Omar Apollo on Life After Overnight Success

Omar Apollo wears a Prada jacket, vest, shirt, and pants. Photographed by Nate Guenther in Los Angeles in March 2021.

Omar Apollo is about as close to a literal overnight success as it gets. In 2017, he uploaded the DIY track “Ugotme” to Spotify and woke up the next morning to find out it had already been streamed tens of thousands of times. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t fought hard: In the years since, Apollo has had to figure out how to establish himself as a professional musician, translate his bedroom-written tracks for the live stage, and attract new fans along the way. He’s since proven himself as more than a one-hit viral wonder with two EPs and a debut album Apolonio. As part of a larger exploration of Spotify’s emerging Lorem playlist, we talked to Apollo about Miranda Cosgrove memes, wanting a personal chef, and a dream collaboration with Mariah Carey.

After you started posting your music online, when did you start getting a sense people were reacting to it?

I started posting on SoundCloud and had, like, goofy cover art. Nothing serious. One of them was a photo of Miranda Cosgrove—just random things I thought were funny. There was one of Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore when he’s mad and frustrated and holding a golf club. Then I’d just tweet about it like, “Hey, new song,” and if someone saw it, they saw it.

Then I made a song called “Ugotme,” and put it on SoundCloud probably six months after I started uploading stuff. It got, like, 300 likes or something. It was the most I’d ever gotten. My friend called me like, “You should put this on Spotify and Apple Music.” I didn’t even think anyone used streaming services like that. Where I’m from it was just SoundCloud. No one was paying for monthly music. I was like, “I don’t have money to upload it.” It was like $30 a year. I was just working to pay the rent, and my friend was like, “I’ll Cash App it to you.” So I uploaded that day. I went to sleep, and I woke up the next day and it was on all these playlists. It got like thirty or fifty thousand streams.

It really happened overnight for you.

I was working at a guitar shop at the time, and just clocked into work the next day. My friend texted me like, “Hey do you have another one? It’s probably going to happen again.” I was like, “Yeah, I have another one,” and I uploaded it, and the same thing happened. I didn’t know anyone at Spotify. I didn’t have a manager yet. From there I just started touring and doing stuff.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

It’s always changing, but the one that probably affected me the most is Prince.

Omar Apollo wears a Prada jacket, vest, shirt, and pants. Photographed by Nate Guenther in Los Angeles in March 2021.

Did you grow up listening to him with your parents or found him independently?

They were listening to stuff from Mexico like Vicente Fernández and Juan Gabriel.

So you found other music on your own?

Yeah, and through friends and their families. Their parents would put me on to Steely Dan and stuff. I'm like, “Who the hell is this? It sounds crazy!” And then Sly & the Family Stone. I was into all that stuff.

Do you think finding success through the algorithms affects the way you write songs?

I was just talking to my friend about this the other day. Before we were involved in the industry, it was way more free. We didn't really care about structure. When I was making my first songs, it was just based off of feeling. Which you can still do, but there's stuff you learn along the way that the industry kind of influences or puts on you.

Someone comes along and says, ‘Make songs that are verse, chorus, verse, chorus?’

Yeah, but it’s like, I can apply that and still do my own thing. “Well, this song is eight minutes and everyone loves this song.” It just depends on how well you do it.

Do you have any career goals?

I have a funny one. I just want to have my own personal chef. That’s the only thing I could think of. I mean I like playing festivals and stuff. Coachella would be cool. Something in South America would be cool. I just want to make music.

Do you have any dream collaborators?

Probably Mariah Carey.

What kind of song would you do with Mariah Carey?

Something nineties? We’d just have to feel it out.