meta-scriptOmar Apollo Talks Being Young, Indie & Latinx | Up Close & Personal |

Omar Apollo


Omar Apollo Talks Being Young, Indie & Latinx | Up Close & Personal

Apollo is one of this generation's young Latinx artists to watch out for

GRAMMYs/Sep 20, 2019 - 04:11 am

Omar Apollo started making music just for fun, but now the 22-year-old has amassed thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram and has become one of this generation's young Latinx artists to watch out for.  

The soulful indie singer, whose songs like "Ugotme" range from infatuation to love to heartache, didn't often see himself in the music he consumed growing up. What does he think now that he's helping grow a new wave of Latinx music creators? "Amazing," he told the Recording Academy in the latest Up Close & Personal. "I think it's cool seeing all these Latinx kids coming up and doing their thing."

Apollo stopped by the Recording Academy to talk about his Friends EP, his Mexican culture, being an independent artist, owning his own music and more.

Your instrument of choice is the guitar. When did you pick it up?

I was like 12. I was 11 or 12. I don't know. My parents gave me one for Christmas. It was an electric one but it didn't have an amp so I just went to the pawn shop and traded it for an acoustic one and I just started playing and started pausing YouTube videos and stuff to look at the fingers and try to copy it.

Do you remember the first time you ever wrote a song?

Yeah, my mom was always working and so was my dad, so I kind of wrote a song about them never being home when I was 11. It was really sad. It's like three notes.

Do you remember some of the words?

Yeah, but I'm not going to say them. [Laughs.]

Your latest EP is called Friends. Tell me the story behind one of the songs off that album.

I guess it's kind of like all thematic, the whole thing, kind of based around like ultimately just being friends with someone rather than [being together] romantically. That's kind of the whole thing.

Is there a song off the album that means the most to you?

"Trouble" means the most to me because every time I listened to it or play it live, it kind of resurfaces the emotions I had when I wrote it, so that's really special to me. I think it's hard to do that.

How does it feel to bring up those emotions over and over and over again?

It sucks bringing it up all the time, especially when you're overseas and just sad and then you just have to sing the song. You're just like, "Oh man." But a lot of times it's very exhilarating, like really therapeutic in a way. I kind of get lost in the character of when I was writing it. The person that I was at that time. It feels like two years ago. All those kind of memories kind of come back up.

What keeps you creative?

Watching TV, films, stuff like that kind of always inspires me to do things. And just other music.

What are you listening to?

I don't know. I have to look. It's so many things. A lot of the things, I don't even know the names. It's just cool songs.

You're a part of this wave of rising young Latinx artists. How does it feel to be a part of that?

Well, that's amazing. I always kind of thought growing up, I never saw anyone that was kind of embracing Mexican culture. I don't know, it just kind of made me think that no one would take me seriously so I think it's cool seeing all these Latinx kids coming up and doing their thing. Super cool.

How has your culture influenced you?

I think that it makes me feel very family-oriented and a wholesome kind of person. It definitely makes me want to let all the kids like me, first-generation Mexican kids, just do whatever they want and don't care. 

You're an independent artist who owns their own music. How has that been?

Oh, that's cool. I see a lot of people that sign early or sign a bad deal. It kept coming up and you hear about things and I'm just like, "Man I'm so glad I haven't had to deal with any of that kind of stuff " and just kind of be able to say that I own the publishing, the mastering still, and [feel like] I'm not too worried about it. I'm good right now.

What is your greatest tool as an independent artist?

Being able to do whatever I want at any time of the day, whenever. I'm not tied down to [anything]. I can drop anything. I don't have to ask a label to do anything, "Can I do this, can I do this?" If I want to do something I just do it. I think that's the coolest thing. Not having them hold onto your album or work for a year before you can release it. I can drop something today if I wanted.

What's next for you? You're touring soon, right?

Yeah, November. I have some months off. Started picking up a few more hobbies. I'm making music all the time in between. I'm excited though because I have a lot of cool things planned with me and my band and just like the show in general.

