In person, Cody Simpson is every bit the heartthrob his 7.4 million Twitter followers would expect him to be. Six feet tall, with a generous shock of blonde hair and a deep-steeped surfer’s tan, the 18-year-old Australian looks slightly adrift in New York City. When I meet him it’s lunchtime, and he’s pouring Emergen-C packets into a large bottle of water. “We went out last night,” he says a little sheepishly.
Simpson deserves to have some fun. Since he was discovered five years ago strumming his guitar on YouTube, he’s been signed to Atlantic Records and taken in by mega-manager Scooter Braun. At sixteen Simpson released his first album, Paradise, and around that time he also began a two-year relationship with the model Gigi Hadid. The couple recently broke up, and Simpson also parted ways with his record label, so perhaps the title of his second album, Free, is telling in more ways than one. While the album—which boasts sugary, catchy single “Flower”—is a statement of independence, Simpson’s sophomore effort wasn’t without guidance. He collaborated a good deal with Donovan Frankenreiter, the epically mustachioed purveyor of affable beach tunes. They’ll be going on tour together come August, and Simpson is thoroughly excited by the prospect.
“I think Free captured a moment in my life where I was finding myself,” he says. “There’s a lot of content on there about breaking free and just developing your own philosophies, and ideologies, or world views or whatever. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m still sort of a bipolar 18 year old, you know? One week I want to just love everyone, and another week I’m listening to punk music and just want to hate everyone. Honestly, that’s where I’m at.”
Honesty is a quality that Simpson says has become increasingly important to him lately, and he’s quick to name his dad—who encourages him to practice “mindfulness and selflessness”—as the biggest influence in his life. As he’s distanced himself from his high-profile relationship, Simpson says he’s recognized a few things about the person he wants to be.
“I love my ex-girlfriend, I always will. It was an amicable, mutual decision, and we still talk every now and then, but the highly publicized thing made me uncomfortable,” he says. “Going out to dinner and there being all this paparazzi and stuff…. as soon as we split I had the realization that I was straying away from who I was as a whole person. I want to keep it low key, and focus on my music.”
And while the tabloids might have you think he’s constantly on the prowl with Hollywood’s rising brat pack, Simpson says it’s just not the case. “[Justin Bieber] is definitely a mate—we chat a bit, and party sometimes, and I’ve skated with him—but we actually live totally different lives,” he says. “Most of my best friends in California are pro surfers.”
He says the media has also tended to exaggerate the extent of his relationship with the rest of that social scene.
“You know, as far as public perception goes, if you get seen with some people one time, everyone thinks you’re in that group. But when it comes to hanging out with friends on a daily basis I never really see those people. I went through a phase where I was pretty good friends with Selena, and then it just got kind of weird, because I just try to be nice to everyone. Anyway, I don’t necessarily see those people very often.”
This may come as a disappointment to some starry-eyed tweens, but Simpson—who’s also the star of a new Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply campaign—is focused firmly on his future. Well, mostly.
“I just want to hang and be a dude, and do stupid stuff like surf, and get drunk, and jam for hours,” he says. “I feel like at 18, you’re half of someone else, as opposed to all of yourself. You’re still figuring yourself out… John Mayer didn’t release his first album until he was 23. I have five years until I’m even there. I’m not worried.”