Starting with his teenage days in the U.K. boy band Take That, Robbie Williams was thrust into the spotlight, with cameras following his every move. That constant presence of cameras offered the British pop superstar a unique opportunity: to sit down and revisit his decades as an entertainer, watching footage of himself over the years and his rollercoaster ride of a career, from the euphoric highs to the traumatic lows.
In a new interview with the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen in full below), Williams talks about the four-episode Netflix docuseries Robbie Williams — from director Joe Pearlman and Ridley Scott Associates — that finds the singer/songwriter sitting on his bed in his undies, watching his life back through eye-opening archival footage.
“When Netflix and Ridley Scott’s company come and say, ‘We’d like to do a documentary about you and have it be on the platform Netflix,’ you know, I’m an attention seeker by trade,” Williams says. “And I’m honored. What else would an attention seeker say other than: ‘Yes, please’”
Even though it was an easy yes for Williams, that doesn’t mean it was an easy process, with filming taking place over 25 straight days for up to six or seven hours a day. “Not many people on the planet have done anything like that, so there’s no support groups for, you know, a trauma watch,” he says. “But it was very interesting, sort of leaving the room each day and then going to get in bed with my wife and trying to explain how it feels. It’s only become therapeutic since it’s been released. It wasn’t therapeutic at the time. It was just, it was traumatic.”
One of the biggest takeaways from the film is how much Williams battled mental health issues over the years and how his struggles often fell on deaf ears.
“Mental health wasn’t really talked about,” he says. “And when I talked about it back then, I was derided for moaning or complaining. And that isolated me even more in a place of isolation and depression and anxiety and body dysmorphia. And agoraphobia. And all of the obias, you know, to then on top of that be told that you shouldn’t talk about it, because how dare you? It made it even worse.”
Williams’ biggest challenges came when he was touring the world, often taking frequent steroid shots just to survive the physical toll that performing took on his body — and then dealing with the aftermath of those drugs the next day. We asked him about artists like Taylor Swift taking that challenge a step further by playing three-hour-plus concerts, and he was flabbergasted at the length of those shows.
“Why would you do three-and-a-half-hour sets?” he asks. “Listen, I love Taylor Swift. But if you take Taylor out of the equation, and whoever — Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Taylor, whoever — why would you do that to yourself? And why would you do that to an audience?
“It’s mind-blowing that they’re able to do that, especially people in their 80s,” he adds. “But, you know, what do I want, as a fan? I want to hear all of the hits. And I want to be entertained for 90 minutes to 100 minutes. And then I want to go home happy. I haven’t got the attention to watch anything for three hours. If I look at a film that is now a two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour film, I don’t watch it. I haven’t got it in me.”
The Robbie Williams docuseries ends with Williams heading back out on the road for his XXV World Tour — which, along with a new greatest-hits collection, celebrates 25 years of his solo career and just wrapped last month — and the artist says he’s still coming to terms with life as a performer. “This tour that I’ve just done has been the most successful for me mentally and emotionally,” he says. “And I think that a great deal has to do with the fact that I can override or make friends with the anxiety. But I’m still not there. When it comes to touring. I don’t know how to not let it damage me in some sort of way. Now listen: It’s not complaining, because financially, it’s incredible. Emotionally, it’s incredible. Physically and mentally, it’s no wonder that people sort of end up in emergency rooms or rehab after tour or during tours. The toll that it takes out of you is still a phenomena that I’m trying to overcome.”
Our interview also addresses his new perspective as a father of four (“When my kids are 16 … I think there will be a stark realization of exactly what I should and shouldn’t have been going through at that particular moment,” he says of his Take That days), his life of relative anonymity in America (“I could be Bruce Wayne in Los Angeles and Batman in the rest of the world”) and his New Year’s resolutions heading into 2024.
Speaking of New Year’s resolutions, for the first Pop Shop Podcast of the year, Katie & Keith are also sharing some of our pop music resolutions, including our hopes for Dua Lipa, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Barbra Streisand and more.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s executive digital director, West Coast, Katie Atkinson and Billboard’s managing director, charts and data operations, Keith Caulfield every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)
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