On Instagram, the transfixing social star de rigeur named LoveLeo, contorts his body so that his fingers are a foot-long, his shoulders sprout an extra head, or his forehead beams a third eye.
If his alien-like aesthetic doesn’t make your brain feel dizzy, his music videos will. In them, he takes viewers on a trip through his mind, seamlessly transforming himself into clones or into a literal brown egg, which croons into the camera (yes, he later fries it). The visuals are alluring if not hypnotic. But with so much artistry, it’s clear the 22-year-old knows exactly what he’s doing.
After all, LoveLeo, nee Leo Reilly, had to be exact in all of his intentions to climb through the noise and become one of social media’s biggest music artists. Following in the well-oiled footsteps of the likes of Lil Nas X, who catapulted into fame from TikTok, or even Megan Thee Stallion who was boosted through the platform, is Leo who now has millions of followers on multiple platforms. On TikTok, he counts close to a million fans who’ve taken to song “Boyfren,” which became a runaway hit. Add a music video to YouTube and offer the track on Spotify, and you have millions of listens.
And very much a hit.
Which is why Republic Records poached the burgeoning star to join its roster last winter – where there was a bidding war to sign the 22-year old. But with or without a major record label behind him, Leo has been soaring into the public eye, with or without proper PR.
The social love translated across media in the summer when journalists thirsted after the singer. “He looks like the trim love child of Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas,” a recent article from The Cut described. “Turns out [LoveLeo] is a Model, Musician, and Very, Very Hot,” another from the Huffington Post read.
But for all the outre videos he puts out, all of the buzz, the intricate details to every last photo, at his core, the Californian artist is just like the rest of us.
On a recent September afternoon, we hangout on Zoom where Leo, wearing a white tank top, talks about his low-key 22nd birthday. Before we get into the details, he already answers that no, he’s not a Leo when it comes to his astrological signs. And yes, he gets that question a lot.
“I literally missed being a Leo by three days so I’m pretty upset,” he admits to us. Though, in retrospect, being a Virgo makes complete sense to him. “I’m very organized. I love to debate. My girlfriend is a Pisces so we butt heads sometimes but for the most part we get along really well.” That’s Julia Marie, stylist, makeup artist, and the very photographer for this Very Good Light’s cover story.
We talked with the singer about his unique Photoshopped appendages; his sadboy/e-boy aesthetics; as well as getting real about masculinity – and voting (more on that later!). And his nails. Yes, we talk at length about those. For more, read on, below.
Happy Birthday, Leo, you non-Leo! Tell us about how your career took off.
I’ve been making music for about five years now. I started making music at the end of high school and then I went to FIDM for fashion design. I was up in San Francisco, making music, designing clothes, kind of doing both. But I wasn’t fully leaning into music because fashion school took up so much of my time. And then I started doing TikTok. I had a couple of early videos that did well and I just really enjoyed kind of figuring out how- like this is what works, and figuring out the algorithm and how to exist outside of trends without doing the corny trends that all the big TikTokers are doing.
Oh, so like dancing videos?
Yeah, exactly. I was having a lot of fun doing that, while music just on my own, not putting any of it out really. I made a song called “Boyfrien,” which I then put on TikTok and the little community I had built on there responded really, really well to it. Then it just kind of took off, kind of overnight somewhat. It exploded. Right when everything was really starting to take off was right when my finals were at FIDM. So I was right in the middle of finals week and I had an ultimatum: I either could fly to New York and meet with a bunch of labels and stuff, or I could stay and do my finals.
i made a HUGE wooden structure in my friends apartment so i could fly in the music video for head over heels 🕺🏻
Tell me you went to New York.
Obviously. I chose to go to New York and do that. So that was a really intense week of my life but it set the grounds for this journey that I’ve been on for the past couple of months. And yep! Here we are.
It’s really amazing, you know. I feel like musicians are being discovered on TikTok, like Lil Nas X was discovered that way. For you, were you always kind of trying to get a record deal? Was that kind of what you were trying to do?
Not at all. I still only work with the same people that I started working with at the little indie label here in LA. It’s a super tight-knit family, there’s four people total. I mean, it’s obviously amazing that I was able to sign a record deal and it has changed my life in so many ways, but it’s kind of just like a happy coincidence, like a happy add-on to what I was already doing. And it’s a really special thing that I was able to hold on to the same group of people that I have around me, that I can keep this team that love and trust around me. Like I know a lot people sign record deals and then shit goes south. I just made sure that I kept the people I cared about close.
Talk to me about growing up in LA, like what were you like as a child? What were you like in your teens?
