Every week at Breakout, we talk to the rising stars who are exploding right now — whether it’s a huge viral moment, a killer new track, or an eye—popping video – these are the rising artists who are sure to dominate in the near future.
Riovaz has always done the opposite of what people expected. It’s a trait he first became addicted to growing up in New Jersey, surprising himself with the sounds he created in his teenage bedroom, drowning out skeptics who thought his musical creativity was worthless. His dark dance track “Prom Night” became popular in 2020, collecting millions of streams and voicing more than 100,000 TikTok clips. The popularity of the song reluctantly pushed Riovaz into the spotlight, something he has avoided since he first started making music at the age of 13 to let his music speak for itself.
But “Prom Night” was a “turning point” for the introverted artist, allowing him to build a deeper relationship with songwriting and creativity, which helped his overall decision to take his music career seriously. Guided by this goal, last year Riovaz released several releases challenging the genre, such as the hypnotic “Tell Me All Your Fears” (which emphasized his penchant for house music) and the bubbling “I Feel Fantastic”, where he politely asked his beloved “Please cry until you fall asleep.”
Now, at the age of 18, Riovaz relies on his viral success, delving into experiments and composing songs with an open heart, while refusing to categorize, compare or anyone’s opinion about his sound. “People want to be different so much these days just because of the attention and likes,” he tells NME, calling from his home in New Jersey. “Why be an artist at all if you want to be someone else?”
Later this year he is going to release a new EP, which has a lot of arrangements combining elements of house music, piano and drum and bass in his own characteristic sound. After all, Riovaz aims to “create movement” on the dance scene, which, according to him, “has been my goal from the very beginning.” The fruits of his labor are already evident at his live performances, when new fans sing him every line of his songs (a sold-out US tour is also in his diary of 2023). “I just want to create something that will affect people in a certain way,” he says. “It’s just wild to see.”
NME: You started making music when you were only 13 years old. How has your relationship with creativity changed since then?
“When I first started, I did it as a hobby. But then when I kept writing songs and saw that they were being accepted on SoundCloud, I started taking it seriously. My love for it grew and my love for songwriting developed as I got older. That’s why I’m here now: I just fell in love with [making music] over time. I took writing seriously during quarantine in 2020 because I was just stuck in my room — I just listened to the bits and started writing. That’s when I discovered The Smiths, and they made me take writing more seriously. I wrote about how I felt and just took it from there — the words just flew out of my head. When I listen to the beats, they become building blocks and it all just comes together.”
What was your introduction to The Smiths like?
“[I found them on] YouTube. I watched the video “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and it hooked me. It was a recommended video for a year, then I clicked on it during quarantine and it changed my life.”
Before the release of “Prom Night” you didn’t show up online, but then your viral hit attracted everyone’s attention to you. What was this rapid fame like?
“It was so scary. This happened with the clip, because “Prom Night” had already been released, and things were going well for him. But that was a year before it exploded, and the video revealed everyone’s face, [which] was so scary. I’ve never done this before, and I was just a 16-year-old guy with glasses and braces. Now I have become more confident in myself. When I released “I Feel Fantastic”, I felt like I was coming to my senses. Even when I first showed my face, I didn’t feel like a Riovaz yet. [Now] it’s really good.”
You mentioned earlier that you felt you had to suppress your creativity when you were growing up because of the people around you. How did you break out of this?
“When you tell your friends that you’re doing music, especially when you’re 13 or 14, they don’t take it seriously. Even when I finally got serious about it, they didn’t bother with the idea, and it didn’t motivate me at all. I kept doing it [though] and I’m where I am now thanks to all the people I met online. I had a large group of friends in Orlando who also made the music I was making, and that pushed me forward to continue. It’s just people you meet: people you know in real life don’t realize it until they see something physical.”
In “Tantrum” you sing about your desire for authenticity and your problems with comparisons. Is there any specific experience that you are talking about in these texts?
“I talk a lot about my hatred of things, and that’s really what the song is about. There is a phrase “I’m tired of comparisons / I am who I want to be,” because [although] people and many fans have recognized me, [they] don’t really know me at the same time. time. People try to put you in that box and compare you to other artists you hang out with, or they think they know what kind of sound you have. It’s just not like that: they really don’t understand it, and that’s what I’m talking about.”
That’s why you recently tweeted: “Stop saying I’m doing hyper-pop”?
“Yes, I don’t understand that. I don’t think I’m doing hyper-pop. I used to listen to hyper-pop in 2020 when it was just starting to grow, and I don’t think I’m doing it at all. All I did was foursome dance or drum and bass. I don’t do hyper-pop— I’ll never understand it. I think it’s because of the people I hang out with [and collaborate with], like midwxst and aldn, who came out of hyper-pop, so I think people make that comparison. Nothing against [hyper-pop], I was literally a fan of the whole scene. I just want people to understand the world I’m trying to build on the dance scene, because that’s what I’m doing right now.”
In the past, you called your sound “RioRave”. How would you define this genre?
“It’s melancholic music, but you can do backflips to it. It’s like chaotic beauty; a mixture of joyful and sad. I feel like this place is everywhere, so I wouldn’t say I have a genre: I’m constantly evolving. You can say that I have a genre now — I have momentary genres — but they are constantly changing. When people ask what genre I’m in, I just say my name because it’s constantly changing, as are my influences. The Beatles, Three Days Grace, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins influenced me the most in my life — they were my first entry point into music.”
What attracted you to these groups? Was it their sound or their songwriting?
“Their honesty, like The Smiths, is another big influence [on me] because I like their songwriting. It’s so honest and intimate, and I like it when my music is related to my music and my fans feel connected to it.”
How do you feel about sharing your new EP this year, and what can your fans expect from it?
“I feel really good about it because I feel like it’s an acquaintance right now. [In 2022] I’ve got a lot of new fans and new faces, and I really want this EP to be an introduction to what my sound is and the sound I’m going to promote for the album that’s coming out. I really want them to understand the idea of this EP.”
Riovaz’s new single “Tantrum (Pace Yourself)” has been released