and Everybody in Love both went to number one in the UK.
Their new album Evolution is out now. The band also appear in their own Christmas TV special, which will be broadcast on Sky in December.
JLS will headline Leeds Arena on Friday December 20 2013.