JAMESDAVIS On Their Latest Album 'MASTERPEACE,' Music Industry Advice & More | Up Close & Personal

Danna Paola
Danna Paola

Photo: Rafael Arroyo


How Danna Paola Created 'CHILDSTAR' By Deconstructing Herself

"'CHILDSTAR' is the first album in my entire career where every inch, detail, and decision are curated and made by me," Danna Paola tells "I made an album for myself and that little Danna who has always wanted to do this."

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 12:00 am

Danna Paola feels comfortable coexisting with her shadows. 

The Mexican singer, model and actress first appeared on television at age five, and has spent recent years dwelling on memories of her youth. Now 28, Danna is dismantling the myths and taboos around her artistic persona.

This process resulted in CHILDSTAR, which arrives April 11. Danna's seventh LP is her most authentic production and one where she makes peace with her childhood.

Accomplishing this freedom took her two years of therapy, the singer confesses to "I deconstructed myself and my beliefs and unlearned many things to learn new ones. The pandemic also opened Pandora's box. That's where everything came out."

Through that self-discovery process, Danna knew she had to break with a constant that had accompanied her for two decades: acting. The last character she portrayed was Lucrecia in the Netflix series "Elite," a popular role that led her to reignite her music career after an eight-year hiatus. Beginning to live authentically, without the vices that fictional characters can leave behind, was the crucial step that led the Latin GRAMMY-nominated singer to CHILDSTAR.

CHILDSTAR follows a lengthy depression and a break from her management team, which Danna has described as controlling. On the new album, she embraces indulgence — singing about female pleasure for the first time in her career — and draws inspiration from her after-hour encounters. CHILDSTAR's darkly powerful electronic rhythms and synth-pop, tell a tale about a weekend of partying, alcohol, and sex to create the perfect escape from "your demons, your life, and your reality." 

Ahead of her album release, Danna Paola discussed the processes that led her to break with her past, how her boyfriend was instrumental to her return to the studio, the synthesizer that inspired the album's sound, and the gift that Omar Apollo left for her. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the process that led you to co-produce for the first time.

This album is made with a lot of love, many hours, but above all, a lot of freedom. It's a very energetic and aggressive album, liberating.

It was a journey of introspection, empowerment, and self-confidence. Beyond being a sad story, the complete meaning of the album is not to talk and throw shade at my childhood. [It's about what] I have discovered since that first therapy session to find and make peace with my past, and that instead of being a place of embarrassment for me, it empowered me.

CHILDSTAR is the first album in my entire career where every inch, detail, and decision are curated and made by me. That's something that I am very proud of. I made an album for myself and that little Danna who has always wanted to do this. 

It is energetic, super intense, and sexual. Electronic music, funk, dance, synth-pop, and R&B lead me to drain all these emotions. The choice of each song, and the details and creating them from start to finish, [has] been very cathartic.

In "The Fall," you sing, "You don't know me, you don't know s–– about me. I'm not a shooting star." Was it painful to relive the memories of being a child star?

Yes. I grew up in 2000s television. Back then, creating a child's image came from a lot of machismo: being the perfect girl, the girl who doesn't speak badly, the girl who smiles for everything, and whose characters are all good. She can't do bed scenes, can't talk about sex. 

With this project, I embrace that [version of] Danna. I told that girl that everything would be fine. It's OK if you make mistakes, and it is OK to fall in love. Falling in love terrified me because I've been on different projects… every six or eight months; the longest a project lasted for me was a year. I made relationships with people and friends, [but] people always left my life. I built a pretty lonely life; I almost did not spend time with my family. I poured my life into work.

I had this distortion of reality where Danna Paola was the superheroine, and I forgot who Danna was. That's why I stopped acting; creating characters and being in someone else's skin was moving me further and further away from discovering myself as a human being in the ordinary course of life, of creating myself based on situations, emotions, and relationships. 

In therapy, of course, I understood that. I made peace, and today, I am discovering many beautiful things about myself as a child that were precious, happy, and full of love. Of course, I don't blame my parents because they did their best. Nobody teaches you how to be a child star from age five.

The album led you to shine a light on your darkest sides. What did you discover about yourself and Danna as a person and artist?

