Just recently turned 18, and in his final year of high school in Mississauga, Ontario, Johnny Orlando is being tipped by many industry observers as the next Canadian pop singer-songwriter to break big internationally – following in the footsteps of his early hero, Justin Bieber, and Shawn Mendes.
He’s already well on the way, given major social media popularity that includes more than 500,000 Spotify and 9 million TikTok followers, and streams of his tracks numbering above 880 million. In both 2019 and 2020, Orlando took home an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Canadian Act, though he modestly tells us that “it’s a fan-voted award, with no academy involved. I’ve never really been one for awards, but the EMA meant so much, as it was the accomplishment of the fans, not me.”
Following a 2019 JUNO Award nomination for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Orlando is in the JUNO running again this year, in the Pop Album of the Year category, for last year’s hit release, It’s Never Really Over.
His breakout smash, 2020’s “Everybody Wants You,” notched North of five million global streams, and Orlando is currently back in the charts with the single “I Don’t” – a collaboration with noted Toronto EDM producers DVBBS.
“We had the one demo of that track from a couple of years ago, and the only vocal I ever recorded for the song was back then,” says Orlando. “The idea of getting DVBBS on the track only happened late last year. There were concerns that it may be too different for me, but ultimately I think it’s good to show variety in the material you put out. I’m so in love with the track.”
“The more songs you write, the closer you get to the one you absolutely love”
“I Don’t” was primarily written by L.A.-based Australian songwriter Louis Schoorl, but the confessional lyrics resonated with Orlando. “I need to fully believe in a song and that one is all about being apprehensive about telling the truth,” he says. “It’s hard to have those kinds of conversations, especially with someone you’ve been involved with for awhile. That was happening at the time I recorded ‘I Don’t,’ and still is, to be honest.”
Orlando has become increasingly involved in co-writing his material, and he’s embracing that evolution. “I’m really not a purist in terms of song selection,” he says. “If I really love a song and I believe in what it says, then I don’t care who wrote it. However, I do see songwriting as the best kind of challenge, and I can’t really get enough of it. The more songs you write, the closer you get to the one you absolutely love.”
He’s been co-writing with a large number of songwriters from both Toronto and Los Angeles, and candidly admits it can be a trial-and-error process. “At the beginning of an album cycle there are always a couple of sessions that are just write-offs! Nothing good happens, you just can’t find a groove, but you learn something every session. That’s one of the reasons I love doing it.”
Orlando’s compositional collaborators have included Canadians Geoff Warburton (who frequently co-writes with Shawn Mendes), Jeff Hazin, Nathan Ferraro, Matthew Burnett (who’s a constant co-writer and co-producer of Daniel Caesar), Liz Rodrigues (who co-writes songs for Celine Dion), and Mike Wise, while his most frequent co-writer remains his older sister, Darian Orlando. “Ninety percent of the sessions, it will be me, Darian, and one other writer,” he explains.
He’s now diligently writing and recording new material for a full-length album, anticipated for release by the end of 2021, but Orlando admits to desperately missing playing shows. “It’s very hard to describe, but the feeling playing concerts is unlike anything else I’ve ever felt,” he says. “You’re so proud and happy, just riding a wave of happiness for the whole show. I want to tour for the rest of my life!”