In early 2016, L.A.-based artist Alex Aiono had already amassed a following of millions creating his own “flipped” versions of popular songs. From a one room apartment, where he and his family of six lived, he created his own stage. But then he posted a video where he performed a cleverly arranged mashup of Drake’s “One Dance” and Nicky Jam’s “Hasta el Amanecer.” Revealing his soulful vocals, effortless charisma, and flawless skills at making beats and playing guitar, the video fast went viral and amassed more than 50 million views. For all its catchy perfection, Alex’s “One Dance” mash-up only hints at the scope of his talents.
A 20-year-old singer/songwriter who plays a half-dozen instruments, Aiono’s first music industry connection was made 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. Newly signed to Interscope Records, and in the midst of recording his first full-length album, Alex Aiono is delivering his first official single that’s sure to expand his devoted following—a fanbase that already includes 4 million YouTube subscribers and fast approaching half a billion views, 1.7 million Instagram followers, and 400k+ Twitter followers. Beyond all of the millions of fans, more impressive is how engaged they are with every song, image and post, finding refuge in his alluring energy.
Produced by Axident (Jason Derulo, Justin Bieber) and Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II (Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz), “Work the Middle” sets Alex’s infectious melodies to a bouncing dancehall groove. “For ‘Work the Middle,’ I wanted to find a way to bring in that dancehall vibe, where you can’t help but start movin’, but also keep the sound my own,” says Alex. With its hypnotic beats and graceful flashes of acoustic guitar, the track proves to be a prime showcase for Alex’s commanding vocals and irresistible energy.
Not only a passionate musician (as well as an accomplished hip-hop dancer and boxer), Alex currently hosts two Radio Disney shows and starred in the online YouTube series Royal Crush, a show which helped transform the landscape for youth market multi-channel network platforms. Originally from Phoenix, he first explored his love of music as a little kid. “Growing up, music was one of the biggest things my family bonded over, whether it was singing in church or just jamming out at home,” says Alex. “Whatever the circumstances, my Pop always made it very easy for us to take on any instrument—we grew up with a piano in the house, guitars, drums, bass, ukulele, violins, everything; and it all just spoke to me. I was always trying new things and learning about theory, so when I pick up an instrument I have this understanding of how to use it.”
Raised on artists like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Lauryn Hill, Alex took drum and piano lessons in first grade, started playing ukulele at age 9, and at age 13 wrote his first song (a piano ballad called “Always Yours”). Ambitious at 14 he moved out to L.A. to pursue a career in music, and, thanks to a few serendipitous connections, quickly met up with Grammy Award-winning musician/songwriter/producer Babyface. In addition to developing his original material in the studio, Alex began posting covers on YouTube (“One of the first videos I put out was a cover of ‘Where Have You Been’ by Rihanna, and I remember being super-hyped ‘cause it got about a thousand views,” he recalls).
Soon after that fateful busking session on the Promenade—“I put a little basket out to try to get some lunch money, one of my manager’s friends saw me playing, and the rest is history”—he signed to his management company and got to work on his self-released 2013 debut EP Young & Foolish. A sweetly wistful midtempo number featuring sunny harmonies and lilting strings, the EP’s title track was co-written with John Legend. “I had always talked about how John Legend was one of my biggest influences, so my manager decided to set up a writing session, which was such an unforgettable experience for me,” says Alex. “We actually wrote two songs and John’s belief in me was key in telling me I’m on the right track.”
Spending most of 2013 on the road in support of Young & Foolish, Alex continued working on his songwriting as well as teaching himself music production. “Since I play all these instruments, I wanted to be able to play them all on one track, and learning production was the best way to do that,” he says. As he began to master making beats, Alex drew much inspiration from the most inventive and boundary-pushing producers in the pop and hip-hop landscape, such as Pharrell Williams and Timbaland. “I’m obsessed with producers who put their own stamp on things and work to shift the paradigm,” he says. “The people I’m most inspired by are the ones who know who they are, stay true to themselves, and create forward-thinking records.”
That love for production would eventually lead Alex to that “One Dance” moment, the latest of his experiments in creating live mashups. “I love taking two different songs that have some kind of common thread and blending them together to make something new,” he says, noting that the Latin-influenced rhythms of “One Dance” inspired him to weave in elements of “Hasta el Amanecer” in the production.
With his past touring experience including support slots with acts like The Wanted, Austin Mahone and R5, Alex is now gearing up for a nearly sold-out co-headline tour with Australia-based singer/songwriter/producer William Singe putting him in front of a thousand fans nightly. “For me the most important thing with the live show is to put positive energy out there onstage and really connect that way with my fans,” he says. And while Alex acknowledges the rare thrill in “getting to do what I love for a living,” there’s also a deeper purpose to his palpable passion for music. “There’s so much negative energy in the world right now, I just want people to feel good,” he says. “I want them to get up and dance and sing along with me and see how much I love performing for them. My hope is that the positive energy is so contagious that they end up feeling inspired to do what they love too.”