Every once in a while, but not often enough, a misfit is born on Earth. Arriving with the sole purpose of tearing philosophies from the ground up and breaking the mold, Rilan embodies a unique kind of artist. With his super powers of sensitivity, compassion and individuality he strives to build a whole new, kinder, civilization. Rilan’s world is one in which everyone is welcomed, but nobody looks the same. A world where “flaws” are considered our best qualities and where people are deemed beautiful because of these “flaws.”
“Beauty to me is individuality. I think it is being out there and being a little bit weird and dark and a little different.”
Rilan is a force to be reckoned with. Though he’s classically trained in ballet, his work has a tendency for pyrotechnics and spectacle. Best known for his role in the last season of Glee and for his debut single “Chemical” and “Blindfolds” ft. Naz Tokio, Rilan just released the new hit song “Love or Drugs.” The single looks at Hollywood—the industry, its parties and everything it stands for—through a satirical and critical lens. In his own words, “Love or Drugs” is the kind of party that he would throw for all the weird kids, where all the cool kids are not invited.
Here, the singer opens up with BELLA and delivers a powerful message. Rilan talks about “Love or Drugs,” the industry, and about his experience acting in Glee.
What was it like growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana? Tells us about your background and how you got started into the industry.
New Orleans is actually a different place to grow up. I actually thought everywhere in the country was like that until I moved to LA. But New Orleans is pretty unique. It is an old city. It has a lot of different influences; from the French the Spanish, the Haitian, the Cajun. It is like a big melting pot of cultures and music. When you walk down into the French Quarter, you hear jazz, you hear hip hop, you hear top 40, you hear rock, and a little bit of country too. It is very eclectic and I think that is kind of where I got my weirdness from. My darkness too. So haunted. My artsy side comes from there because no one is really afraid to express themselves. It is an interesting place to grow up.
I found my voice in musical theatre when I was very little. I used to do a lot of regional shows out of there. There is a big theater community in New Orleans. So that is where I kind of started and found my own creativity. Among my family of southern conservative athletes. I was kind of like the black sheep. As I got older and got more into theater I realized I didn’t want to play a part anymore. I wanted to sing what I wanted to sing about how I wanted to sing it. And so I kind of fell into the piano. I took lessons when I was little but I hated them. When I was 13 I got back onto my keyboard and meddled around until I realized I was writing songs. Since then, that has been my main focus, to make my own music. And to tell my own story. I think that combination of theater and New Orleans and basically always being an outcast wherever I have been has kind of made my music into what it is today.
For those who have not heard it, what is your new song “Love or Drugs” about?
“Love or Drugs” is a super fun pop song. It is very upbeat and uptempo. It is electro dance pop meets a little bit of grunge and edginess. And it is a satire. Like I said, I am a total outcast, a misfit, I was a loner in school and now in life I guess. I am not much of a partier. Frankly I would be, if I were invited to the parties, but I am not. So, the song is basically my way of making fun of all the cool kids. And what they express and show us on social media; that is, that their life is full of fancy parties and designer drugs, sex and rock and roll. When in reality, it is not like that, that is just what they are portraying. So, “Love or Drugs” is the kind of party that I will throw for all the weird kids, where all the cool kids are not invited.
Do you have advice for people struggling to feel good in their own skin?
Yeah, of course. I mean that is the hardest thing to do, to be comfortable with yourself. Growing up everybody tries to put you in a box and tries to make you into something that they already understand when, in reality, our biggest power is to be an individual and not be part of a group. And that is kind of how I always felt. I was the theater kid in school, but I didn’t hang out with all the theater kids. I did well in school, I was smart, but I really didn’t hang out with all the academics. I definitely did not play sports. And I danced outside of school. I did ballet and that was not cool at all. So I never had a single group I belonged to. I had friends in different places. When I came out here to LA, I thought, “this is the city of dreams,” and all the cliché things. But when I got here I realized it is not a bunch of artists. It is actually a bunch of wannabe famous people. There is a really big difference between being a social media influencer and an artist. And so I totally didn’t fit in. There are a lot of cliques here. Sort of like high school, and I felt like I was in the cafeteria and couldn’t find the right lunch table to sit at. I just ended up going to the bathroom like Cady Heron in mean girls and eating lunch there. So, that is exactly how I felt. Actually I still feel like that. What I realized is that instead of trying to find my group, I would just create my own group of misfits. And that is kind of what I want to do with my music. I want to create a space where everyone feels comfortable and invited, but nobody looks the same. We shouldn’t look the same, we are our own people and that is kind of what makes us interesting. Instead of trying to fit in, the best thing I can do is stand out because I think being normal is boring. So that is what I say to people who are struggling to find themselves. You yourself are much more interesting than anybody being like everyone else.
