By Keith Sharp
When you think of Johnny Orlando, you also think of Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara and Scott Hillman, all former Canadian teenage pop stars who have broken through to mainstream acceptance. But in the case of Mississauga Ontario born Orlando, you have an individual who has developed his social media presence to a whole new level.
Having just released his third EP, “It’s Never Really Over”, it’s staggering to think that this prodigious multi-instrumental, singer-songwriter is still only 17 years old. Yet, he has already won two MTV Europe Music Awards in 2019 and 2020, has already completed two major U.S and European concert tours and currently boasts his own YouTube channel which can claim over 4.5 million subscribers. Not bad for a youngster who is still attending a local GTA high school (grade 12).
And although it must be interesting to have a bonafide pop star attending regular school classes, Orlando claims his feet are planted firmly on the ground. When it is suggested that the temptations and lure of pop stardom might become a challenge for him at such a young age, he credits his family’s influence for keeping him on the straight and narrow.
“My family makes sure none of that excess stuff affects me,” Orlando allowed. “My parents attend all my business meetings, they are with me on tour, there is always at least one family member present at all times.”
The current COVID-19 virus may have put the skids on the global music industry, but as far as Orlando is concerned, it’s just given him more time to work on his latest six-track release. He has already released three new singles; “Phobias”, “See You” and his latest single “Everybody Wants You” which is a No. 1 add at Canadian Top 40 radio with three more tracks; “Adelaide” (new video just released), “Flaws” and “Bad News” completing the E.P.
“It’s all about progression,” explains Orlando of his latest release. “People I know have texted me to tell me they can hear a difference between my second EP “Teenage Fever” (released in 2018) and the new record. They have noticed a level of maturity in the material.”
Orlando is aware that his current appeal is definitely centred on an audience around the same age as him and the record’s production and his songwriting has definitely been aided by contributions from the likes of Kellen Pomeranz (John Legend, The Unlikely Candidates), Geoff Warburton (Shawn Mendes, 5 Seconds Of Summer), Louis Schoorl (Kesha, Julia Michaels) and Mike Wise (Ellie Goulding, Bulow).
“If I had to rely on my own songwriting, a lot of my songs would be really dark,” Orlando commented.” These writers give my songs a different perspective, it keeps you fresh.”
He notes that it was important to have this input on his first Universal EP release; “Teenage Fever”. “Neither the label nor myself really knew what I wanted so we brought these people in to help me find a direction. But as we’ve progressed, that input has become narrower and narrower. I am starting to define a specific direction for myself.”
Orlando is the first to acknowledge the influence artists like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes have had on his career but admits that he is striving to develop his own trademark sound. “You listen to any Billie Eilish song and you know instantly that it’s a Billie Eilish song. That specific sound is something I am working on for my own records.”
Orlando was certainly influenced by Bieber’s initial success of recording songs on youtube at the age of 13 which led him to be discovered and picked up by his manager, Scooter Braun. Orlando was just eight years old when, with help from older sister Darian, he created his own JohnnyOSings youtube channel in which he posted a cover version of Bieber’s “Mistletoe” Christmas song. Orlando only expected to get 100 or so hits but was amazed to chalk up 100,000 hits during the first month. This inspired Johnny and his sister to drop a series of videos of him covering material by the likes of Mendes, Bieber, Taylor Swift and Rihanna with Darian producing, shooting and editing the clips.
What is even more impressive is that Orlando recorded and released 13 singles and his first EP VX11X1 before Universal even signed him in May 2018 when he was still 15 and since that time has released a further 12 singles and two EP’s while developing a global teenage following that was enhanced by his two U.S and European tours.
During his downtime due to the pandemic, Orlando has been able to spend extra time working on the material for “It’s Never Really Over” while also developing multiplatform initiatives for MTV in the States including consumer products, live events and other MTV programming.
“I was able to spend a lot more time on songs like “Adelaide, there’s not much else I can do except work on the tracks and write new material,” he mused. “I was able to perform one drive-in concert (OLG Playhouse) but that’s been about it. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of waiting things out and keeping up my activities on social media” Something Johnny Orlando is pretty adept at doing