I was terrified to take risks, to speak, or to create. [To me] creating a project takes a long time, at least with music. I discovered that, for me, [making music] is a spiritual act. It is an everyday practice. It is to continue to discover and continue to learn. It's falling in love again with my profession and giving the industry another chance.

I also learned that our capacity for reinvention is infinite so we can start over. Today, I also begin to be a little more human. However, I don't aspire to be an example for anyone. I want to share my experiences and the lessons I have learned so I can move forward, continue to love what I do, and not lose myself. I used to say that I wouldn't make it to 27. That was in my head.

I'm making a wonderful balance between my personal life and my work. I'm also building my family at home with my boyfriend [artist Alex Hoyer], my two little dogs, my friends, and my chosen family. It's making peace and creating the life of my dreams.

Do you like who you are now?

I love it. I continue to polish many things about my personality. I work hard to be a better human being. Life is about learning and transforming yourself. I can release another album in a couple of years; I may release another this year. I don’t want to stop making music. [I want to] continue transforming myself through my art. 

In the first two tracks, "The Fall" and "Blackout," you repeat that people don't know you. How would you describe the Danna of this record? 

She's a woman who is very sure of who she is, and nobody has given anything to me. I'm in love with my project, my music, and my life, and I'm enjoying it a lot.

I struggle a lot with fame, but today, I present myself as a liberated woman in a good headspace. I don't pretend to be perfect or an example for anyone. Quite the opposite; all I do is share experiences, lessons, and music.

I'm an artist in every sense of the word. I'm a creative, honest person and have a lot of love to give, and I love receiving it, too. That should be mutual. It's an energetic practice that when one really does things with love, the universe always rewards it.

In songs like "Atari" and "Platonik," you openly sing about female sexual pleasure. Is it the first time in your career that you sing about your sexuality? 

Yes. This album is very sexual. There's a taboo when it comes to women talking about sex. In reggaeton, there are thousands of ways in which we can talk about sexuality. In my case, I had always considered it forbidden. 

It's what I told you about the kid [actress] who doesn't [about sex], who's a virgin until marriage. There is no richer pleasure than sex and the sexual pleasure you can have as a woman. There's liberation, to feel good about yourself, with your body, and also the sexual education that I can also share with generations.

This liberation with my femininity is something that I also discovered: The pleasure of being a woman and having many experiences in my life that have led me today to enjoy who I am, to have a happy sex life, and to share it through my music.

In "Platonik," you discuss sexualizing a platonic relationship with a woman and sing "I can't help what I think in my bed." Why was exploring that relationship important to you?

I had a platonic love with a girl at a stage of my life. I kept this to myself; it was a personal experience that opened the conversation to a beautiful story.

I wrote this song with [producer and songwriter] Manu Lara. We made it in half an hour. This song has something unique because, besides talking about a personal experience that is also super sexual, it talks about universal love.

That's why I say that CHILDSTAR is an album of many stories that have marked my life and beyond, talking about only the childhood stage, which is what everyone speculates, but that's not the case.

You’re flirting more with synth-pop in this album. What caught your attention about this genre?

It comes from this aggressive part of saying, here I am. For me, electronic music connects and drains emotions. Every time I've been out partying, electronic music has been liberating for me, and when I put it together with pop and these lyrics, it has become a new way to enjoy the genre.

While creating CHILDSTAR in Los Angeles, I fell in love with a Jupiter [synth] we found at Guitar Center. That synthesizer is in every song. The inspiration [to use the instrument] comes from John Carpenter's synth album [Lost Themes III: Alive After Death]. In it, I discovered synthesizers had a way of incorporating sound design and darkness into the album. 

[Synth-pop is] the expression of that need to bring out the energy I had stuck through music. It’s an emotional purpose, the connection I have with electronic music.

Your boyfriend, Alex, was instrumental in making "XT4S1S" when you didn’t want to enter a recording studio. How was reconnecting with music with help from your romantic partner?

"XT4S1S" is the song that, to both of us, as a couple and as producers, connected us on a hefty level.

I was super blocked. It took me several years to get out of my depression hole. We returned one day from [La Marquesa park] here in Mexico, and started chatting. Alex opened his laptop and started pulling out a beat.

