But for now, Omar moves serenely behind me through the Soho crowds, untouched. He rarely speaks unless prompted. His isn’t the type of cool that’s obtained by wearing head-to-toe Supreme or smoking packs of cigarettes outside Clandestino in Dimes Square; while wandering through various vintage stores, he quickly identifies what he would or wouldn’t wear and points to warm colors, like Yves Klein blue, that inspire him. If he’s anxious about the reception of Ivory, there’s no hint of it. He says he has no expectations about the public’s perception of the album. “I don’t want to do that,” he says, knowing it would just make him sad.
We stop at a dive bar on Prince Street, where Omar tells me he’s become obsessed with his health since finishing Ivory. He begins each day with a “cold plunge” into a colossal ice tub that’s parked outside his Los Angeles house. He’s super into “hot yoga and shit” and focused on his “gut health” right now. He stopped going to therapy because he decided his friends could provide deeper emotional insights. He’s trying to eat slower, meditate more, and think of growth as an ongoing evolution of self. “I feel like if I’m not sweating, then I’m just going to be thinking too much throughout the day and not be present,” he explains. He looks down as he recounts all of this, as if he knows he might sound like a typical Angeleno transplant, suddenly advocating for raw vegetables and probiotics. “The shit you do to feel normal,” he says while playing with the restaurant’s checkered tablecloth.
Los Angeles is still relatively new for Omar. He grew up with his Guadalajaran parents and three siblings in the small town of Hobart, Indiana. His parents, who are happily married— “they’re not super lovey-dovey, like cuddling and shit, but it works because they love each other,” he says—worked multiple jobs to support the family, and Omar helped out by working at Jimmy John’s (he still swears by order #2 with bacon) and Guitar Center. He saved enough money to buy a microphone in his late teens, then used it to record songs like 2017’s “Ugotme,” which he uploaded to streaming platforms after a friend sent him $30 with a note that said “investing in your future.” That led to an $800 offer–”the most money I’d ever seen”; he spent it “by going crazy at Wingstop for like two weeks”– from his now-manager to play a show in New York, which was quickly followed by a record deal.
The 16 songs of “Ivory,” which took eleven months to complete, navigate the spectrum of desire from crushes to raunchy anonymous sex, and even manage to make confrontation and monogamy feel sexy. In “Petrified,” Omar sings about longing (“I’m thinking of you more each day”), and in “Killing Me,” he’s more direct (“Touch me like you want to die/ fuck me like you fantasize”). He confidently toggles back and forth between English and Spanish while singing about a man leaving another man for a woman (“Evergreen”), or a lover seeking more emotionally from a romantic dynamic (“Go Away”). “I could sing melodies all day, but I’m not going to get anywhere unless I have something to say. So, if I have a theme, word, feeling, phrase, emotion, or words attached to it… Then the song writes itself,” he explains.