When English singer-songwriter Benedict Cork was asked to help Adam Lambert write his newest track “Feel Something,” he was in awe. The 25-year-old songwriter watched as a teenager when Lambert broke through on American Idol and move into the pop world as an openly gay performer.
“I think he’s one of, if not the, best male vocalist on the planet — he’s out of this world,” Cork tells Billboard. “He paved the way for people like Sam Smith and Olly Alexander and Troye [Sivan] — and me. People are way more accepting of artists who are super open about their sexuality and their identity.”
Now, after working with the likes of Lambert, fellow songwriter MNEK and others, Cork is making his way back to his first love of performing — the singer started out as a performer in piano bars around London at age 18, before signing with BMG at 19. What he lacked then, Cork says, is experience.
“When I was writing songs when I was 18, I didn’t really know what love was, I didn’t really know what heartbreak was… so I was a bit privileged in that way,” Cork says. “I guess I’ve just grown up a little bit.”
That is apparent on “Fear of Lonely,” Cork’s newest single detailing the feeling of moving to a new city and moving on from a relationship. “[The song] is about getting used to the idea of being on my own again, not just being in a long-term relationship,” he says. “That’s sort of where it came about, talking about how after you go through a breakup, you have to get used to your own company again, and be OK with being alone again.”
Cork is certainly aware of his position as a queer artist trying to make it in the mainstream music industry. But he says that thanks to the likes of Lambert, Sivan and Smith, he no longer feels restricted by his sexuality. “Because of them, so many more artists can come forward and kind of share their stories and share their voices — whereas a while ago, it was a bit harder to do so,” he says. “I’m so lucky that it’s 2019 and I’m able to do this.”
Following the release of his new single, Billboard grilled Cork on everything from his love of Alicia Keys to why he tries to live by some choice Bonnie Raitt lyrics.
Last song that you listened to: It’s a brand new artist called Gracey, the song’s called “Different Things.” She’s incredible, she’s a very talented songwriter, and this is her first release as a solo artist.
What color is your aura: I’m gonna say, like, a maroon. I have my dark moments, and that’s kind of what I get out in my songs, but I also have a little internal fire, even though I don’t show it as much, and that’s sort of a red thing. So I think maroon is fitting.
Song you associate with coming out: I mean, as soon as you said it, all I can think of is Diana Ross. [Laughs.] There’s a Maria Mena song called “Growing Pains,” and it’s basically about growing up and finding things out about yourself and identity, and it’s… yeah, I can’t get through it without crying.
First concert you ever went to: I think it was Laura Marling, who is this British folk singer — she’s incredible. It was just her and a guitar on the stage. I’m lucky, I’m the youngest of four, so all of my siblings had very good music taste and I think I was dragged along to it. But I remember being blown away.
Favorite memory from writing a song: My first-ever cut was with an artist called Marcus Feehily, who was in the boy band Westlife. It was the first session I’d done with another artist, and it was such a weird experience because I had never gotten into someone’s head before, I had been sort of self-obsessed. He went to go on and perform that song in arenas, so that was a big moment for me.
Best advice you have ever received: Probably from my therapist. [Laughs.] He told me that I am such a goals-driven person, and I want to do everything and be everything to everyone, and he just told me to live life each day and kind of do spontaneous things, and to let life happen to me rather than trying to make it happen.
Biggest pet peeve: Probably bad manners. I’m single, and I’ve been dating recently, and I can’t deal with people that are rude to waiters. It just really gets on my nerves.
Lyrics you live by: It’s a weird one, but one of my favorite lyrics of all time is “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” by Bonnie Raitt. I know that’s about a relationship, but I also am starting to put that into my day to day life, when it comes to friends or work. Not everyone’s gonna love you — or like you even — and I’m such a people-pleaser that I’m trying to get used to the idea that you can’t make someone love you if they don’t. It won’t connect.
Dream collaboration: Right now, it’s probably Alicia Keys. I would love to sit at a piano with her and write a song and sing. I’ve been obsessed with her since day one.
First time you saw yourself represented: Interestingly, I’d probably say Sam Smith, in a way — in that I sort of watched his whole rise happen, and it was really close to home because he was roughly the same age as me and going through similar things at the same time. I think it was amazing for me to see and realize that it is possible to go from a kid in a village in the middle of England to suddenly being on the world stage. I guess that rings true for me.