This week in On the Verge, USA TODAY’s spotlight on breakthrough artists, Brian Mansfield talks to Jamaican singer OMI.
Won’t stay incognito for long. On a recent flight, OMI noticed the woman next to him listening to his single Cheerleader but didn’t have the nerve to introduce himself. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” says the Jamaican singer, whose single is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S., currently sitting at No. 26 on USA TODAY’s Top 40 chart. “I just took that inner joy of knowing that person was listening to my song and didn’t even know how I look, because I was sitting right next to her.”
Going global. OMI, 28, had a hit in Jamaica with his original version of the song in 2012. Last year, German DJ/producer Felix Jaehn remixed Cheerleader, taking the original’s reggae-infused urban pop and speeding it up slightly, adding a house beat along with trumpet, bongos and a samba-like piano part. That sat fine with OMI, who had always harbored global aspirations. “I try very hard to incorporate music that is indigenous to Jamaican culture, as well as embracing that worldwide appeal,” he says. Cheerleader has since topped charts in multiple countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, and has become a song-of-summer contender in the U.S., where it has sold 506,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music.
Who’s on his team? In Cheerleader, OMI sings of a woman “who is always right there when I need her.” As the song has found its audience, though, the singer has found himself not limiting her to being a romantic partner. “It’s basically anybody who’s that support system,” he says.
What’s in a name. OMI, born Omar Samuel Pasley, got his nickname from his father, who died when the singer was 9 but whom he credits with his love and talent for music. “After a while, it became a name I came to terms with,” he says. Manager Clifton “Specialist” Dillon, a noted Jamaican producer, suggested keeping it as his stage name. “It’s only three letters, so we do it in all caps to make it look bigger,” OMI says.
The next step. Whenever possible, OMI spends time in the studio, writing and recording new music. He’s prolific enough that he’s not feeling the pressure of following up his worldwide smash, he says. “There is no pressure to write; there is pressure to release,” he says. “You have to know timing; you have to know what the follow-up will be. So the pressure’s not on me; it’s mostly on management and the label.”