iann dior cover 2021
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iann dior set his sights on becoming the biggest artist in the world

Like Joe Strummer, iann dior knows the power of a name.

November 2, 2021
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Born Michael Ian Olmo, the artist launched his career on SoundCloud — a trajectory not unlike the one taken by stars such as Post Malone, Travis Scott and Lil Peep — and garnered thousands of streams on the strength of a single song. Knowing he had to create more, he put out A Dance With The Devil in 2018. Not only does the seven-track EP demonstrate his early skills for blending evocative lyrics with trap beats, but it also took him to L.A. and landed him the label backing he’d need to get to where he is now.

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In the same way that Strummer expanded punk with his love of reggae, funk and rockabilly, dior is imbuing alternative music with his fondness for hip-hop, R&B and pop — and, as a result, is pushing the genre in a fresh and exciting direction. Boasting collaborations with Lil Uzi Vert, Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker, as well as countless others, dior is an unstoppable force — and well on his way to becoming a radio staple.

“I’m so hard on myself, and I always want to top what I did last,” he reveals. “If I get a No. 1, I’m going straight to the studio to try to make another one. That’s the mentality you got to keep to stay in here.”

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Simply put, dior wants everything. His desire to become the biggest artist in the world outweighs his impulse to live fast, and he’s ready to put a plan in place to make it happen. Above all, though, dior wants his music to be a place of solace for his devoted fans — something they can lean on when life feels unbearable and, in turn, offer hope and resolve in the fact that they aren’t alone.

I look at you as the future of music. You’re 22, so, in my opinion, that’s when you just start hitting your stride. The next 10, 15, 20 years is all ahead of you because you spent the last however many years just really grinding and developing and figuring it out. And now you’re just hitting the ball. You’re just hitting your stride. How old were you when you discovered music?

So the crazy thing is that my parents were pretty strict. My dad’s in the Navy, and my mom’s Border Patrol, but they were on my ass about everything, and I couldn’t even watch YouTube, but I would always find these little pirate websites, and I’d find the artists that I like. And I’d listen to them, and my mom didn’t know I had my headphones in. But I would say when I found music for the first time—and it sounds super cliche—but I was talking to this girl, and she just fucked me up, and I was already into poetry. My best friend had just gotten a studio, and he was just like, “Yo, come over and record.”

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He was like, “I know you like to write poetry.” I was like, “That sounds stupid. I’m not gonna do that. I don’t even have a fucking voice.” And he just forced me to do it, and we did it. I just remember putting that song out on SoundCloud. I think it was almost like 20,000 streams. This is my first song. We were just like, “What the fuck? We got to keep making more.” And I made a whole project about the situation. I called it A Dance With The Devil, and it was seven songs. That’s what got me out into L.A. because I got hit up by some people to come out and work with them. I think I was in L.A. for two, three weeks, and then I had 12 label meetings after that.

So when you were growing up, what were you listening to? Walk me through the stages that you went through when you, say, discover music as something you like. Not even a possibility that you think you could do it. You’re just listening to music, and you’re like, “I fuck with this.” We all listen to music for different reasons, but walk me through the stages.

So the only time I’d really get to actually jam music in the car would be with one of my parents, and my mom would always be playing Marc Anthony. She’d be fucking dancing to that ’cause I’m originally from Puerto Rico, but I grew up most of my life in Texas, so she’s Boricua. She’s in there jamming to Marc Anthony, and my pops, he’d always jam Jay-Z’s Blueprint and shit like that. He would just come and go like this [holds up finger to his lips]. “Don’t tell your mom you’re listening to this.” But I just had my hoodie up, banging my head in the car.

From there, I just started adventuring into different music. I really fell in love with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye. It just sonically sounded good. I really didn’t understand what he was saying, but I knew I loved the feeling of it. Then eventually I got into J. Cole in high school. He taught me basically [that] you could tell a full story in a song. From the beat to the lyrics is just all the way through [like a] movie. So he was my No. 1 artist. He still is. And then I just started venturing off. I started listening to Paramore. I started listening to Panic! At The Disco. You guys, blink-182. Once you dive into punk rock, it’s just so much. You could just listen to it all fucking night. 

I think J. Cole’s got a very artistic way of delivering. I think when you get big as an artist, it gets harder sometimes. It’s almost like you go back full circle where it’s harder to be vulnerable sometimes, and the artists that do it successfully, that’s part of the reason why I think they succeed. I think they still dig deep and let it all out. You could say that about a lot of the artists you named actually.

I feel like one thing about me is I can’t make a song if I’m not in the mood to make a song. I have to hit that vulnerable state where I’m going through something that I need to just get off my chest because music is therapy to me. I’d rather put my feelings or whatever is going on in my head into a song than just speak it to somebody. Listening back to that song after you’re done with it is just a feeling you don’t get from anything else.

