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Photography by Mr Laurence Ellis | Words by Mr Chris Elvidge

"Hats," says Mr Conor Maynard, recounting his most regrettable style choices. "I was always wearing hats. To the point that rumours started to get around that I was going bald."

I stifle a snort. At barely 20 years old, the young pop sensation must surely be more acquainted with Clearasil than Rogaine.

Really?

"Or that I'd maybe dyed my hair. Badly," he adds.

The first thing that hits you on meeting Mr Maynard is that he's actually, well, quite funny. Maybe it's his jokey, self-effacing manner, or his refreshing lack of conceit, but it doesn't take long in his company to realise that he's not your average teen idol.

Such was the UK music industry buzz surrounding his announcement as winner of MTV's Brand New For 2012 in January this year, and the subsequent release of his first single, "Can't Say No", just months later, that it would have been easy to assume that he simply fell from the sky, or stepped out of a Petri dish fully formed. Those who have followed his career from his YouTube days, however, will know that he has had ample time to adjust to life in the public eye, and, moreover, that he boasts a home-grown, home-nurtured talent that is a rare thing indeed in the age of TV talent shows.

So, how did it all start?

My videos were getting millions of views and Ne-Yo saw a cover I did of a song of his, 'Beautiful Monster', and got in contact. It was a crazy time

"I remember walking down the street [in Brighton, his hometown] when I was about 16, singing, messing about with a friend, when a girl overheard me. She came over and asked me to do it again, so I did, and she went 'Ohmygadohmygad'," he laughs, his voice shifting pitch in a perfect interpretation of one of his fans. "It really made me think that I should take it a bit more seriously."

Armed with a webcam, a microphone and a YouTube account, Mr Maynard spent the next two years doing just that, posting vocal covers of his favourite tracks to an ever-growing fan base.

"That started in 2008, and after about a year, things really started to blow up. My videos were getting millions of views, and not long afterwards Ne-Yo saw a cover I did of a song of his, 'Beautiful Monster', and got in contact," he says. "It was a crazy time."

It may seem normal now, but four years ago YouTube was not seen as a route to stardom: at that point, the archetypal webcam success story, Mr Justin Bieber - someone with whom Mr Maynard has faced inevitable comparison - had yet to release his first single. Perhaps because of this lack of precedent, he admits to having never expected crossover success. "It was just a hobby," he explains. "I'd come home from school and record a cover. I didn't think I'd make that leap to being a real-life, performing musician... even when my videos were getting millions, or tens of millions of views."

It isn't just his early career trajectory that has earned him comparisons with the Canadian pop phenomenon - he has his own fanatical following, too, dubbed "Mayniacs" - but when it comes to his music, his sound has much more in common with that other Justin of the music world, Mr Timberlake. This has triggered a rethink with regards to his style.

"When my album started to come together, I realised that the songs had a mature sound to them that was at odds with the way I was perceived. And I knew then that I had to progress in terms of my look as well," he says.

It's a point that his stylist, Mr Cobi Yates, is on hand to reinforce.

"Conor has really grown up in the industry," says Mr Yates, "and he's at a moment of transition now. He's developing as an artist, his fan base is growing with him, and he's moving from that colourful, youthful look to a smarter, more adult style, while still staying true to his roots."

Mr Yates' styling has so far been on point. The music video for "Can't Say No" was full of youthful swagger, and captured the vibrant street style of London in 2012: snapbacks, hoodies and high tops in bright, primary colours. Nearly one year on, though, with his album launching in the US and with collaborations with Messrs Frank Ocean and Pharrell Williams under his (not so colourful) hat, both Mr Maynard and his styling team acknowledge that it's time to move forward.

This admission, although pragmatic, is not without a palpable industry tang, and it begs the question of whether Mr Maynard ever feels under pressure to conform to the fussy aesthetic ideals of the pop world, and perhaps whether his style might be lacking an element of self-expression. He is quick to assert himself, though.

"I get the final say," he explains.

Anyone over a certain age might shudder to recall what they were wearing at 20. For better or worse, there's no denying that it's a formative time in a young man's life, and it's tempting to wonder how someone such as Mr Maynard - with great guidance, but perhaps lacking the freedom to explore his own style on his own terms - will turn out.

"I think that the most stylish people are those who are comfortable with the way they look. I wouldn't wear something that I couldn't get away with wearing back at home with my friends."

It seems, at least, that he's got the fundamentals right.

Contrast artwork. The album is out now and available on iTunes

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