I started throwing melodies, and [shortly] we had the chorus. It brought me back to life. I started crying with excitement because I finally felt again these desires and this emotion that you feel when you create a song, and you can’t stop moving forward and keep creating.

I remember we recorded my vocals on a voice note and sent it to [the production software] Logic. Then, it took us four months to produce this song because it was a lot of discovery, in this case, for me as a producer.

Alex is a great musician, artist, a genius — and I don’t say that because he’s my boyfriend. Artistically, there’s a fascinating world inside his head that I have learned a lot from. 

The track "Amanecer," which features Omar Apollo, breaks dramatically with the story you tell in the album. Why did you end that party cycle with a more folksy, chill song?

"Amanecer" is a track that has us all in love. It was the last song I recorded for the album. 

I wrote it to my ex. On my birthday, he called me — I was already with Alex — and it was super weird. I always feared running into him on the street, seeing him with someone else, and feeling something. And it was the exact opposite. I had already healed internally, and that wound had stopped hurting. I stopped feeling all the emotions I had gone through in K.O., [the album nominated for Best Vocal Pop Album at the 2021 Latin GRAMMYs].

This song talks about knowing how to make peace and understanding how to let go. It’s the dawn of the album. It’s perfect to release all the drama, and all the intensity, and aggressiveness that is the entire album itself.

[The song invites you] to hug yourself and say everything will be fine. There is always an opportunity to start over. 

It also has a beautiful story. Manu [Lara] taught Omar Apollo the instrumental parts of the song, and he made some melodies. At the moment of receiving them, [Omar] agreed we would make a song together, [but] it was almost impossible to record together.

[Instead, Omar] told me "You can use the melodies I made" and left me the last part of "Amanecer." He left us with that magical essence.

10 Women Artists Leading A Latin Pop Revolution: Kenia Os, Belinda & More

Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy
Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy

Photo: Daniel Boczarski


Jeff Tweedy & Cheryl Pawelski Sit Down For "Up Close & Personal" Chat: 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,' Writing One Song & More

Cheryl Pawelski is the producer and curator of 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)', which won a GRAMMY in 2023 for Best Historical Album. On Feb. 27, she sat down with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy about all manner of creativities.

GRAMMYs/Mar 11, 2024 - 02:48 pm

"We don't get the applause. That's later."

That was an offhand comment from Sarah Jensen, the Senior Executive Director for the Recording Academy's Midwest Chapter — ahead of a conversation between Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy. But given the nature of the ensuing chat, it's oddly apropos.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Wilco's seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, four-time GRAMMY winners Tweedy and Pawelski chatted before a hometown audience at the Rhapsody Theater in Chicago. Pawelski produced and curated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition), which won Best Historical Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs; Pawelski accepted the golden gramophone on their behalf.

Today, 2002's ambitious, deconstructionist Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is just about universally revered as a watershed for alternative music. But in a David-and-Goliath story told and retold since its release — especially in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Yankee was rejected by its label, Reprise.

Wilco left their label, published Yankee on their own website, and it became a tremendous hit. Nonesuch — which, like Reprise, operates through Warner Records — picked them up, meaning the same record company, in effect, paid Wilco twice.

Ever since, the applause for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — the one with the immortal "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Jesus, Etc." and "Ashes of American Flags" on it — has been unceasing. And, naturally, a hefty chunk of Pawelski and Tweedy's conversation — for the Recording Academy's "Up Close & Personal" interview series, and MCed by Chicagoan family music artist Justin Roberts — revolved around it.

According to Tweedy, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a pivot point, where they decided to move away from any sort of pastiche.

"There are a lot of things on the boxed set," he said — referring to the plethora of alternate versions of well-known tracks — "where I would listen to them now and go, 'That was good enough.' But it wasn't satisfying… Rock and roll was built on that thing, above all else… be yourself, without any apology, and on purpose."

The "Up Close & Personal" session didn't start with Yankee, though; it started with How to Write One Song, Tweedy's 2020 treatise on the process of… well, writing one song. Which gets as psychologically and spiritually incisive as Tweedy fans would expect.

