Rilan Roppolo, who goes by the moniker Rilan, is a singer, dancer and actor who is well-known for his role on the final season of the popular television show Glee. A self-described “proud outsider”, he grew up in New Orleans where he studied ballet and piano and acted in his first play when he was 6. With influences ranging from Madonna, David Bowie, Prince and Boy George, to Soft Cell, NIN and Marilyn Manson, Rilan combines those darker elements into his pop songs. He graduated high school in 2013 and moved to LA in 2014, releasing his debut single “Chemical” that year. A true showman, Rilan emphasizes the live performance, incorporating costumes, dance and pyrotechnics, but found that the LA crowd had a hard time adapting to his style of performance. After years of trying to be what made others comfortable, Rilan realized he would rather be himself than someone else, encouraging others to embrace what makes them unique.
As an independent electro-pop artist, he has amassed 10 million YouTube views and 5 million streams and has performed at clubs and festivals in LA and London, even being invited to perform on the runway during Fashion Week in LA and NYC. Rilan writes pop music for unpopular people, what he calls “antisocial pop”, because that’s how he would describe himself. He recently released his latest single “Love or Drugs”, choreographed by Richy Jackson (Nicky Minaj/Lady Gaga). The song and video are a satirical take on life and the party culture in LA. The song is charting on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs Chart after being the #2 Breakout song on the chart. He has also been working for the past few years with industry legend Randy Jackson. With an EP coming out later this summer, Rilan is one to keep on your radar. With plenty of passion, drive and desire to change the face of pop music, he has a bright future ahead of him! You can follow Rilan and stay up-to-date on all upcoming artist, music and tour news via the following links. Check out his video for “Love or Drugs” below. Photo credit: Catie Laffoon.
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You have said that you tried for years to be what made others comfortable. What was the turning point for you in realizing you’d rather be yourself than someone you aren’t?
My turning point was when I realized I wanted to be a songwriter. I had always written songs as a kid without realizing it. They were ridiculous little ditties about dinosaurs and my favorite colors. I never gave much thought to them, but now I realize they were the beginnings of bigger things. When I was an angsty thirteen-year-old, I started to feel more and more like an outcast in and out of school. One day, I just went to the piano and let out my feelings to music. Before I knew it, I had written a song. It was probably god awful, but I still remember it, chords and all. Since then, I’ve written songs every single day and haven’t looked back.
You are classically trained in ballet. How did your interest in ballet develop? What drew you to that particular form of dance?
I was a total theatre kid growing up. I actually remember my childhood not by year but by which musical I was in at the time. My favorite shows were always music driven, but as I got older I fell in love with dance heavy musicals: West Side Story, Chicago, and Cabaret to name a few. I wanted to be a part of those worlds too, but I’d never had classical dance training before. The basis of every form of dance, be it jazz or modern or even hip hop, is rooted in ballet, so I signed myself up for ballet class at 12 and have been in there ever since.
You have mentioned how your high school pushed a very traditional narrative of focusing on a subject you enjoyed, graduating, getting married, buying a house and starting a family, but that wasn’t the life you envisioned for yourself. Although you’ve said there were few people at that time who you felt genuinely understood you, was there anyone who you felt did and supported the life you wanted to purse? How did they help you to forge your own path?
My choir teacher was my best friend in school. He always supported his student’s dreams no matter how outlandish they sounded, and mine were certainly out there, but he also instilled in all of us the importance of hard work if you wanted to make those dreams a reality. Many at my school, student and teacher alike, thought that the arts were blow off classes. His class was far from an easy A. He taught us music theory, classical vocal technique, arrangement, history, and some of best life skills I’ve ever learned. I still use all of his teachings today, musical and otherwise.
You incorporate some darker pop sounds in your music and are a darker pop star than what some people are used to, making popular music for the unpopular and “weird” people out there. How did you develop your sound and persona as a pop artist? Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
Honestly, I’m just being myself. I’ve always had an interest in darkness. I find the things that go bump in the night fascinating. The world isn’t black or white or good or evil. There are so many layers between light and dark, and I think they should be talked about. I do so the best way I know how to – through my music. Musically, I’m inspired by a plethora of artists. I love David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, Soft Cell, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Alanis Morissette, and Gaga. My other inspirations are as random as my music taste. I love horror movies good or bad, musicals new and old, 80s fashion, Harry Potter, Edgar Allan Poe, and Star Wars. I’m a nerd and a goth and pop culture enthusiast all in one. I’ve tried to fit in in every way, but I don’t, and I’m glad I don’t. That’s what makes me me. That’s how I’m going to change pop music.
Having grown up with a background in theatre, what kinds of parallels do you feel exist between music and theatre. How have you incorporated those elements into your live show?
