Omi’s Felix Jaehn–assisted “Cheerleader” remix, the understated reggae tune that sounds like a vacation in a bottle, has been streamed over 215 million times on Spotify and is already multi-platinum in several markets around the globe, including the U.K., Denmark, Australia, and Sweden. Stateside, it’s made its way onto dozens of Song of Summer short lists, including Vulture’s. Meanwhile, it’s No. 1 on iTunes in 18 countries, has 100 million video plays, and both Billboard and Shazam have predicted that it will eventually hit the top of the charts, beating out Wiz Khalifa, Taylor Swift, and Fetty Wap.
2015’s Song of Summer race is a bit of a crapshoot. In past years, winners have been unanimously anointed early on, but choosing one this year is a bit like your Tinder dating life — there are plenty of candidates, but not many worth a second or third date. Omi wants that third date, and when I spoke to him over the phone, before a pool party in Paris where he would perform with Snoop Dogg, he laid out his plans to get it.
Discovered by Clifton “Specialist” Dillon, the same producer who discovered dance-hall legends Shabba Ranks and Mad Cobra, Omi is a soft-spoken, very polite 20-something who was surprised by the favorable response to “Cheerleader” when it was originally released back in 2012 — “but we also knew that [the song] was only in a few places. We knew that the world had really yet to hear it.” So his label, Ultra, a dance-music shingle owned by Sony, tapped German DJ Felix Jaehn to do a remix and give the song more commercial appeal. “Ever since then it’s been crazy,” Omi says.
Now Omi is ready for his big coming-out party in the U.S., which will include the official release of his debut album and, according to him, a potential collaboration with “Dear Future Husband” crooner Meghan Trainor, who called “Cheerleader” her “new favorite jam” via Instagram. “I’m really looking forward to working with Meghan Trainor because that’s in the pipeline and I’m eager for it to really happen,” he says. “Who knows, you know? It might happen before the album release. You never know.”
No, you don’t. When dark horses like Omi appear out of nowhere, a lot of things remain up in the air. He could end up a one-hit wonder. Or “Cheerleader” could collapse under the early hype and never resonate here at all. It’s worth noting that the song has yet to crack the top ten.
Even so, Omi, short for Omar Samuel Pasley, is still thrilled about the future. “I’m eager to see what’s going to happen,” he says. “If there’s going to be a follow-up single or if we’re going to go straight into the album.” As far as the album goes, it’s done. “We just need a name.”
One thing Omi is hoping will help his case for Song of Summer is that he won’t have to deal with the language barrier that he says gets in the way in other countries. “I have an appreciation for everywhere I’ve been so far,” he says. “I’ve been in Europe for quite a while, and there may be a communication barrier. You know, I speak English, but there’s Italian, there’s Swedish, French. It’s difficult. I think it will be a little easier in the U.S. in terms of language.”
The real key here, though, is the song itself, with its strong dance-hall backbone, sentimental lyrics, and danceable beat. “It has simple words, a very catchy melody; the beat isn’t overwhelming, but at the same time, it has all of these elements that people love to hear,” Omi says, responding to a question about why people love the song so much. The song is so popular that several unauthorized remixes have surfaced online, siphoning attention from the official version. But Omi isn’t going to let that get to him, either. “You know what, unless you create something meaningful that people gravitate toward, there would be nothing to imitate. No one would want to be involved with it in any form or shape. So in one way, it’s an honor.”