"To tell you the truth, what I do for a living is an irritating by-product," supposes Robbie Williams, international pop superstar, Sinatra-of-the-moment and boy-band survivor. (His was the straw that broke Take That.) "I'm so enjoying being in America, just seeing what's going on," he says from his flat in London. "Every time I step off the plane, I'm like, 'Please don't let me be bored ... America's the only interesting thing in my life right now.'"
At 25, Williams may well be pop's antidote to boredom. His current CD, "The Ego Has Landed," is booming its charm into the American consciousness, thanks to the universal appeal of its second single, "Angels" (a worldwide smash two years ago), and the boy-wonder press-posturing of Williams himself. Already crowned a pop messiah in Europe, where he routinely plays his carefree vaudeville schtick to the screams of 80,000 or more, Williams is now facing the challenge of breaking through in the States and trying to keep his "Ego" in check.
"I don't really know what's going on," he sighs. "The path of my life in general is just general confusion." That path carried a young Williams through the grueling, choreographed insanity that was Take That at its millions-selling, sequined chaps-wearing height, as well as back down through the well-publicized battles with substance abuse, obesity and celebrity-baiting that typically follow (especially when sequined chaps are involved).
Surprisingly, Williams pulled through, releasing a solo debut overseas two years ago, "Life Thru a Lens," which broke hearts and sales records (the numbers were in the millions) and spawned three hits. Shedding his faux-soul, boy-pop past, Williams opted for the variety-show charisma that fueled Elton John in his early flamboyant days, and he crossed over into surprise respectability. But a deeper side of Williams was at play, as his music deliberately coalesced his personal and musical insecurities, and transcended them into the sing-along experience that's making him so popular.
"If I expose all of my defects, if I expose everything that's wrong with me, then nobody can call me up on it and nobody can find me out," he says.
"Angels," the single that opened all the doors, offers a fair view of Williams faced with emotional instability and "loving angels instead." Williams explains, "It's acknowledging that, if I have to face up to everything that I've got to do on a daily basis -- meeting people, being, living life on life's terms, doing my job, being a pop star -- if I took them all on board, it would give me a nervous breakdown ... and it has in the past. I've got to believe in something that's going to get me to the other side."
The second album, "I've Been Expecting You," sealed Williams' celebrity across the pond, initiating millennial discourse a full year in advance with its kick-off single, "Millennium." (Take that, Backstreet Boys.) In America, though, Williams' history means nothing. He is, effectively, a new artist.
"The Ego Has Landed" is a greatest-hits album of sorts, compiling standouts from Williams' two European releases and packaging them -- minus the glitter-boy pretense -- in stylized black-and-white modernity. Understandably Williams is relieved at the prospect. "I don't feel like a pop star right now," he says somewhat wistfully. " I haven't got me pop-star hat on."
But as "Angels" continues its hasty ascent, it shouldn't be long before America catches up and Williams rises to the occasion.
"Later, at 5:35, you can catch me by the pool," he jokes. "I will be walking on water."