I believe in showmanship. I believe in lights, fire, explosions, dance numbers, costume changes, piano ballads, doves, dragons, witchcraft, the works. People should be entertained on and off the stage, so I bring spectacle wherever I go. I dress as if I’m performing 24/7 because I really am. That’s my job. That’s who I am. Pop music used to be a way of life, and that’s how I live mine. The world is entirely too normal if you ask me. I’m here to shake it up a bit.
You grew up in New Orleans, a city with a rich and vibrant history. What was it like growing up there and how do you feel the city has influenced who you are, both personally and artistically? What do you love the most about the city?
Before I moved to LA, I thought everywhere was like New Orleans. It’s not. New Orleans is strange. It’s old and haunted but it’s welcoming to all. It’s southern and traditional but as wild and liberal as you can get. It’s a little bit of everything. It doesn’t hide its eccentricities. It celebrates them. I think that’s one of reasons why I do the same. It’s in my blood.
You moved to LA around 5 years ago and have said that the people there had a hard time adapting to your style of performance, which had you performing with dancers and pyrotechnics on small club stages. Do you feel that people have become more receptive to your style/vision as an artist over the years?
I don’t know if LA has quite yet, but that’s okay. My show isn’t meant for just one city. It’s for the world. It’s for the moon and Saturn and beyond. I don’t limit myself to appealing to a fraction of the universe. I’m here to perform for all of it. Still working on my spaceship, but I’ll let you know when it’s done.
LA/Hollywood has always had that sex, drugs and rock and roll mentality, but you have said you are not a partier and are really only interested in the rock and roll part of the equation. With many artists these days conforming to the latest trend, you are unapologetically yourself. Have you felt pressure from the industry to conform to what’s “normal” and “trendy”? How have you adapted to the “too cool for school” environment and still stayed true to yourself as an artist?
There’s pressure to conform every day, but that’s life. In school, there’s pressure to find your clique. In life, there’s pressure to settle down and start a family. In music, there’s pressure to do what’s already being done. We’re not meant to be anything else than exactly who we are. It took me a minute to realize that, but once I did life became what I wanted it to be, not what I thought it should be. So did my music. I do me. That’s all I do. I hope you do you, too.
You recently released your latest single “Love or Drugs” which is satirical look at the Hollywood party culture. Would you say that life in LA has influenced a lot of your music? What was the experience like making the video? What was it like to work with choreographer Richy Jackson, who has worked with Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj?
I write about what I experience. As a bit of an outsider, I find myself on the outside looking in more so than participating. I’ve always been that way. I still am that way even in LA. That’s my musical perspective as well, and I know there are kids out there like me who can relate. The video was my way of actually participating in the shenanigans I witness. It was my version of the best party never thrown. It was just a fun night shooting with my friends and being ridiculous. Richy was there as my other brain on set. His vision is out of this world. That’s one of the many reasons I love him. I think that’s one of the many reasons other artists love him too. I’ve worked with Richy for three years now, and he gets me. When everyone else thinks I’m insane, he understands. He’s a musical miracle worker.
You recently started a VLOG called RiCAM. What inspired you to start a VLOG and how has the response been? It sounds like a fun way to connect and communicate with your fans!
The response has been great. I never thought I would enjoy vlogging, but I’ve found my own way of doing it that I think my people are into. It’s like if Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” documentary was shot on an iPhone for free. It’s raw and honest, but there’s no shortage of ridiculousness. It’s just me being me.
You caught the ear a while back of Randy Jackson and have been working with him over the past few years! While most producers and industry professionals didn’t get your sound and what you were trying to do, Jackson did. What was it like to have an ally like him in the industry? What is some of the best advice he has given you?
He’s a legend honestly. To have someone like that as a springboard for ideas both creative and professional is a dream. He always encourages me to be myself musically and lyrically, and hearing that from him of all people really helps me believe in what I do. I’m grateful for all of his insights. He’s definitely helped me get to where I am today.
You performed a couple of years ago at Style Meets Fashion Week in New York City. As someone who has a great sense of style themselves, when did your love for fashion begin? What role does fashion play for you as a form of expression and how do you feel that fashion and music are connected? Who would you count as your fashion icons and favorite designers? Do you have any performances or projects in the works that combine fashion with music?
Music and fashion have been one in the same for me all my life. What I wear is the physical manifestation of the sounds in my head. Fashion links the auditory to the visual and propels music forward. It stimulates the senses and offers a unique perspective into an artist’s inner world. Personally, I love Thierry Mugler, Gareth Pugh, Iris Van Harpen, Alexander McQueen, and Rick Owens. I like designers who offer their own perspective of fashion. Normal is boring, so why be normal?
You will have an EP coming out this summer! What can people expect? What else do you have coming up?
I do. It’s called AntiSocialite. It’s all about being and introvert in an extroverts’ world. It’s a collection of songs that you can dance to when you’re happy and cry to when you’re sad. I’m excited to get all that’s been brewing out of my cauldron and into the atmosphere. I hope you guys enjoy and come see when I’m playing a city near you.