OWhen he self-released Ugotme, a sultry R&B love song with echoes of D’Angelo, Omar Apollo was so broke he had to ask a friend to lend him the $30 listing fee to get his track on Spotify. “I still have a little screenshot of him sending me money. He says, ‘Invest in your future,'” he laughs.
Over the next half-decade, Apollo amassed a dedicated fan base under the music’s sway filled with unrequited feelings, youthful insecurities, and odd moments of affected arrogance. Typical of his generation, he twirls between genres: his musical riffs on Quincy Jones productions of the 1980s, Prince, Parliament and the charged psych-soul of Frank Ocean. On his debut album Ivory, he also draws on the folk palette of Laurel Canyon, 1990s alternative rock and pop titans such as Post Malone, and collaborated with producers such as Pharrell Williams, who worked on the latest single, Tamagotchi, a Latin American. sharp track with harsh trap beats and bragging bags.
He was just days away from filming the music video for Ivory’s debut single when he scrapped the entire first version of the record. “I realized I had to shoot the album and be excited to promote these songs and I just wasn’t,” he says. His disdain wasn’t because the songs were bad; the album had been done too quickly and there were too many cooks. “I’m really glad I did it,” he said.
The 24-year-old talks about California where, in typical Los Angeles style, it looks like he’s driving somewhere. After starting it again, he has now finished Ivory. “I imagined how my music would sound in a big room with songs like Go Away and Petrified, which have these bigger choruses,” he says. “It’s also about allowing what I say to be digested and breathing, I learned that from Sade. But I think my ear just wants to hear those great songs right now.
Apollo grew up in Hobart, Indiana, which he describes as “flat, with lots of parking lots, farmland, and cornfields.” His father emigrated from Mexico to the United States, working in construction and then as a chef before his sister introduced him to his future wife. “She sent him a picture of my mom and a note that said, ‘You should talk to her. She’s cute and she likes you. He went back to Mexico and I think three weeks after they met, they got together. are married. All three later moved to Indiana, where Apollo was born.
His family was not wealthy; his parents often had two jobs. At home, they played melodramatic ballads in Spanish “where these guys and girls sounded like they were crying to a song,” he says. “Now the first thing I go to when I write is these unrequited love songs. I think that’s just inside of me. He started playing guitar when he was 11 and was also an avid dancer.In third grade, he danced with the Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, a prestigious folk dance company based in Mexico City.
Many men in music would balk at the idea of doing choreography, but Apollo often peppers his performances and videos with routines. “I grew up dancing with women and the men all thought it was too expressive,” he says. “They were too masculine. I always liked him. I’ve never been afraid of that.” He’s also not ashamed to express his homosexuality in his music. Although he doesn’t like to label his sexuality, many songs on Ivory are about relationships with men.
He’s cautious when talking about this part of his personal life and shirks one of my questions by saying, “I’d rather just make music and talk about what I want to talk about.” When I suggest that it’s still a novelty to hear same-sex love songs, however, he becomes more candid: “I’ve heard [homophobic] shit in my hometown for sure. Growing up, people called me insults. But on the Internet, people are very open. I’ve never seen anything wrong with gay love songs.
He’s also open when talking about his Mexican-American heritage. “When I was in high school and wanted to start music, I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously because of it,” he says. “But there is a new generation of Latino artists raised in the United States but whose families come from Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador. They have this mix of culture. It’s crazy that there is a place for us now.
Yet the rise of anti-Mexican rhetoric during the Trump presidency was heartbreaking. “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of racist people around me that I see every day and you’re all stupid as shit.’ It also made me aware of a lot of bullshit growing up, stuff like my teacher telling me I couldn’t speak Spanish because I was in America He didn’t really notice a change since the election of Biden: “I’ve been home making music, so I’m going to have to get back to you on that.”
In fact, he’s still working on material for an upcoming deluxe release of the album. “Even though I’ve produced my songs in the past, this album really taught me how to produce,” he says. “I feel like there’s a whole world that I haven’t even touched yet.” Given the brightness of his current world, it’s a tantalizing thought.