"I think music in general is a safe place to fail," the prolific songwriter stated. "When you take your ego out of it and you look at it as a daily practice of spending time with yourself in your imagination… once you do it for a long time, it really makes the notion of failure almost quaint or something."

When it comes to songwriting, the 11-time nominee said "nothing's really ever lost. You learn something about yourself writing terrible songs. I know myself better because of the songs that you've never heard."

Tweedy offered other helpful concepts and strategies, like accumulating enough voice memo ideas — for so long — that you can treat them like the work of a stranger. "I'll go through and listen through a bunch of stuff like that," Tweedy quipped, "and go, 'Who wrote this?'"

Pawelski went on to elucidate her rich legacy in the music business — including her fight to get the Band's deep cuts, like Stage Fright, included in Capitol's music budget. (She's worked on archival projects by everyone from the Beach Boys to Big Star to Willie Nelson across her decades-long career.)

Read More: Jeff Tweedy's Blurred Emotions: Wilco's Leader On Cruel Country & Songwriting As Discovery

Tweedy also discussed the magic of collaboration. "I've gotten really good at being alone with people. So I think that facilitates collaboration to some degree," he said. "What I mean is being as forgiving of myself with other people in the room as I am with myself alone."

What was one of his favorites, Roberts inquired?

"The one that probably will always be the most proud of is getting to work with Mavis Staples and contributing something to her catalog, to her body of work that seems to have resonated not just with her audience or a new audience, but with her that she likes to sing, that means something to her. I think that would've satisfied me without it winning a GRAMMY [in 2011]."

When the conversation drifted to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Pawelsky discussed the foreboding process of digging through the sessions' flotsam and jetsam.

"The world kind of changed during the making of this. The band certainly changed, and also, technology changed," she explained. "So we had everything — we had DATs, we had ADATs, we had tape, we had cassettes, we had CD-Rs."

About her process: "I go backwards and try to reconstruct how things happen, and it's always incomplete and I don't know what I'm missing, so it's extra fun. But this particular record was done and undone in a lot of ways… some of the latter recordings sound like they're earlier recordings."

As Pawelski admits, the prospect of stewarding Yankee was "kind of terrifying" because of how meaningful the record is. "It really was a Rubik's cube. I would get the orange side done and I'd turn it over."

As the talk wound down, the subject of Wilco's latest album, Cousin, came up — as well as Wilco's rare use of an outside producer, in Cate Le Bon.

"I thought that it would be really a catalyst for getting something different out of the songs that I write," Tweedy explained. "I like the idea of working with a woman, which I felt like has not happened that much in rock and roll, from my perspective

"So that felt like an inspired bit of lateral thinking," he continued. "that felt so right to me to get to — and that she wanted to do it, and that we were friends, and it did."

To go "Up Close & Personal" with Tweedy is unlike most interviews; his brain simply works different than most, and you walk away pleasantly scrambled and transformed.

Which is what the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions were like — and thank goodness for Pawelski, who shows it's not merely a masterpiece: in all its alien transmissions, vulnerable one-liners and shattered poetry, Yankee continues to engender GRAMMY glory.

Songbook: A Guide To Wilco's Discography, From Alt-Country To Boundary-Shattering Experiments

Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

10 Essential Facts To Know About GRAMMY-Winning Rapper J. Cole

Omar Apollo performs at The Roundhouse
Omar Apollo

Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns


On Omar Apollo's New EP 'Live for Me,’ Limitless Experimentation Created Catharsis

Omar Apollo has made longing his bread and butter, often singing about unrequited love and the complexities of romantic relationships. But on ‘Live for Me’, he flips the script.

GRAMMYs/Oct 5, 2023 - 06:02 pm

In the ever-evolving landscape of music, where artists strive to carve their niche and leave their mark, Omar Apollo has emerged as a formidable force. In six short years (with a pandemic in the middle), the Chicano star has risen from humble beginnings to GRAMMY nominee, captivating listeners around the world with his distinctive blend of genres, unforgettable voice, and lyrics that tug at the heartstrings.