How do you stay strong during tough times in the industry? Which have been the moments that have made it all worth it, and which are the moments you wished you had pursued a different career path?
Yeah well, honestly, every other day is like I am so excited, I love doing this, but then the next day is like why am I doing this. An accomplishment that was great was booking Glee. I was on the show for the last season and it was funny because I actually auditioned for it 5 times before and never made it. I was like there is no way in hell that I am going to get on this show for the last season. And it actually ended up happening. It was kind of a reminder that things can actually happen, but they don’t always happen the way you want them to. So, that is kind of my mindset now. I have been here 5 years and now it is finally starting to click. Which is great. My low points are literally what my songs are about. I don’t know how to write about something that I haven’t experienced, and I usually like to go towards the raw emotions of breakups and losing friendships and the hard experiences people go through. So I think that is kind of how I balance everything out. I make pop music which is super fun and danceable and energetic, but I talk about all of the things that are kind of wrong with the world.
If it hadn’t worked out in the entertainment industry, what other route might you have pursued?
Honestly, this is what I will do regardless of how much success I have because there is nothing else that I ever have wanted to do besides perform and create. Besides music though, I love fashion. I make a lot of my own outfits and my dancer costumes for stage. I have like a line of jackets that I made, that look absolutely ridiculous. They are like 80s robot if you will. I think I would probably do fashion, or if I can’t perform myself, I would love to write for other people. I have done that a lot. Definitely something in the creative sphere because I feel like a lot of people think that to do music you have to be a superstar. Well I would love to be a superstar but I just usually wake up every day and call myself a superstar and see where it goes. So that is how I live my life.
What was your experience starring in Glee like?
I absolutely loved it. It was funny though. It was my 5th time auditioning and two of those times before I was still living in New Orleans in high school and so I got a call back for a certain role and they were like could you come out and audition in two days? They were like you are local right? And I was like, “oh yeah totally I totally live in LA.” So I just booked a flight and came out because I really wanted the part. That kind of fell through. But then, when I came to LA I was signed as a dancer, so my dance agent sent me on the wrong audition so instead of going to the dance call I was at the actor call. So I showed up looking like me. Like a mess in my converse and my ripped jean jacket and my crazy hair. While everyone else in the office was dressed like the Warbles. They wore a suit, a tie, slicked-back hair. They looked just like the preppy kids I used to go to school with. I was like, “well oops, this isn’t going to work.” But the funniest part about it was that I booked it when I wasn’t trying to be anything other than me. Which is so interesting. Filming was awesome, and rehearsals are awesome. The cast was incredible. Darren Criss is like the nicest human being I have ever met in my life. Instead of eating lunch in his trailer, he ate with me and the rest of the Warblers and just talked about life and experiences. The hours were super duper long. We probably spent about 15 hours on set and about 8 hours a day rehearsing but I loved it. It was so cool. I loved to be a part of something that I watched as a kid. The fans have been incredible. And it basically makes me feel good that I can speak to people who I feel are just like me.
Are you planning on doing more acting?
If the role presents itself, I would love to. My whole existence is kind of based in the point of talking about what it is like to be weird and make that the new normal if you will. So, if there is something that is related to music or something that presents itself that I feel really passionate about, I would love to. But right now I am really focused on my music and I feel that I have something to say that a lot of people can actually relate to and grab onto and enjoy.
What music can we expect from you in the near future?
Well, my new single and my new video are out right now. I have another single coming out in the summer along with an EP all about being antisocial and unpopular. I like to say I write popular music for unpopular people like myself. That is what it is. Kind of making fun of the norm and saying to everyone that the weird kids are coming to take over and that is what I am planning to do. Other than that, I have some shows coming up this summer across the country. So I am super excited to get on the road and meet new people and write about my weirdness.
What do you think of when people refer to you as the male version of Lady Gaga? Do you agree?
Oh listen, I’ll take it. I was 13 when she first came out and I loved her. I thought it was amazing. I grew up with my parents’ music instead of my generation’s music. I listened to Britney Spears, but that was about it. So, I grew up with David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, Cher, George Michael and all those influences that Gaga represented. And so to have someone that was so strange, so different, come out a time when everyone was normal and very clean cut was inspiring. And she was a theater kid, so I was super inspired by someone who took theater and made it into pop music. I really appreciate it people saying that. But I think that when you dive in, you realize that we are both our own artists, and yeah, I got different things up my sleeve.
Finally, at BELLA, we believe that beauty is defined by each. What does beauty mean to you, and how do you find it?
Beauty to me is individuality. I think beauty is different. People that other people think are pretty, I am usually not into. I like weirdness, I like different. I like things that are kind of broken and then repaired. That is how I see beauty. I think it is being out there and being a little bit weird and dark and a little different. So beauty to me is everything that is not beautiful to the rest of the world.
Photo Credit: Ashley Beliveau