Iann Dior Ain’t Playing by the Rules

The 21-year-old musician became a household name with feature in 24kGoldn’s “Mood;” now, he’s “Holding On.”

On the weekends, you could find Michael Ian Olmo holed up in a friend’s closet recording songs. Reeling from a difficult breakup, he began writing songs to express his emotional pain and was surprised by the positive reception. Since then, he dedicated himself to a strict regimen of writing and releasing a song per week, and his raw honesty ultimately gained traction in 2019. Raking up tens of thousands of streams on SoundCloud, “WYA,” became an unlikely, if thoroughly contemporary, success story. Music producer Touch of Trent plucked it from the ether, which helped attract Elliot Grainge, the founder of 10K Projects and whose label roster includes Trippie Redd, Peach Tree Rascals, and WiztheMC

“I think SoundCloud had a big part in a lot of people’s careers,” he said on a Zoom call. “I think what they’re doing is important because that’s how I got seen. That’s how Juice WRLD got seen. That’s how XXXTentacion got seen. Some of the biggest stars in this generation that came off SoundCloud.” 

In the intervening four years, Michael Olmo has become iann dior, a platinum-selling artist, who is joining a wave of artists successfully blurring the genre lines among hip-hop, alternative rock, and pop. After signing onto 10K Projects, dior moved to Los Angeles from his family home in Corpus Christi, Texas. On the flight over, he renamed himself, “iann dior,” by combining his middle name and his favorite designer brand that has “the best prints,” to forge a new identity. The newly christened “iann dior” offered himself a clean slate for his new success, and since then, he’s grown up pretty quick. 

“I want to become the number one artist in the world, and I am fully determined and obsessed with being the greatest,” said dior.

Alongside other new-gen musicians, likewise conceived in the depths of Soundcloud, the fresh-faced arrival quickly entered the LA music scene, releasing his debut album Industry Plant, and also the latest 9-track EP I’m Gone. Over the span of less than a year, the artist has racked up over 38 million monthly Spotify listeners and has climbed to #1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for “Mood,” a feature in 24kGoldn’s latest single. It is a song that defies expectations, opening with an upbeat guitar track resembling rock and then moving to a trap-style skittering snare. Ten seconds in, the fiendishly catchy rap-rock chorus hits: “Why you always in a mood? Fuckin’ round, actin’ brand new / I ain’t tryna tell you what to do.” This hypnotic, genre-blending song is not only No.1 on the Hot 100 Pop chart, but also Hot Rap Songs and Hot Alternative Songs, which aptly rounds out the perfect trifecta of sound and on track to become one of the year’s defining songs. 

iann dior and 24kGoldn in “Mood” music video that premiered early August

While the song just entered its fifth week at the top of the charts and dior is bathing in an ocean of endless streams, he is still not satisfied. “The type of person I am, I take something in, and then I look for the next. So I went into the studio, and I started recording because whenever I’m super happy, I like to go to the studio,” he said. 

And that’s how his new single, “Holding On,” was created. Eager to channel his energy into lyrics, dior hit the studio and started recording again. Coincidentally, we sat down with the artist the day he dropped “Holding On,” an emotional song charged with pulsating electric guitar beats. Still riding out the day’s high, he sat on his deck in Los Angeles in a colorful zip-up and painted white jeans to talk about the inspiration behind the release.

“It’s about holding onto a situation that you should be letting go,” said dior. “I feel like there’s so much going on that I forget about the good things. Holding onto those things changes your perspective on life. So if you let go of that stuff, then you might be happy.”  

Spilling his angst and headache over extraordinarily soothing guitar melodies, he speaks to a relatable feeling of hopefulness of finding love, despite the fact that things rarely seem to work out. When he says, “Love’s no for everyone,” his voice has a honeyed sweetness to it, but one tempered with just a touch of raspiness. He credits his producer-friends, Omar Fedi, Andrew Luce, Blake Slatkin, and Kbeazy, to helping make the noises in his head a reality. Acting as a mental map to those who are navigating the murky, lovelorn waters of relationships, the infectious song plays like a therapy session, complete with a choose-your-fighter action-adventure music video, directed by Cian Moore and Nolan Riddle. 

He is a versatile artist, one schooled in pop and punk, and having solid hip-hop fundamentals — in Industry Plant, he showed off this ability to shapeshift from emcee to emo rock writer with ease. This pan-genre style has led to all types of collaborations. He flexed his rap muscles with Lil Baby in “Prospect,” channeled his inner grunge-pop kid on “Sick and Tired” with Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker, and tapped into his R&B-pop ballad capabilities with Trippie Redd in “gone girl.” He credits this unique genre-agnostic sound largely to his parents, who always had different styles of music playing in the house

“My dad played Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, but then my mom is over here playing Marc Anthony,” said dior. “So, I got a little taste of Latin and a little bit of American culture at the same time.” While his parents largely shaped his early musical tastes, the artist also counts Michael Jackson, Post Malone, Harry Styles, and Kid Cudi among his current musical inspirations. 

When asked about the future, the Puerto Rican-born artist beams. After watching J.Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive documentary, he shares that his “all-time goal is to sell out Madison Square Garden. That would be a moment that I felt like I accomplished what I came to do.”

However, as for right now, dior plans to spend more time with his family, which consists of his mom, dad, older sister, and younger brother. With his aim of bringing more positive energy into the music industry, it is no surprise that the artist has more to come. He even teases that he is in the process of finalizing his album and is aiming for an album release early next year. It’s always a mystery what sounds will emerge from one of his studio sessions, but what is guaranteed is something completely new that does away with genres and radio formats. dior doesn’t play by the rules — and that’s precisely what makes his music so intoxicating.

iann dior photographed by Sam Dameshek
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