I grew up in Silver Lake, by the reservoir, until I was like 9. Then from kindergarten through 8th grade, I went to a very progressive school called Waldorf, where it’s very small, it’s very arts-oriented. There’s a lot of arts musical instruments and plays and just different mediums of art built into the curriculum. I didn’t have the Internet or any technology really until I was starting high school. Since I didn’t have that when I was younger, I had to replace that with different activities. So I made stop-motion films, I learned how to play violin and trumpet, I did a lot of drawing. I made some music. Back then, I was a lot worse but it was still really fun to do. But I was just making as many things as I could because that was how I would entertain myself. I definitely am the person I am today because of that environment.
Speaking of being artsy, you’re such a beauty boy. Are your fingernails painted today?
Yes, they are. (holds up beautifully colorful talons)
Oh wow! Who did that?
I did! I have a pretty interesting technique where I don’t care about being super precise or anything. I just do my best, and then if there’s any paint on my skin I just like scrape it off after. I’ve been doing this rainbow on this hand for a while. It’s kind of the only thing I do with my right hand. With my left hand, the original idea was I did different shades of grey on these fingers so that it was like this hand but black and white, was the idea. Like if you had taken a picture of this (assuming showing his right hand) and put it in black and white, that’s the color of this hand. But yeah, I love painting my nails. I’ve been doing it for a long time.
Probably since middle of high school – it was junior year. I would do just one hand at first, and then I would start to alternate and then I would do both. My nails grow really fast so I have to paint them pretty often. It’s a pretty relaxing, therapeutic process to paint your nails.
the loveleo nails ! ★(◡‿◡✿)
When it comes to also like your beauty looks: how did you get into like makeup or transforming your aesthetic, and what made you interested in that?
I think it’s all really about having an open mindset about that stuff, like it’s all there. There’s always opportunities and different pieces to wear. When you go shopping, just being open about going to the women’s section and just not overthinking it. Just thinking like, “this is an awesome piece. I don’t care who it was made for, I’m going to wear it and it’s going to look great.” And yeah, also my girlfriend is fantastic with makeup. The shoot I did for you guys was styled and all the makeup was done by her. She’s really talented and it’s just really- it’s a refreshing thing to have some crazy makeup look after just not having anything. I think for me, since I don’t wear makeup every day, it’s a very special thing when I do it. It’s really fun. It’s almost like another art project, just on my face.
Some still think makeup is gendered. What are your thoughts?
It’s one of those things where like, it literally – if you feel that way, you shouldn’t. But if you do, keep it to yourself, it doesn’t concern you. Like, let people do whatever they want to do. If it’s not impacting you, just let people be who they want to be, let people look how they want to look. And it’s really not that complicated. It takes so much more energy to put someone down and hurt someone over a belief that doesn’t affect you at all.
my girlfren turned me into a star boy ! @neutralfleur ❣︎
Tell me about “Boyfrien” because that has, what, 32 million listens on Spotify?
I had, at the time, 30 or 40 other songs that were really quite good, but something about them. I wanted something kind of like scrappy, something that had kind of like a more alternative, do-it-yourself, kind of feel to it. I recorded the whole song in like 45 minutes to an hour and didn’t oversing anything, I didn’t write any lyrics down. I literally went line by line, trying to think of what might sound good and rhyme with the line before it. And there was something just really easy and natural feeling about that and so I knew it was really catchy. My mom was the first person, when she heard the hook, because I recently just recorded the hook, and she goes, “This is really good. I think you should finish this.” And I take my mom’s opinion very seriously, so I finished it.
That’s incredible. That’s like DIY and you guys take that creativity and do everything yourself. How about the Photoshopping – is that all you?
Yeah yeah, that’s all me. I’ve been doing Photoshop since 2015 and I took photography in high school, through my four years, I took AP Photography and got a 4 on my AP. So I’ve been doing that for a long time and that’s kind of where I started with Photoshop. In high school, everybody’s Instagram feeds are exactly the same. It’s like the same four pictures: it’s like them on vacation, them with a friend, and then like a selfie. And those are so boring and I was like “Alright, I know how to use Photoshop. I don’t just want to post the same boring stuff as everyone else.” And so I would add like two of myself in the picture, give myself extra arms, make my nose just slightly too big – little tweaks. Add some random celebrity in the background, just little tweaks that make people look at it twice.
When it comes to aesthetics, I want to know about your style. Who are you inspired by?
Honestly, in the big name brand designer world, there’s Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto who do great stuff with silhouettes where they don’t really rely on color too much. And then on the flip side of that, there’s people like Marc Jacobs who just put out an amazing collection of super colorful, super vibrant, very gender neutral stuff. Vivienne Westwood has a lot of stuff like that as well. I’ve gone on a deep dive recently of going into all the archives of Vivienne Westwood’s stuff, back to like the late 80s and stuff. So those are in terms of high fashion, but there’s also so many people on Depop, that I’ll see like a slight customization they’ve done and go, “Wow, that’s such a cool, great idea.” So keeping an open mind and also not categorizing your influences, just viewing everything very objectively is the best way to go about that.
