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The Horny and Heartbroken Crescendo of Omar Apollo

  • WordsKyle Rice
  • PhotographyRicky Alvarez
  • StylingSebastian Jean

Summer of Sexy: This summer, Highsnobiety explores all the ways personal style transcends what we wear. This special series delves into critical discussions and stories that highlight the body as a site of expression and exploration – social, sexual, and psychological. Here we have a FRONTPAGE story with Omar Apollo - check back throughout the week for a photo essay on fashion’s greatest (ass)et, the butt; a consideration of underwear as pants, the history of “Lesbian Chic,” and a reported feature on the data that shows just how much the freedom to dress cannot be overstated. 

Omar Apollo is hard to miss. He towers over the Highsnobiety crew, gathered in New York’s Tribeca Synagogue for this shoot. Despite his stature, Apollo’s quiet, almost reserved. He comes across as gentle. Between looks, as everyone gathers in the building’s basement to prepare for the next setup, he flashes a smile. “Are we still grabbing sushi?” he wants to know, when it’s clear we’re reaching day’s end. We’re not there yet, but food is still on his mind as we sit together and I ask about his evening, and the shoot, and then shift to the most important topic: his latest album, God Said No.

He admits it’s not the easiest discussion, albeit a necessary one. “I’m still really in it,” he murmurs, referring to a former relationship that defined the album and left him in a bleak state.

It’s been over two years since the Mexican-American alt-r&b artist has graced fans with an album as substantial as God Said No. His debut, Ivory, with its myriad love ballads and pop hits, put him on the fast track to fame, especially when the single “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)” unexpectedly went viral in 2021. “I had been promoting that [song] for four months,” he recounts, still in disbelief.

Compared to other hits that went viral that same year, like Olivia Rodigo’s “Good 4 U” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” “Evergreen” is slower, simpler, and more lyrically intimate. “Evergreen, he controls me/Was there something wrong with my body?/Am I not what you wanted, babe?” Apollo intros. Insteads of his peers' energetic, up-tempo beats, Apollo found a niche in the melancholic feelings of love and loss. The sonically stripped track is grounding, composed simply of drum snares, subtle acoustics, and stacked vocals. Though “Evergreen” is representative of his writing approach so far, Apollo admits that not every song on the latest album is as introspective. “That's me being on some ho shit,” he says with a snicker as we chat about one of the new tracks, “Against Me.” “People would get feelings, and I just wasn't there, or I already kind of had feelings for someone else.”

To date, “Evergreen” remains his most popular song by all metrics. It garnered more than 150 million streams on Spotify in 2022 and granted him a spot at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Just a few months later, he was nominated for Best New Artist at the 65th Grammys, and while he didn’t win the category, the nod cemented his place as an artist to watch. 

Top CALVIN KLEIN Jacket and pants RICK OWENS Shoes MARSELL Earrings TIFFANY & CO.
Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez, Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez

Apollo remains grateful for the success of “Evergreen” and for the fans who pushed it into the spotlight, but he’s also not one to look back at old work. “I don't care enough,” he says. “After you're done, it's done.” Contradictory, seemingly, for someone whose latest work is essentially a post-mortem on love. At some point, don’t we all have to reflect? “My whole energy is being allowed to feel complex emotions,” he explains when I suggest the first few tracks sound like emotional whiplash. “I feel so much that I just allow a lot, and I think that surfaces in my writing.” 

Apollo, born Omar Apolonio Velasco, grew up in Hobart, Indiana, a small suburb he recalls without much fondness. “It was a nightmare,” he says in a recent Throwing Fits interview. “It’s a ton of farmland, like cornfields and shit.” 

His father, immigrated to Indiana from Guadalajara, Mexico in his early twenties. He found a job in construction before picking up additional shifts as a line cook at a local casino and food truck driver for the school district. “He’d get up at 6:30 am, work till 11:00 or 12:00, then go back to work at 1:00,” Apollo recalls. His mother had equally demanding jobs cutting hair, working as a translator for H&R Block, and raising Apollo and his three older siblings. As tough as it was, there was no shortage of love and community during Apollo’s childhood. He recalls the ranchos bellowing mariachi that his family would often visit, skateboarding in parking lots with friends, and forming bands before he knew the extent of his affinity for music. “I remember I would go with my cousins, and we'd just write songs,” he tells me, grinning as if the scenes are replaying in his head. “It was something I enjoyed doing. But it was never like, ‘Oh, I have this song. I have this song.’” 

