American YouTube sensation Alex Aiono in Manila

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MARK BONIFACIO

American Alex Aiono is indeed a sensation, and not just on YouTube where he started posting videos of his covers, but also as an original singer.

In early 2016, the LA-based artist had already amassed a following of millions creating his own “flipped” versions of popular songs. He created his own stage within the one-room apartment where he and his family of six lived. His first breakthrough was when he posted a cleverly arranged mashup of Drake’s “One Dance” and Nicky Jam’s “Hasta el Amanecer.” Revealing soulful vocals, effortless charisma, and flawless skills with the beat and the guitar, the video went viral in super speed, and has since amassed more than 58 million views.

A 22-year-old singer/songwriter who plays half a dozen instruments, Aiono first connected with the music industry while busking on the Santa Monica Promenade at age 15, and it didn’t take long before he was writing songs with the likes of John Legend. He eventually signed with Interscope Records, and in the midst of recording his first full-length album, Aiono delivered his first official single, “Work The Middle” in 2016, again expanding his devoted following. To date, Aiono’s fan base now includes over 5.5 million YouTube subscribers and over half a billion views, 2.4 million Instagram followers, and 500,000-plus Twitter followers.

Beyond figures, what is impressive about Aiono’s fans is how engaged they are with every song, image and post their singing idol produces.


After Work The Middle, he followed up with more singles, namely, “Question,” “Hot2Touch” (with Felix Jaehn and Hight), “Does It Feel Like Falling” (featuring Trinidad Cardona), “One At A Time” (with T-Pain) and the new one “Thinking About You,” which was released last January.

Alex was in the Philippines for his Manila promo tour (the only Southeast Asian leg in his schedule) in February, which included three back-to-back mall shows at the Megaworld Lifestyle Malls. The visit was his second to the country, following a music festival last year.

Alex Aiono PHOTO COURTESY OF JUDE NG

Aiono had Philippine pride Darren Espnato as his special guest during his mall shows, which was capped with an interview with local media at Eastwood Richmonde Hotel.

Special thanks go to Aiel and Annie Medina and MCA Music for this one-on-one with Music Geek.

What’s the difference between being an independent artist and having a record label behind you now?

There’s a big difference because Interscope and the whole Universal Music team is such a super power. They have so many connections and amazing opportunities that I may or may not have been able to connect with if I was still independent. My favorite part of being with Interscope is that they also allow me to make decisions. It doesn’t really feel that I’m locked in or anything, because we have a very open conversation and creatively, it’s very collaborative.

What is your inspiration in writing your songs?

I draw inspiration from everything I go through really. Sometimes if I’m talking to a friend and they’d tell me about something that’s going on in their life—I find inspiration there. Or it could be a movie—everything!

How important is it to you that your music is heard all over the world and not just the US?

Man! It’s so awesome like we landed here in Manila and 99.5 RT was playing “Does It Feel Like Falling,” and the following morning before going to RX 93.1 “Question” was playing there. It was just so special. Since I was a little kid, my dream has been to travel around the world, meet the fans, release music and have it play on the radio. Getting to hear it not only in the States but also around the world including here in the Philippines—the other side of the world—is so special.

Which do you find gets more engagement, covers or original songs?

You know what, I find that every time I focus on trying to get likes, I don’t get likes. But every time I focus on just making the best music possible, whether it’s an original or mash-up, or whatever it is, that’s when it goes crazy. When I did “One Dance,” “I Spy,” that’s what I was focused on and that was when they had 60 million views.

What would you say the role of social media is today in music?

In general, the role social media plays in music is quite massive and important. You look back at a lot of artists these days who have built a big following and on top of that everything looks tremendous. It definitely plays a big and important role. So having kind of done it the opposite way where I start with the social media then release the original music, it’s been really nice.

Who among the current crop of Asian artists would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Last time I was here, I met Iñigo Pascual. He was super cool and nice and a lot of people say I look like him. BTS is big back in the States right now. Their choreography, dancing and music are really cool as well. One of my friends AJ Rafael was here and I worked with him a lot. He’s definitely someone I would like to collaborate with. I’m always open to work with anybody especially if they’re down to work.

Is there pressure to become a role model when you’re a YouTube sensation and a recording artist?

It’s definitely obviously the responsibility. You have these kids and just people in general who look up to me, but I think it’s not really a pressure as long as you’re a good person. I feel like if you are just naturally being a good human then there shouldn’t be any pressure. But in the States there are a lot of social issues that people with influence should be standing up for—for instance, there’s a lot of talk about gun laws right now so it’s very important to inspire change because there is change that needs to happen.

You play a half dozen instruments—which one is your favorite?

My favorite one is whatever I have at the time. So right now I have my guitar so that’s my favorite. When I’m at home or I’ll buy a piano a piano is my favorite—the ukulele, the drums and whatever. But when I write music, it’s definitely the guitar or the piano because they’re the base. They’re very versatile and you can go anywhere with them.

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