Here’s a controversial take: Representation matters. Omar Apollo puts this on full display as he has come to embody the voice of a generation of young, queer, and latine folx. His first full album “Ivory,” as well as rumors of that album being based on an ex-relationship with fellow artist Frank Ocean, have a lot of people talking about Apollo’s star power. His meteoric launch is in large part to his openness about his identity, genre-spanning prowess, and stellar personality, meaning that he’ll likely stay in orbit even “En El Olvido.”
Apollo has been asked several times whether or not he puts a label on his queerness. His response in an NPR interview was very telling, as he asks “do I really come off like that?” and identifies that, in the beginning, “I was trying to be mysterious and stuff, but now I’m just like — I’m very gay.” Personally, it’s very refreshing to hear an artist speak openly about their sexuality. Although it’s their right to have privacy, many artists use the absence of a label in ways that, intentional or not, queerbait their audiences. For Apollo, “coming out” as queer takes power away from people who question or attach a label to him. Apollo’s openness with his identity and music resonates with an audience of young people who are often starved of authenticity in influencer and celebrity culture. He is not afraid to represent queerness for other people and fosters queer joy even in melancholic melodies.
Omar Apolonio Velasco was born in Northern Indiana to parents of Mexican immigrants from Guadalajara. He comes from a Catholic family, and as a queer person in this environment, he struggled with his identity and used dance and music as his outlet. He began dancing at the age of 11 and started learning how to play the guitar at 12. He began pursuing music in 2017 with his mixtape “Apolonio.” He followed this with two EPs, “Stereo” and “Friends,” as well as his “Live at NPR’s Tiny Desk” (my personal favorite), and most recently “Ivory.” As his career has progressed, many artists have recognized his trajectory, and he has worked with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Kali Uchis. His music represents a mix of many styles and traditions, ranging from sad boy pop to traditional ranchera style. His falsetto voice has been compared to Prince, and he takes inspiration from Whitney Houston, Kanye West, Nirvana, and Lauren Hill. His fusion of Spanish and English, his wide range of sounds, and his upbringing reflect that he contains multitudes. The contradictions and intersections of his identities are mirrored in his music. His sound is reminiscent of so many of the greats in different fields, his life story is relatable to so many, and yet he stands out as singularly unique. The more specific, and obscure your identity is, the more it can be universally relatable. Everyone can find themselves in the real, human passion that Apollo represents.
I went to see Apollo perform at San Diego State University with Roger Revelle College sophomore Katherine Jamison. She described his sound as “the vibe to end all vibes.” I had introduced her to his music a few weeks prior, and we both fell for his sound. Katherine and I have been to a fair few concerts, but as she puts it, “he really stands out. You could just tell that he is meant for a bigger stage.” She felt “lucky that [she] saw him so early in his career; he’s clearly just getting started.” We are both obsessed with his Spanish music and find it funny that we met each other in Spanish class and now bond over his beautiful metaphors en español.
Apollo’s music resonates with people of many backgrounds and musical interests. Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies and Core Faculty for Critical Gender Studies Program, Roy Pérez was also impacted by Apollo’s performance, remarking that “Omar Apollo is really going to be among the great queer rockers and crooners, and it’s a thrill to watch his career take off.”
Pérez spoke about what Apollo’s work represents for him, adding that “as a gen-xer, I feel like he’s the patron saint of queer Latinx coolness I barely dared to wish for in my teens.”
Even with how monumental his work is, Apollo still feels grounded and down-to-earth. Pérez echoes this sentiment, in that he “can’t overstate how powerful it is so see such a talented, openly queer Chicano musician get so much visibility and praise. His work and his success are just profoundly moving to me.”
Even though most of his discography revolves around unrequited queer love, listening to Apollo somehow feels like a reciprocated win.
Starting from Indiana, Apollo is becoming a world-renowned performer. In concert, he gave one of the best performances I have ever seen. I hope that his relatable, unique contradictions propel him further to the fame he is due. Apollo represents so much and stands for so many. He intersects with so many people’s identities, allowing people to resonate with his music. This is why representation matters. We deserve Omar Apollo, and he deserves the world.
Image courtesy of Pursuit of Dopeness