On the heels of his sophomore EP, It’s Never Really Over, Toronto-based pop sensation Johnny Orlando is just figuring it out as he goes.
Not many can fully understand what it takes to balance your high school experience with being a teenage pop sensation – and everything that comes with it. Johnny Orlando is among the select few who walk the tightrope between these two worlds.
In many ways, Johnny is your typical 17-year-old. On any given day, you’ll find him hanging out with friends, skateboarding at the local park, or simply catching up on homework. On the other hand, there aren’t many that can claim to sell-out concerts across the world in their free time, or rack up tens of millions of streams on single after single – all before he can vote, or have a drink.
The Toronto-born singer, who initially rose to fame posting acoustic covers on YouTube in 2011, has built an enormous global following, amassing over 6 million followers on Instagram and over 9 million on TikTok.
You’d think that after headlining international tours and numerous awards that Johnny would be used to the stardom by now, but he admits that it all still feels surreal. “It blows my mind sometimes,” he says. “Especially when I’m doing concerts, or I’m out in public seeing fans and meeting people. I’ll be waiting in my car at a stoplight and people will cross the street just to take a picture with me. Those little moments put everything into perspective.”
There aren’t many people that Johnny can turn to for concrete advice on navigating this unique journey. He’s thankful for his family, who do a great job at keeping him grounded as a person, but he’s beginning to understand that it’s him who needs to take responsibility for his own future. He describes his sophomore EP, It’s Never Really Over, as the culmination of all his personal development over the past year “in kind of an indirect way.”
“When I was 16, I thought that was the end of my growth as a person for some reason,” Johnny says candidly. The 6-track project recalls the lessons, experiences and introspective moments that have shaped him into the person he is today. “Now, I look back on that period and realize how dumb it was of me to think that,” he laughs. “I’d say I was very naive.”
One thing he’s realized over the past year is that the journey never really ends – and he’s making a conscious effort to continually change himself for the better. “It’s been a very gradual process for me,” he says. “I can’t just turn it on and become a whole different person.”
One of the biggest lessons he’s taken from the past year is to “be yourself” and remain true to it. “I just feel like it’s so much easier to be happy if you’re who you want to be and you’re doing what you want to be doing,” explains Johnny. “Life is short. There’s no point in changing yourself for people who ultimately don’t matter.”
When he was younger, he admits that he would change his personality depending on who he was around. “It was exhausting,” he recalls. “I was tired of it. Now, I just really don’t care. I’m myself and if somebody doesn’t like it, then so be it. That’s fine.”
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re just little things floating on a rock in space,” he reflects. “It doesn’t matter. None of it does. Just do you and be yourself. That’s the key to being happy for me.”
Johnny is following in the footsteps of enormous acts that have come out of Toronto in recent years. The pop star draws obvious comparisons to Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes – not only in musical style but also in his meteoric rise to fame. However, he cites a variety of local influences that he constantly looks up to, including Drake, Alessia Cara and The Weeknd.
Toronto has only become a hotspot for music in recent years, but he believes there’s always been a lot of great artists in the city. “I don’t think something was added to our water or anything,” he laughs. “There’s always been talent here, but only now is it being noticed.” Johnny can feel the spotlight now shining on him – and he’s proud to be headlining the next generation of Canadian musical talent.
Johnny has been managing the pandemic from his family’s home in Toronto. While he admits that months of lockdown have dampened his senior year, he’s trying to find the silver lining in the situation.
Although frustrating, the lack of international travel, events and concerts have given him some valuable time to kick back and appreciate what’s right in front of him. He resourcefully filmed the music video for See You from his bedroom, as well as taken to new adventures across town – from thrift shopping with friends to enjoying La Carnita and Terroni, his two favourite restaurants in Toronto.
“Everybody has their home and Toronto is mine,” says Johnny. “It’s where I’ve grown up. I know the city from the inside-out, I know the streets and I know how to get everywhere. I just love it here.”
Even though he was born and raised in Toronto, there are still things about the city that hold a certain magic for him. “One thing I’ll never get tired of is that the Gardiner goes straight through the skyline,” he gleams. “I love seeing that when I’m driving downtown and always get caught staring at the buildings.”
It’s Never Really Over is a fitting title for this chapter in Johnny’s life. He’s on the cusp of turning 18 and graduating from high school, meaning he’s facing life as an adult with the existential crisis of what comes next. “It’s such a weird time in my life,” adds Johnny. “Sometimes it feels like there are so many things that are uncertain with your future and it can feel like a bottomless pit.”
Despite any nerves about the future, Johnny is realizing that life is a permanent journey – and personal growth never just stops. “As you get older, you realize that nobody really knows anything,” says Johnny. “Anyone who looks like they have it figured out absolutely does not. We’re all just going through life and winging it.
“There’s no better way to figure things out than to just live your life and experience that for yourself,” he adds. “You can’t learn these lessons in the classroom. You just have to go through it.”
So, who exactly is Johnny Orlando becoming? “I have no idea,” he says. “Hopefully a better version of myself.” He doesn’t have all the answers. No 17-year-old really does. Instead, he’s focused on living his life, seeing where it takes him and being a good person. “Whatever happens, happens,” he shrugs. “You can’t control everything.”
Ultimately, the book on Johnny hasn’t been written. It’s just the beginning. This chapter of his life is more like an open question to himself. “It’s never really over, is it?” he asks himself. “The answer is no.”
Words by Braeden Alexander – Photography by @borvta. Stream It’s Never Really Over on Spotify or Apple Music now.
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