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You’ve been digging a little deeper with each record, and I think there’s substance there. I love an inspirational record where someone’s talking about what they have, but sometimes I do want to connect with someone on an emotional level — what they’re going through. I think that most people are going to music for that as well. So we need the motivational records that make us aspire to have more, do more, be more. The hip-hop records I grew up listening to, they saved my life for that reason. They gave me this idea that I could have anything I put my mind to and that it was OK to want the finer things in life. So I love those records when I’m in a certain headspace. 

But when you’re not, you would just want to listen to something you could relate to.

The emotional experience we’re all having in life, it doesn’t matter who you are. You’re having it. So you could deny that you’re having it, and you could be any which way, but we’re all having it because we’re all human beings. I hear that in your music, and I guess I wonder where that came from. 

You know, blowing up at 19, going from not being able to do shit to being able to do whatever the fuck I want? I was being reckless. I was doing everything. I would say honestly, 22 is whenever I was like, “All right, I need to slow down, and I need to gather myself and figure out how the fuck I’m gonna become the biggest artist in the world.” Because now I have this platform, and I gotta take it serious.

In the process of all that, I made all this music. You could just hear my mind is over here on this one, my mind’s over there on that one. There’s some songs where a listener would think that I’m talking about a girl, but I’m really talking to myself because, right now, there’s two of me. That’s why I’m really excited about this album because I feel like I’m growing into myself as a person and as an artist, and it’s just crazy to see. I feel really good about it.

It’s really interesting you said you feel like there’s two of you. There are two of you. Who you have to be to survive the game, you do have to put on a certain armor sometimes. You have to go out and be bigger and larger sometimes than you feel, but that is you. You blow up, and then you’re like, “What the fuck am I supposed to do?” You weren’t planning on blowing up. You wanted to not knowing it, but you weren’t thinking about how or what it means.

What it comes with or anything. Whenever I say that, you’re right. I’m always myself. I treat everybody like a normal person because that’s what I am, and that’s how I want them to treat me. But it’s whenever you step on a stage. I just lose myself onstage. The best way I could explain it is I black out, and I have to see videos to remember what the fuck just happened. Because you know that feeling [where] there’s so many people that you don’t even realize it after a little bit? And then you watch a video after, and you’re just like, “Holy shit.”

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I think it’s interesting when you talk about being reckless because I went through that too, of course. I think we struggle to understand, and we’re in an industry that’s kind of funny. We have everyone telling us we’re lucky. But also, there’s a side to it where, in the beginning, you go, “Oh, this isn’t gonna last. This is gonna be a moment.” At the very beginning, I was like, “This is never gonna last. This is magic. Somehow this magically happened.” And I know now it’s not magic. It’s we show up every day, and we work and record.

It’s that feeling that pushes you to keep working harder every day. That’s one of my things. I’m so hard on myself, and I always want to top what I did last. If I get a No. 1, I’m going straight to the studio to try to make another one. That’s the mentality you got to keep to stay in here.

You deteriorate if you’re not productive. You know how it’s weird how they say you don’t live in a house and it falls apart, falls into disrepair? That’s how I feel if we don’t, as human beings, if we’re not excited and inspired and working toward something always, then we just deteriorate, and we fall into disrepair.

Or like you have no purpose. I was just watching the Woodstock documentary, and they were talking about how all the kids, they would come because they wanted to feel like they had a purpose. All together is one. They would come to these shows, and it would just be love, music and everybody’s loving each other. I feel like that’s what music is for me. It just makes me feel like I have a purpose because now I know for sure I’m not the only person out there that feels this way. There are multiple people out there, millions of people that feel the same way that I do. Even at that, I’m helping people. I just feel like I have a very important job. It’s like a superpower.

So, if you could say you had any mentors, who would they be?

One person for sure I can name is MGK. I would move around with him a lot in the beginning. Me and him are like the same type of person. We don’t pull up with security. We just pull up dolo. He respected me for that, and I respected him for that, but he would always just spit wisdom. He’s been in the game for a minute now, and he understands it, and he sees that I’m fresh in the game, and he’s letting me know, “You ’bout to go up.” So I really respect him for that.

Well, I know you’re on tour right now. How’s the tour going, by the way? How was the first night?

It was crazy. Like you said earlier, it’s that time. You know how you have that feeling in your chest that something crazy is about to happen? I have that right now, and doing each show, I feel like it’s slowly, slowly, even more, just taken over.

It’s because it’s real. It doesn’t feel that way if it’s not real.

Yeah, and my first two tours that I ever did, like my first very show, I was the headliner. And what I did is I would just take my friends with me because that’s how I wanted to do it. I want to be with my friends, and they open up for me, we all teed up, and then I go out. I just remember the first time I walked out on that stage, they were screaming from the top of their lungs. There was probably only 500 people, but it just felt like, “Wow.” 

That’s a good crowd, though. 

Then last night, I think we sold out. It was like 5,500. So just to see the growth, you know? I just did Lollapalooza. There were 70,000 people just jumping to my music. It’s a feeling that I’m very thankful and grateful to have.

Our full cover story with iann dior appeared in issue #398, available here.

Written by Joel Madden