Omar Apollo Has Nothing Left to Fear

Omar Apollo Has Nothing Left to Fear

Story by Sandra Song / Photography by Luca Venter / Fashion direction by Chloe & Chenelle / Styling by Kristi Kruser / Grooming by Anna Bernabe / Nails by Rita RemarkJun 15, 2022

Omar Apollo doesn’t know what to do.

It’s 2020, just a few days before he’s expected on set to film the first music video for his major label debut, IVORY. If he’s being completely honest though, he’s neither excited nor particularly enthused about the release. Instead, “detached” would probably be a better word to use, a term that mirrors how alienated he feels from a record that’s far from his best work and even further away from his original vision.

Except Apollo has now arrived at a crossroads, with a rollout campaign on the horizon that will turn this record, hastily cobbled together with the input of too many people, into a definitive reality that will keep him singing the same subpar songs for the rest of his life.

Shirt and pants: Willy Chavarria, Shoes: Marsell

“And that’s when I was like, ‘Fuck this,’” the 25-year-old artist said of his 11th-hour decision to scrap the entire project and start over from scratch.

“The hardest part was thinking that I was gonna ruin a bunch of relationships if I didn’t deliver on time,” Apollo said, referencing the three-month deadline he gave himself to produce an entirely new version of IVORY.

“It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” he added. A wry smile spreads across his face, “I definitely lost my mind at least a couple of times.”

Clothing and bag: Balenciaga, Boots: Marsell, Earring: Chris Habana

Despite some internal spiraling, Apollo’s choice to return to the studio ended up being the right one, in part because the “Invincible” singer was determined to learn from his prior mistakes for take two. So after whittling down his list of collaborators to a handful of production legends and past associates like The Neptunes and Kali Uchis, Apollo hunkered down and began to write, with the end result being a record he now proudly refers to as the “album that really taught me how to make music.”

Unsurprisingly, IVORY was warmly received by critics and fans alike after its April release, with many praising the musician for his “outside the box” approach to sonic exploration. Akin to past efforts like Apolonio, Apollo uses the album to seamlessly integrate genres as disparate as Motown (“Evergreen”), Latin trap (“Tamagotchi”) and early ‘00s indie rock (“Talk”), while also infusing them with an undeniably dreamy Apollo twist.

It’s a gripping listen, a perfect mix of lovelorn ballads, riveting dance tracks and soulful interludes that makes it clear Apollo is generally one to eschew broad categorization. However, his origins as a Soundcloud sensation in Hobart, Indiana has also made it easy for people to classify him under the “bedroom R&B” category. But unlike other artists who bristle at any sort of comparison, he isn’t too bothered when someone mentions Frank Ocean, or even when it's one of the other “12 or 15 people I always get compared to.”

“Bowie, Robin Thicke, Prince,” he rattles off, suddenly growing serious when he begins to talk about art existing to influence and inspire others. For example, there are the old balada romántica songs his parents used to play when he was growing up, which have continued to inspire his own love songs with their “exaggerated longing” and lush storytelling. Even if Apollo himself says he’s starting to move away from the adolescent yearning that defined his past releases and turn towards themes surrounding more “complex relationships.”

While his exact definition of “complex” remains somewhat cryptic, it may possibly be related to the themes of family, religion and shame he’s been tackling in therapy over the past several years. Born into a first-generation Mexican-American Catholic family, Apollo spent the better part of his youth as an altar boy that went to Mass every Sunday and only socialized with other kids from church.

This was where he learned to feel guilt and later started to question God, but not before his 12-year-old self developed a “little innocent crush” on an older guy, who had a guitar during service and was the original reason why Apollo learned to play by watching YouTube, until he quickly surpassed his crush in skill and technique.

“I’d come back out and know all the chords,” he said. “Everything without looking. I got really good.”

Less uplifting though are Apollo’s memories of the way he secretly longed to be recognized for who he is and how “unfair” it felt to miss out on the experience of teenage dating and infatuation, with the latter being another reason why Apollo started writing moving love songs about desire, loss and lust.

Clothing: Amiri

“Being gay, [my friends and I] couldn't be holding hands in the hallway at school or whatever, and a lot of them were closeted. So a lot of my music was like this longing,” as he explained. “It was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to have those moments. I want my parents to ask me about my relationship with a guy.’”

Judging by his face, another memory has bubbled up, causing Apollo to sound a little morose.

“I just remember how excited my parents would be if my brother started talking to a girl,” he said with a small shake of his head. “Because I was robbed of that shit, you know? And that was fucked up.”

Clothing: Amiri

Clothing: Amiri

Granted, Apollo’s queerness is no longer a secret to his family, though he later alludes to there still being some lingering questions and speculation about his sexuality. Even so, he also seems to hint at his family members looking towards God for the answers they seek, similar to the way Apollo did while he was growing up.

“[Religion] gives them comfort, because there's an answer to their questions,” Apollo said, though he’s also quick to add that it “doesn't give me comfort anymore though.”

Shirt: Kuon, Chain: Chris Habana

Shirt: Kuon, Chain: Chris Habana

“I don't think it ever did, actually. I think it was more just fear-based,” he continued. Apollo falls silent for a brief moment, perhaps musing on the need for a “vengeful God.”

“But I don't need to know what happens when we die, because everyone’s gonna die,” Apollo finally said.

His face blooms into a grin, “So why live my life off of fear or sin or whatever that is until then?” Which sounds like a pretty good idea.

Pants: Willy Chavarria, Chain: Chris Habana

Pants: Willy Chavarria, Chain: Chris Habana

Photography: Luca Venter
Fashion direction: Chloe & Chenelle
Styling: Kristi Kruser
Grooming: Anna Bernabe
Nails: Rita Remark