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Omar Apollo Is the R&B Heartthrob Who Rocks Full Skirts and His Heart on His Sleeve

Omar Apollo Is the R&B Heartthrob Who Rocks Full Skirts and His Heart on His Sleeve
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Photo: Julian Burgueño

The flat, dull computer screen has become the defining vista of the pandemic, which is why, on an otherwise quarantined Thursday, it’s such a treat to see Omar Apollo’s head topped with bright blue hair pop up on a Zoom call. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter is calling while a little hyped on coffee from his house in L.A., which he shares with friends and his brother. His hair color was done DIY with a $6 bottle of Adore “Sky Blue,” which he lightened with a bit of conditioner. The motivation behind the dye job (his locks have also been slime green and orchid purple) came from the same simple philosophical query at the center of all of his freewheeling creative ventures, including making the adventurous and trippy R&B that has defined his young career: Why not? “It kinda just happened. I was like, I’m so sick of my hair—I’m just gonna fucking do different colors,” he remembers. “When I hear my music, I do see color. Green. Blue. Those are the colors that I feel. And I just wanted to bring that to life.”

An impulse for iridescence serves Apollo (born Omar Apolonio Velasco) well, especially on a new 9-song EP Apolonio, out this month. The record is his third since 2018, but his first for a major label. It’s a kaleidoscope of sounds, from the ’70s funk of “Stayback” to “Dos Uno Nueve,” a track in Spanish that mythologizes his journey from a child raised by Mexican parents in a working-class home, to the wide adulation he now finds. He has a deep sense of history, and likes to trace his obsessions back to the source. He’s often incorporated elements of old-school grooves and rhythms in his work, and the recent remix to “Stayback” features Parliament-Funkadelic legend Bootsy Collins himself, who Apollo reached out to through DMs and Zooms with on occasion. “Parliament molded me into who I am. Changed the way I write, changed the way I play guitar, changed the way I carry myself,” Apollo says.

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Photo: Julian Burgueño

He also sketches a bit more of his own experiences and origins on the new EP: The record features intimate songs about his childhood as well as love songs sung to both men and women. The tender and soulful “Kamikaze” finds him chronicling a teenage affair with a boy, plus the tears he shed during the eventual heartbreak. When I pry a bit more about the boy, though, he humorously, if nervously, shakes me off. “Don’t worry about all that,” he says with a laugh, and admits he is as scared as he is personally gratified to write about his life in closer detail. “It’s terrifying,” he says, adding that he’s now single and thrilled to be. “But it’s an important moment for me and I felt I should write about it.”

With “Dos Uno Nueve,” the structure is that of a classic Mexican corrido, a style of folk song set typically to a 3/4 time signature that Apollo’s grandmother used to sing to him when he was a kid. Apollo’s family immigrated from Guadalajara to rural Indiana before he was born, and there in middle America he was raised on church songs and Mexico’s musical traditions. It was also in Indiana that he first started in music by teaching himself how to play guitar from YouTube, working shifts at McDonald’s to save up for an instrument of his own, and uploading his first song in 2017. He quickly gained a following playing local house parties and coffee shops for free.

“The first verse [of “Dos Uno Nueve”] is about the struggle of being broke, how we didn’t have money for food sometimes, and the second verse is about how much shit has changed,” he says, telling me that he now helps his family out with money (“that’s huge for any first-generation Mexican kid”) and lets himself use his hard-earned cash to buy the clothes and jewelry that he loves. “I was insecure about spending money, not being proud of myself, having imposter syndrome,” he says. “I needed that song to let me know, Shit’s good and I’m fine.”

And about those clothes and jewels: He can’t get enough. He excitedly shows me two shiny baguette studs in his ears, as well as a gemstone bracelet in the colors of the rainbow with a matching ring, moving over to his bedroom window so the sun’s rays can catch the sparkle. “I grew up not spending money on anything. Fifty dollars was, like, jackpot,” he says. “Jewelry makes me feel so good and confident. And when you’re confident, you’re better as a human.”

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Photo: Julian Burgueño

At 6’5”, he sweetly teases that he “looks good in anything.” And he takes advantage of it by wearing, for a recent performance, a see-through Jetpack Homme blouse and super-long bell bottoms by The Incorporated that only the tallest amongst us could ever hope to carry, so wide they splayed out on the dirt as he sang. He has a remarkable color sense, isn’t afraid to show skin, and has a penchant for Bode, Marni, and Dr. Martens, never leaving the house without a certified look. “I’ll dress up to go to the grocery store—like, girrrrrl,” he says. He loves wearing skirts because they allow him to show off stylish socks and shoes. “I’ve always liked the girl’s section at the thrift shop, even before I was making money,” he says. “My style was fucking wacky back in the day—I was just trying shit out.” His primary musical idol is also his style idol, the man who made assless pants and French lace look like the coolest thing a man could wear. “Prince is androgyny,” Apollo beams.

While he has not yet gained Prince’s level of celebrity, he has found enough indie heartthrob fame that when home in Indiana—the land of Mike Pence and Amy Coney Barrett, where you are more likely to see a red MAGA hat on someone’s head than blue hair—he causes a stir. “It’s nuts. If I’m with my tía or my mom and we’re out at the grocery store, somebody notices me,” he says of a recent trip to Indiana. “[Some people] hit up my mom, like, ‘My granddaughters really want to meet your son!’ So I had a little meet-and-greet.” It’s all been a relief to his parents, who were once skeptical of his choice of career. “It was hard for them at first. They wanted me to go to school, which is valid. They didn’t really come to my shows until it was a packed-out venue. Twelve-hundred people, and my mom was crying. They’re all screaming her son’s name, and she’s like, I gave him that name!”

Geeked to show off some more spoils of his success, Apollo flies up and down the stairs and in and out of rooms, phone in hand, to show me the layered Moroccan carpets on the ground of his at-home studio, the shoes stacked on a short rack in his closet, and the beauty products that line the long horizontal mirror in his bathroom (a little orange rug in the shape and design of a basketball is on the floor). “Girrrrl, I’m about to show you—I got too much shit,” he tells me of his skin-care bounty, which includes Olay Retinol night cream, Argan oil, an Aztec clay mask, a Good Genes lactic acid treatment, and the Derma E Vitamin C and collagen serums. He’s been on a plant-based health kick after quarantining for a month in Indiana and eating perhaps too hefty an amount of his mom’s delicious Mexican food. He loves her meals so much—especially her take on the Super Taco, a fried and a soft tortilla layered with cheese on top, filled out with beans, carne, and pico de gallo—that he’ll soon be releasing and selling a hot sauce called Disha Hot based on her own recipe.

The hot sauce, the wild hair, the unguarded music: They all seem to come from a profound and youthful drive to try new things and do as he pleases. During one of his recent conversations with Bootsy, the funk hero confirmed from decades of experience that the best rule for life and work is absolutely no rules at all. Find the brightest cheap blue dye, rock a knee-length skirt and a gleaming diamond, and most of all, when you’re writing the songs, wear as much of it on your sleeve as you can. “[Bootsy and me] were just talking about how it’s never mathematical or formulaic for us. He just kept saying, ‘Hold on to your creativity. Hold on,’ ” Apollo recalls, before summing up his own outlook on capturing the artistic inspiration in his head and heart. “You catch it, you do it. And then you keep going.”

Source: vogue.com