True YouTube success stories are few and far in between but Alex Aiono could actually be something. While Troye Sivan and Tori Kelly became a new blueprint for YouTube singers crossing over to the mainstream in 2015, most singers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers will never know real success. YouTube is a visual medium and a lot of the platform's more successful artists are good looking white teens with some talent. It’s rare when there’s a YouTube singer that can play an instrument or has the range to even seriously be considered a singer
Aiono, who is 20-years-old and from Arizona, sings and plays multiple instruments, is extremely grateful for the success he's had so far, especially what's come from his cover of Drake’s "One Dance." The video has 28 million views and is his biggest hit so far since he started making cover videos in 2012. The genius and pull of his ‘One Dance’ cover comes about halfway through the video, when he weaves in a section from Nicky Jam’s "Hasta el Amanecer."
Alex Aiono spoke to The FADER about that "One Dance" cover, his relationship with God, and what separates him from the pack of aspiring musicians on YouTube.
Your ‘One Dance’ cover has over 15 million views and is constantly being shared on Twitter, what was your reaction when you saw that your video had gone viral?
Honestly it was super unexpected because I post a video every Friday and I put as much creativity and try to have as much fun as I can. But, I knew how big of a song it would be on Drake’s end so I don’t credit myself and say that I knew this was going to be great but if I were to chose a video like “oh what song do you think is most likely to go viral” it would probably be the ‘One Dance’ cover. But, at the same time it’s still so amazing and I look at it all the time and yesterday it had 15 million and today it has 16 million so it’s always growing and it’s so crazy.
A lot of your other videos have anywhere from 300 thousand views to five million views, that’s the kind of success that a lot of YouTube cover artists want. Is there a strategy that goes into making sure you get those views?
I think that’s a really funny question because when I started out making videos it was all this strategy and thinking maybe if I share it at this time it will do this or do that and then my videos didn’t do as well. Right now the strategy is post a video and let my fans do the rest. They are so incredible and they share it with their friends if they like it. They are basically the street team of 2016. All I basically focus on is making the best content that I can and people will either enjoy it or hate it but hopefully they will feel something that will make them want to share it with their friends.
For your "One Dance" cover and several other videos you easily and fluently switch between singing in English and another language. How many languages do you speak?
Honestly I’m very flattered that you say it sounds fluent but I speak very little Spanish and I’m working on that and trying to get better. But other than that I speak English and that’s it. I take a lot of time when it comes to quality that I don’t sound weird or disrespectful when I’m singing in a certain language. I study the way they say that phrase but when it comes to actually speaking the language I would have a very hard time trying to understand it.
When you’re singing in Spanish and English you’re tapping into a market, is this intentional and thought out on your part or are you just having fun?
I grew up in Arizona and in Arizona there’s a very big Hispanic culture but ironically I have zero Hispanic heritage. My dad is from New Zealand and he’s half Maori and half Samoan. I actually come from a Polynesian descent. Growing up in Arizona and coming out here in California there’s also a big Hispanic market as well and there’s obviously a huge hispanic market in South America and Mexico and Spain. I’ve always liked Latin music and Spanish music so when I heard the Spanish and Latin vibes from ‘One Dance’, I thought it would be cool to make a Spanish mashup and go bi-lingual with it and I think that very much kick-started the idea of heading down to the South American market as well as the Hispanic market and seeing how far I could stretch that.
What separates you from the next kid that can play as many instruments as you can and is on YouTube trying to make it as well?
I feel like everybody is automatically different because we’re human, but I think what makes me different is my work ethic. I try to work longer than I think everyone else is working and then i try to work even harder than that. My work ethic is as high as I can physically push myself and then the rest is up to god. I think god put a lot of talent in me and I feel blessed to match up with my work ethic and make the success that I’ve had so far.
You give credit to God for your talent, how much does that spiritual relationship play a role in your career so far?
My relationship with God is very important to me and is very valued especially when it comes to music and with business. I’m a very religious person and I think that’s very important in my opinion to my success.
In the past two years we’ve seen YouTube singers like Tori Kelly and Troye Sivan reach mainstream success, is this what you want for yourself?
That’s definitely what I want for myself, I think every singer on YouTube should want that for themselves. I would like to see YouTube artist’s last forever but you never know the way that the world changes, so I really would like this to adapt into something that I do for a living. Right now in the traditional music space we have the trailblazers like Tori Kelly and Troye Sivan who have broken from social media into the traditional music industry. It would be incredible if I could follow in their footsteps as well as make my own trail.
You mentioned meeting with labels and Chance The Rapper is the industry’s biggest success right now and he did it without a label. Are you set on signing with a label or is being an independent artist something you’re interested in?
I think independent artists deserve all the credit in my eyes because they did do it without a big machine. If I could do it I would because while you do take on a lot of weight and responsibilities you also are doing it yourself and at the end of the day you get to say you built this machine and it has your name on it. At the same time, it wouldn’t be very strategically smart if i didn’t open myself up to the idea of a major label or even an indie label. I’m very open to anything.
A lot of people pursue music and end up giving up. You’re only 20 years old, do you think you’re going to be doing this forever?
I’m young but music is my plan A, plan B, C all the way down to Z. I don’t see myself stopping. I would never stop. I don't see myself stopping whether it is unsuccessful or successful because it’s what I like to do and I feel blessed to be able to do it.