His new EP, Live For Me, out Oct. 6, is the perfect amalgamation of the above. With just four tracks — "Ice Slippin," "Live For Me," "Angel" and "Pilot" — the project is a small but sturdy bridge into Apollo’s next chapter. "These four songs are about letting go of the old in order to become my new self and salvage whatever purity I had left," Apollo tells "[It’s my] coming to terms and addressing parts of me that I had compartmentalized."

While some might have been expecting a longer-form project following the success of his 2022 debut album Ivory and Best New Artist nomination at the 2022 GRAMMYs, the succinct nature of an EP made sense to Apollo. "I know it's only four songs," he tells, "but they hold a lot of the weight I've been carrying throughout my life. I feel lighter now and ready for the next phase of whatever life has to offer."

Apollo has been carrying a heavy musical history throughout much of his young life. The 26-year-old grew up in Hobart, Indiana, listening to everything from Vicente Fernández and Juan Gabriel to Lauryn Hill and Prince. He began his own musical journey as tween, when he traded an electric guitar his parents had gifted him for an acoustic one and learned to play through YouTube covers and guidance from one of his tíos.

When he was 17, Apollo experienced a serendipitous moment at a music store. "There was a little microphone there that said, 'Make music.' And I was like, 'Damn, I want to make music,'" he recounted to NPR. The realization made him get a job at McDonald's, where he miraculously saved up enough to get a tiny studio setup. 

Apollo's early tracks reflected his eclectic tastes and influences, featuring a unique blend of R&B, soul, pop, and indie rock that would later become his signature sound. From those early days, Apollo began weaving his life stories into every song he created — no matter how poignant or negligible. On "Brakelights," Apollo turns an ode to his beaten-up car into a poem about unrequited love — one of the singer's trademarks.

Apollo's breakthrough came in 2017 after he borrowed $30 from a friend to upload "Ugotme" onto Spotify. The song was immediately added to the streamer's Fresh Finds playlist and, within a day, garnered tens of thousands of streams. As royalties from "Ugotme" and other tracks slowly trickled in, Apollo realized music could be a viable career, to the dismay of his parents. 

"It was tough for them at first to understand," Apollo told earlier this year. "If I was living in Mexico and crossed the border illegally so my kids could have a better life, and then my kid wakes up one day and is like, ‘Oh, I wanna be a singer,’ I would be stressed out too. I never blamed them for it."

While it might not have seemed like much of a career, people were taking notice of Omar Apollo. Months after "Ugotme" blew up, Apollo linked up with soon-to-be-manager Dylan Shanks on Twitter. Shanks bridged the gap between the Los Angeles industry and the Indiana attic full of "asbestos and black mold" where Apollo lived with four other people and had set up his home studio.

Apollo's attic sessions saw the light of day in his 2018 debut EP, Stereo, which featured guitar-heavy tracks like the hazy "Erase" and the funky "Hijo de Su Madre." Aside from giving us a taste of his genre-hopping, the EP also showcased Apollo's ability to seamlessly switch between Spanish and English, which resonated with a diverse audience. 

He continued this vein with the release of Friends in 2019. Bass-heavy tracks like "Kickback" and disco-tinged "So Good" incorporated even more elements of funk and neo-soul into his repertoire, with an acoustic core ("Friends," "There for Me," "Hearing Your Voice") showcasing his versatility.

Later that year, Apollo collaborated with in-demand producer Kenny Beats on singles "Frío," an all-Spanish track with reggaeton sensibilities, and the groovy rap-adjacent "Hit Me Up" featuring "Euphoria"'s Dominic Fike. These collaborations expanded his musical horizons and contributed to his rising success.

In 2020, Apollo released his debut mixtape, Apolonio. Featuring standouts like the R&B-infused track "Stayback" and indie gem "Kamikaze," Apolonio marked an inflection point: Not only did the album receive critical acclaim and catapult him into the mainstream, but it also demonstrated his artistic growth. Thematically, Apollo's lyrics were more painfully self-aware and personal. Sonically, mixing became even more eclectic, combining his tried-and-true soul and funk tendencies with poppier inflections and bleeding over to trap and Mexican corrido. 

Much like his hair — which changed color at least four times during this period — Apollo was finding comfort in the transitory and experimental.