Speaking of Depop, you’re big on Depop! You are selling your own earrings and I think one of my interns bought one of your earrings. How did you get into that? And how do you come up with your earrings?
That was basically the same time that I started TikTok, I started making earrings. I just had all these little things lying around, like USB drives or like aux chords or like empty Juul pods. I had a friend who was super, super heavily addicted to nicotine, so she had just like this huge bottle of empty Juul pods and it was all gross and just dirty and I was like, “I don’t think you should have these anymore. They’re all gross and weird. Can I take them?” And she was like, “Yeah, of course.” So then I just had like 80 empty Juul pods to make earrings with.
What are your own thoughts on masculinity?
Masculinity, in the traditional sense, is just so, so outdated to the point where it shouldn’t even really be in the conversation anymore when talking about masculinity. A lot of values of the post-war – what a man should be – it’s just so skewed and it just doesn’t apply or it shouldn’t apply to our current society at all. A lot of people that I think are very comfortable with their gender and the way they represent themselves are the people who don’t even really overthink it. They’re just like “I’m just a person and I’m going to wear whatever I want to wear, and I’m going to treat people equally.” It’s really not that hard. The main thing is like: just getting away and separating from the past, from the traditional way masculinity is viewed. Once we have that completely illuminating, or at least have those people change their minds or be more open-minded about what masculinity means.
Which all comes down to equal rights. Are you voting in November?
Of course I’m voting. I have been since I was eligible.
Why is voting important to you?
Voting is important because you’re participating in a democracy. I understand that like a lot of people have the viewpoint that like, “Oh, neither are good so I’m not voting,” but you’re siding with the oppressor when you do that. It’s so simple, it’s so quick, even if you’re in a place like Californian where you think your vote doesn’t matter because the state is so liberal- it still matters! Don’t even get me started on the Electoral College and all that. On my birthday yesterday, we did the whole surprise, and then we had a five-hour conversation about the Electoral College. Because we realized: the EC has so many intricacies and like who is allowed to make up the EC is so weird and outdated. Definitely vote because the general, popular vote is so important and is such a significant testament to where the country is at. But also, the EC has to change. That’s a whole other conversation.
Finally, what advice would you give to young people out there?
The thing is: it’s tough when you live in a small town. I can’t speak on that because I so graciously was so blessed to have a community that was very receiving of whatever I wanted to do. But when you’re in a small town, it takes a lot of bravery to be different and just do and feel how you want to feel. And so I think that’s one of the things the internet is so amazing with is helping you find communities of like-minded people who feel the same way, are into the same things. So that’s one way to do it. But also in general, it just feels a lot better to be comfortable in your skin and not have to keep stuff on the inside, or just see something really cool on someone and wish you could do it but then not do it. Like it’s just such a liberating, freeing experience to just do whatever you want to do and wear whatever you want to wear. Just be you.
Drop the Skincare!
Once quarantine started, I started having a little bit less physical exercise and I realized that was the main thing that affects my skin a lot. I started having really bad skin, maybe like a month into quarantine, just from not getting as much sun, not moving around as much.
So I started doing yoga, I started trying to get some more sun, and so that helps a lot. And then also, not overcompensating when you have bad skin, like trying a billion different face washes and serums and stuff like that. Like, I did that for like two weeks and then my mom was like, “Hey we have very similar skin types and all I would recommend to you is just leave your skin alone for three or four days. Just like don’t put anything on it, let it breathe.”
And it worked really, really well. Kind of same with my hair. At certain points in high school and stuff, I would put tons of gel in and like different creams to try to get to do what I wanted. But now, literally, what I started doing—and this sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t—but I literally get out of the shower, brush it all back and then jugze it a little. And then I just let it dry.
And so sometimes it dries well and sometimes it doesn’t, it’s a kind of roll of the dice every day.
I change it up a lot. I usually just go for like the most neutral, cost-effective stuff.
Neutrogena is great. Andalua’s is also a decent one. Burt’s Bee’s has some good stuff. Just trying to stay as natural, as least synthetic and chemical as possible. And then also just finding out what works for you. That’s the big thing about when people ask, “Oh, what’s you’re skincare routine?” Like here are the products I use, but I’m not saying this is going to work for you. My kind of skin, like I have combination skin with some dry patches, and that’s probably not what you have so you have to find out what works for you.
Photographed, styled and makeup by Julia Marie