Omar Apollo on How His Fluid Debut Album Speaks to a New Generation: Queer Kids Dont Want to Label Themselves

Published At: 09 April 2022 , 08:28 AM

Omar Apollo isn’t here for your labels. In regards to his sexuality, his musical stylings or the process in which he writes his songs, Apollo cannot be kept in a box. The 24-year-old wrote most of his debut album — “Ivory,” out today — in real-time during studio sessions, drawing from experiences of his own, of his friends and taking place in his fantasies.

In the week leading up to the release, Apollo made time to chat with Variety between rehearsals for his upcoming tour and catching up on the latest episode of “Atlanta.”

His rise to fame has been over five years in the making, from having to borrow $30 from a friend to uploading his song “Ugotme” to Spotify, to now pulling in nearly 5 million monthly listeners on the platform. Still, he doesn’t consider himself famous.

“I love when people want to say hi,” Apollo says. “Sometimes I get a tweet with someone saying ‘I just saw Omar,’ and I’m like ‘You should have said hi.’ I’m always down to say hello or take a photo.”

Apollo grew up in Hobart, Indiana, where, as a teenager, he didn’t own a phone but would communicate with his friends using a texting app on his wifi-enabled iPod Touch. Living in a tight-knit community, he and his friends would text each other a location to meet up, and just trust they’d be at said location in the time it took to skate three miles.

He maintained that camaraderie with most of his friends into his young adulthood. When he was 19, he left the house he grew up in to live in an attic he helped renovate. He lived in those upstairs quarters with six other people, paying $150 a month in rent with money he made from shifts at Jimmy John’s and Guitar Center.

“I made, like, $300 every two weeks,” Apollo recalls. “For two weeks out of the month, I was living off of $100, or whatever. That was just life at the time, I didn’t really think about it too much… This was when I was making the ‘Friends’ EP. Or maybe it was out.”

The fact that Apollo doesn’t quite remember which musical project he was working on while living in the attic is probably due to the fact that he feels most connected to the music while he’s in the studio. He considers his approach to songwriting a “Freudian slip” method.

“It’s always on the spot,” Apollo says of his songwriting process. “If I think of a lyric when I’m not in the studio, I just write it down. But I don’t really think of melodies outside of the studio. I do that when I’m in front of the microphone.”

Apollo’s natural songwriting process, his unfiltered approach to lyricism, and his ability to mold with a variety of genres — whether the songs be pop, R&B, rock, or Latin — are factors that have garnered him such a large fanbase, consisting of music connoisseurs and artists alike.

“Ivory” boasts an impressive set of collaborators, including Daniel Caesar, Kali Uchis and the Neptunes, who produced the latest single from the album, “Tamagotchi.” Apollo, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams recorded the dreamy, guitar- and bass-heavy track during what was meant to be a two-day session in Miami last year.

“After I made the first song, Pharrell was gassing me,” Apollo recalls. “He was like ‘Yo, you gotta stay longer, we gotta make like five more.’ I extended my trip, and we made like five more.’”

“Tamagotchi” is rap-sung by Apollo in both English and Spanish. In a particular line, Apollo proclaims “Ando de gira y todos me siguen, los chicos me quieren tocar,” which translates to “I’m on tour and everyone follows me, the boys want to touch me.”

Never coy about his sexuality, Apollo has openly rapped and sung about his queerness and fluidity in several songs, including “Kamikaze” and “Bi Fren” from his “Apolonio” EP.

Though he admits he’s not particularly keen on identifiers like “bisexual” or “pansexual,” he is thrilled to see mainstream music head toward a more fluid landscape.

“This generation of queer kids don’t want to label themselves,” Apollo says, “and I think that that’s the coolest thing… There’s no need for labels… Queer is, I feel, a good label, if we’re gonna label it.”

Regardless of the gender of the person he’s pining for, Apollo says he is mostly guided by love, though the “Ivory” cut “Killing Me” sees him caught between love and lust, as he sings “Love me like I’m gonna die / Fuck me like you fantasize,” over sensual, jazzy chords.

“All of my songs are based on love,” Apollo says. “But it’s fun to get lustful on a song and talk about those emotions.”

While “Killing Me” describes carnal love, “Go Away” describes fleeting love. In the latter’s Jenna Marsh-directed video, which has pulled in over 1.6 million views, he reflects fondly on a lover, running together through a forest, and laying together in the outdoors. By the end of the video, the two meet in real-time. Soon after, the song’s subject disappears.

Exploring love and all its complexities, Apollo said the most difficult song to write was the Uchis-assisted “Bad Life.” He says he wrote 26 different versions of the song before he was satisfied.

In a press release sent in November of last year, when the song was released, Apollo said, “To me, ‘Bad Life’ represents putting in energy into a relationship and not getting anything in return. It’s a song about being resentful towards somebody — wanting them to have ‘bad life’ with whoever they’re with now.” However, now he admits he wishes he hadn’t used those exact words.

“I would never want somebody to have a bad life,” Apollo says. “But I definitely was just saying, like, ‘Yeah, you fucked up.’”

Days away from the tour, which kicked off two days before “Ivory’s” release, Apollo was looking forward to putting his baby out into the world. In fact, he said he wished the release day could come sooner

But like everything about his craft, he knows these feelings are fluid.

“I’m not nervous yet,” Apollo says. “I feel like the day before, I’ll be nervous. But right now, it’s just pure excitement and pure enjoyment.”

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