His uncle taught him to play music when he was 11, Apollo strumming on an acoustic guitar he bought with his own money after pawning an electric one he got for Christmas. Just three chords, “A, D, and E minor, I think,” he says, played on repeat until he fell asleep. He started performing as a kid, taking Mexican folk ballet classes. “I remember in elementary school, I had a gig, and they pulled me out [of school]. I was like, ‘Yeah, sorry guys, I have a gig, I have to go,’” he recalls. By 16, Apollo had adopted the tenacious mindset of his parents. He picked up jobs anywhere he could: shifts at McDonald’s, Jimmy Johns, “...and I think I might've been working in a mechanic shop with my brother-in-law,” he says, if it weren’t for his appetite for making music. He invested everything he had into it. “I'd get $150 every two weeks or something like that,” he remembers, saving up for any equipment he couldn’t borrow from family or friends. The last piece of the puzzle, a microphone, was all he needed, so he bargained the price down from $200 at a nearby Guitar Center. 

Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez, Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez

Even Apollo admits to being perplexed by how quickly his career grew. “I’m from Indiana, bro. This shit doesn’t happen to Indiana folk.” Ever humble, he attributes his success to factors in the broader culture. “I realized if I do something gay [the interest] goes up.” 

He released his first single, “ugotme,” via SoundCloud when he was 19, a decision he recalls making on a whim. “I just liked the sound a lot,” he notes. “I called my cousin, he came over, and we just listened to it front-to-back for an hour, and then I just put it out.” Breathy and something of a “Robin Thicke times nine,” in Apollo’s words, the track outlined his fondness for R&B and love ballads. “Times you take my breath away/I’m so in love with you,” he belts in the chorus. The track gathered just 300 likes before he uploaded the single on Spotify at a friend’s recommendation. By the next day, the platform placed it in an editorial playlist and it was making the rounds. “It had like 20,000 or like 30,000 plays, and it just started going up from there,” he told Remezcla back in 2018.

His second single, “comeovurrrrrrr,” caught the attention of another burgeoning artist, Teo Halm. “I was just scrolling SoundCloud one day, and this song ‘comeovurrrrrrr’ popped up on my feed,” recalls Halm, now a longtime friend of Apollo and music producer whose works span a roster of titans, including Rosalía, SZA, Lil Yachty, and Beyoncé. “I heard it, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

Like Apollo at the time, Halm was a novice when the two connected. “I reached out to him and had no real intention besides, ‘Wow, this guy's really talented. I just want to know him.’” But Soon the two were pouring over music on calls, Halm in LA and Apollo in Indiana working shifts at Guitar Center. 

The duo's first EP, Stereo, is a descent into the funkier, jazzy side of Apollo that audiences rarely hear anymore. Sporting hypnotic dance rhythms and electric guitar riffs, the lyrics are punchy, combining his bilingual roots across a variety of rap bridges and falsetto hooks. His love of Prince is apparent in the melodies and vocals, the title track introducing the EP like a slower, brooding version of the hit “Adore” from Sign O’ The Times. “[Friend’s parents] would put me on to Steely Dan and stuff,” he says. “I'm like, ‘Who the hell is this? It sounds crazy!’”

His artistry shines on Stereo, often drifting into instrumental breaks that force the listener to go deep. From staccato bars on “Ignorin” to rhythm guitar riffs on “Hijo De Su Madre,” Stereo gave Apollo the confidence boost he needed. Later that year, he headed west to LA, working closer with Halm and continuing to experiment with music and songwriting.

