“I get really shy when I hear [my songs] in a club or something like that, because everyone turns ’round and starts looking at you,” he told Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast (listen below at the 29-minute mark for his full interview). “Because you don’t know — do you live it up and be like, ‘Yeah, this is my song!’ Or do you go really shy and go, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s me…’ Because the people who want to like you would be like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool that he dances to his own song!’ But the people who don’t want to like you are like, ‘Look at that idiot, dancing to his own song!’ You can’t win.”
Well, he better get used to it, because he topped the dance chart back in August with “Kiss Me Quick” and just climbed up to No. 3 with the remix of “Over and Over Again,” his lush duet with Ariana Grande. The latter was actually released in the U.K. last year, but Sykes had a feeling his old friend could add something special to the ballad.
“I sat there listening to the song when it came on the radio in the U.K., and I said, ‘You know who’d sound great on this?’ — it was just a really random thought — ‘Ariana. She’d sound fantastic on this song.’ And obviously, we’d done ‘Almost Is Never Enough’ before, on her debut album Yours Truly, and that’s where I met my executive producer Harmony Samuels. He’s just fantastic. And that’s who I wrote ‘Over and Over Again’ with. So it’s kind of come full-circle. She was really up for it, and she went in and put down an amazing, just beautiful vocal.”
Sykes got his start in the U.K. boy band The Wanted, which went on hiatus following their 2013 album Word of Mouth, and he’s more than ready to get his solo debut album to fans after that three-year gap. “The album’s been finished twice — and then unfinished,” he laughed. “The first time it finished, it was the label really thinking it was finished, and I was like, ‘No, not yet. I need to go back to L.A. to write a couple of songs.’ … Then I decided top of the year that I wanted to write a couple more songs. Because I’ve grown up a lot since I started writing the album.”
He promised that the album — which has a title that he isn’t sharing quite yet — will be out this fall. “There’s the variety between the upbeats and the ballads,” he explained of the album’s vibe. “There’s a moment on the album on a track called ‘Twist’ that’s a very sort of Motown-y feel, very fun and feel-good. And then after that it just drops into the most heartbreaking song that I wrote with Babyface. He’s insane. It’s like the coolest thing that I could just say that: ‘Oh yeah, this song that I just wrote with Babyface.’ I feel so cool when I say that, and I’m not the coolest person.”
Sykes is about to head back to the U.K. for a tour with Little Mix, and it sounds like he has some work to do before hitting the stage. “I’m the most under-prepared person on the planet,” he laughed. “I’m gonna turn up, sit there and sing. … I’m probably going to make up the set list every single night, it’ll be different every night. There’s probably going to be songs where I forget the lyrics halfway through — I’ll be like, ‘Hey, let’s sing the song together!’ when I really don’t know the words. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. I think the girls are very talented — brilliant performers as well. They’ve got a fantastic fanbase. I’m gonna strip it back a bit. I’m gonna make it very much about the vocals and about the music.”
To get a preview, check out Sykes’ performance of “Over and Over Again” on The Late Late Show With James Corden earlier this week: