Dad and DJ: Soul singer John Newman explains why he has reinvented himself

Ahead of Dubai gig, British artist says new career phase is bringing him more joy on and off the stage

British singer John Newman is back with a new dance-friendly sound and will appear at Rixos Premium Dubai on New Year's Eve. AP
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British singer John Newman is experiencing life from a new perspective. On a personal level, he finds immense joy in raising his one-year-old child. On stage, he is rediscovering the thrill of live performance after reinventing himself as a singer-turned-DJ in EDM (electronic dance music) festivals.

Newman, 33, will bring that hybrid format to the UAE with a New Year’s Eve show at Rixos Premium Dubai.

“Having a child really changes your perspective,” he tells The National. “Previously I would have focused only on my career and become hypercritical because I am a perfectionist. But just watching my child grow over the year has been the best thing and it made me realise where my focus should be.”

Newman also credits that balance for inspiring his career rebirth. When bursting on to the scene in 2012, he was initially known as the soulful guest voice in Rudimental hits Feel the Love and Not Giving In. The songs laid the groundwork for his well-received 2014 debut album Tribute, which spawned the solo hit Love Me Again.

Despite lukewarm sales, follow-up album Revolver reminded us of his talent, particularly on the stellar single Come and Get It with its Mark Ronson-esque funk swing. Despite the acclaim and international tours, Newman's increasing frustration at his public and industry perception caused him to fall into a depression and publicly announce a career hiatus in 2020.

“When coronavirus arrived I basically realised how unhappy I was in my job,” he recalled. “When you have success in a certain area people are quick to put a circle around you and that's where you must stay. So the natural instinct was to break out of that circle, which I did, and that was scary.

“I always felt like I was a very versatile artist but I was only viewed as this singer, where in reality I wrote and produced many of those records and I am the music director of my band. That perception of me as one thing and not all the qualities I had as an artist was itching and hurting me constantly. I wasn’t getting the recognition for all the work I did.”

Breaking “out of that circle” also meant Newman leaving his record label and artist management company, before returning two years later with Waiting For A Lifetime. A heaving slice of dance-inspired pop, the track jettisoned the blue-eyed soul approach of the past to embrace the club-friendly sounds of former collaborators such as Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Sigala.

The decision to ditch the live band for DJ decks has also resulted in a more explosive show. “Let me put it to you this way,” he says. “If you were given the opportunity to stand on a stage and you had some equipment in front of you where you could build tension up for up to 30 seconds and then release it while the whole crowd implodes, fireworks go off as well as pyro and lasers … you'd want to do that a million times.”

That said, Newman hasn’t totally forgotten the brooding quality of his best songs. “When people say 'I miss the old John Newman' I don't let it affect me because of the amount of work I am putting in the new version,” he says.

“I also reply by saying that there are still the same songs and choruses, it's just there is no time to sit down and go buy that drink or have a talk with somebody during the show, which I think is way more fun.”

With a new year on the horizon, how does Newman define success for this next phase of his career? “It is a difficult question because I came to realise the definition of success in the industry can constantly change and we are seeing that now again in this period where a song becomes immediately successful because it went viral online,” he says.

“I think the easiest way for me to think of success is to first know what my ambitions are, and that's to be an artist who will not be defeated or be around for 10 minutes before disappearing. I am here to create a legacy.”

John Newman performs at Rixos Premium Dubai on December 31. Doors open at 7pm; tickets start from Dh3,000; rixos.com

Updated: December 22, 2023, 2:52 PM