These early sonic influences still exist in Apollo’s work, most notably on God Said No’s “Less of You,” an 80s synth-pop record outroed with a flurry of violins, which leads into “Done With You,” a modern, upbeat pop ballad. “We were listening to a lot of soul music from the '70s, and Omar had [‘Done With You’] sitting for a while saying ‘Man, I really hear drums for this,’” says Halm. Though complete opposites in their arrangement, the two tracks work harmoniously with one another. “[‘Done With You’] could come out, and people could be like, ‘Oh,’ or it could also come out and end up being his biggest song,” Halm speculates. “I have always felt like that song is just super sticky and super infectious, but we'll see.”

Over the next two years, Apollo would release two more EPs: Friends in 2019 and Apolonio in 2020. While Friends still manages to find its core within the lo-fi rock and funk space Apollo was so fascinated with back in Indiana, Apolonio sharply diverges towards the pop R&B sound we know him for today. “I think my tastes just changed. You’re only a product of your environment,” he says.

Apolonio, in totality, wasn’t the hard-hitting production Apollo might have been gunning for given his earlier success. His priorities had shifted. “I gotta make sure everyone’s good at home and shit. But if you give me some time, I can make something that’s like ‘wow.’” Apolonio, though is notable for being the first time Apollo directly referenced his queer identity, singing alongside Kali Uchis on the track “Hey Boy.” “Publicly, I never came out to nobody,” he tells me. “After that, I was like, ‘I don't want to come out. It's lame,’” he says, laughing. The act of “coming out” as a spectacle has subsided in the last few years and is virtually absent on social media. “It's a lot to make a post and say you're gay, that's too much,” he adds. “Respect to everyone that does, for sure.”

In his self-made Prototype Tour documentary, even his style becomes more queer-coded, trading his ’90s skater boy uniform of bomber jackets and oversized polo tees for tight-fitting tops from Helmut Lang and sequin sets from Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe. Fashion has become a way for Apollo to identify himself, despite hating “the idea of being best dressed.” He proclaims his love for brands like Maison Margiela, Comme des Garçons, and (of course) Loewe. “They didn’t pay me to say that, I swear,” he laughs (he’s done a number of campaigns for the brand).

The God Said No tour, which will kick off this summer, is his largest to date, spanning four countries and 21 states. I asked if it would be difficult to perform singles from God Said No that are so obviously entrenched with emotion, but Apollo isn’t fazed. “It just turns into a song,” he says. “I'm getting all the energy from [the crowd], and they're singing the words back to me, so I'm focused on giving a good performance.”

Top, briefs, and shoes PRADA Socks STYLIST'S OWN
Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez, Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez, Highsnobiety / Ricky Alvarez

Though Apollo refuses to divulge too much about the pending tour, telling me, “...a surprise is better,” he does confess that the tour will be “dance-heavy,” allowing his years of professional choreography to shine. “[Dancing] was my first love. Before music, before signing, I’ve always been drawn to it.”

Despite all his tortured ballads and heart-throbbing singles, Apollo’s love life has been relatively shielded from the public. Rumors circulated a few years back when co-host Fran Tirado from Like A Virgin podcast claimed that the musician had dated Frank Ocean for three years before the production of Ivory, but neither artist addressed the claims. However, the rumor mill picked back up last October when fans started speculating about a relationship with the internet daddy himself, Pedro Pascal. “I love Pedro,” Apollo tells me, but insists that their connection is more familiar than it is romantic. “He's like family. He’s always been there for me.”

Apollo is no longer just a starry-eyed kid from Indiana. God Said No is, after all, evidence that he may still be reeling from the past and processing a broken heart. Though, I think what he’ll uncover from the ashes of grief is actually more room for love. At least I hope.

  • WordsKyle Rice
  • PhotographyRicky Alvarez
  • StylingSebastian Jean
  • Executive Producer Tristan Rodriguez
  • Productiont • creative
  • GroomerAnna Bernabe
  • Set DesignMegan Nishiyama
  • Production CoordinatorsMehow Podstawski and Zane Holley
  • Styling AssistantsTalia Restrepo & Sophie Bohmeier
  • Lead Image Fashion CreditsTop DRIES VAN NOTEN Jacket SAINT LAURENT Pants and shoes FOURTWOFOUR C/O ESSX Earrings UNIFORM OBJECT Watch JACOB & CO.
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