With more steam and eyes on him than ever before, Apollo joined forces with Spanish crooner C. Tangana on "Te Olvidaste," off his sophomore studio album El Madrileño. The song received two nominations at the 22nd Latin GRAMMYs, including Record Of The Year. The collaboration streak continued with the first hints of what would become Ivory. The soulful heartbreak ballad "Bad Life," Apollo's second song with Kali Uchis, ushered in 2022 for the budding star. The next month, he released "Invincible" featuring Daniel Caesar, a minimalist track carried by guitar strums and plucks, suave drum and bass, and, above all, the singers' tender harmonies.

Apollo's debut studio album, Ivory, which he dubbed as his magnum opus to Rolling Stone, finally arrived in April 2022. Mainly produced with the help of Carter Lang (who is best known for his work on SZA’s Ctrl and SOS), the project showcased Apollo’s genre-blending prowess and songwriting skills. However, the Ivory that we first listened to was not the Ivory that Apollo first created.

"I scrapped the first album because I hated it," he told earlier this year. "I wasn't excited to perform it. Everything was post-rationalized; it didn't have any theme. It was just me linking up with a bunch of producers and then putting whatever happened in those two months all together. It didn't feel like me by any means." 

Speaking to Complex shortly after the album's release, Apollo confirmed that the only songs "from the vault" that made it to Ivory's final form were "Bad Life," "Waiting On You," and "Mr. Neighbor." 

To complete the record, he embarked on a journey of self-discovery, isolating himself in houses he rented in California and New York with his sound engineer and childhood best friend, Manuel Barajas. While largely hunkering down on alt-R&B and psych-soul, Ivory best demonstrates Apollo's willingness to explore new sonic territories with the goal of crafting truly representative songs. 

The album includes Apollo's best corrido to date, the emotional "En El Olvido," as well as the Spanglish trap anthem "Tamagotchi." On the latter, Pharrell Williams' unmistakable four-count start makes it obvious that this is a Neptunes production.

Upon its release, Ivory entered the Billboard 200 chart — a first for Apollo. Almost half a year after the album's release, deep-cut "Evergreen" went viral on TikTok. Apollo made the song in a day during his retreat. "It was so simple. Being far away from everybody, not having access to do things, things become clear," he told Billboard.

The song earned Apollo his first-ever entry on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In November 2022, Apollo would receive a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist. 

"In the beginning … I didn't even think I was a person who could win a GRAMMY. It was just kind of survival mode," Apollo said to Insider. "[But] I really went for it with this last album. So I definitely was hoping for sure, in the back of my head, like, 'That would be crazy if I got nominated.' And it happened, and it was just insane."

Although Apollo did not win Best New Artist (that honor went to singer Samara Joy), he continued to move forward in his personal and professional growth. Live For Me is proof of his unapologetic nature and growing vulnerability, which, among other things, manifests in openly addressing his sexuality.

"Making music is very vulnerable, and I always used to feel kind of embarrassed when I played things for people," he told Complex "I used to get so annoyed when somebody would ask me to explain what a song is about. But now, I'm willing to explain and willing to talk about it. I'm not embarrassed."

Apollo's recent releases take his authenticity a step further. "When I first started writing songs, I would often write about unrequited love. Eventually, I wrote songs about the complexities that come with a relationship," the artist said in a statement announcing his new single "3 Boys." The slow doo-wop jam marked Apollo's"first time writing about something non-monogamous" and signaled a pitstop into his new "new era," as he himself put it on Instagram.

The Live For Me track "Ice Slippin" is Apollo at his rawest. Heavy on autotune and drum pads, the piano-led vibey track is inspired by the experience of coming out to his family. "This song is a reflection and reaction of all the emotions I had to face before and after I decided to leave the icy streets of Indiana," the artist shared in a press release.

If Ivory was Apollo "trying to access [the] broken, traumatized parts of me to sell it to the masses," then Live For Me is focused on inner healing. Amid pen, paper, arpeggios and distorted adlibs, Apollo finds solace and, of course, life. 

Mitski's Road To 'The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We': How Expanding Sonically Illuminated The Liminal Space Between Brutality & Love