Johnny Orlando

The life cycle of a relationship is complicated. No two romantic encounters leave precisely the same mark, and within them are multitudes — euphoria, confusion, infatuation, grief, closure, and eventually healing. Nothing, though, is quite as remarkably memorable as a first relationship (at least, the first real one). Adults who have lived decades often speak of their first love, whether adoringly calling it puppy love or taking note of the lessons they learned because of that initial connection. Johnny Orlando, meanwhile, put his firsts in writing with The Ride.

The four-part project consists of chapters, each of which encapsulates a different era of what Orlando describes as his first heartbreak, from the giddiness of a crush-turned-partner to a somber end. It’s a mature look into Orlando’s life, and an eye-opening listen for fans who have grown up alongside him and his songwriting. Much like the relationship that inspired it, Orlando is saying goodbye to The Ride era, but the process that built it is an innovative one (and became integral to his growth as a musician).

Unlike his 2022 project, all the things that could go wrong, Orlando put an emphasis on creating each “pack,” as he describes them, with a very particular stage of his own relationship in mind. It was a creation process unlike anything he had taken on for his previous works; in some ways, the project and the heartache seem to have laid the foundation for his path forward as an artist.

“There’s been little things over the years, like girls that I’ve been like, ‘Oh my god,’ and then we stopped talking and it was sad. But this was different,” Orlando tells EUPHORIA. “I was in love. So you come out of that, and it’s an entirely different thing. Heartbreak songs were just significantly easier to write; it was all kind of pouring out for a time. I saw a video of Chelsea Cutler, and she was like, ‘All you need is to get your heart broken once, you can write about it forever.’ It’s super easy to just tap back into, which is, I mean, good and bad.”

Newfound coming-of-age in the way of romance means evolution in more ways than one. Each breakup often creates a more seasoned version of you, and this change is evident for Orlando with The Ride. In part three of the project, he includes “Close To You,” a track that exists somewhere between regret and insecurity. Orlando acknowledges that he wished for a different ending to the relationship, reflecting on what he wishes would have been said to garner closure, but still providing a peek into the uncertainty that came with the end. This is arguably reflected most prominently in the song’s second verse, when Orlando sings, “When you’re alone, do you curse my name?/ You’re looking at me like I have a stranger’s face/ Is it strange to think that we wouldn’t change?

Growing out of the relationship allowed him to grow into the music, and Orlando took some time to be introspective about how this process reflects how he has grown since all the things. Rather than a black-and-white approach to his artistry and viewing it as past and present, he takes a more progressive approach in finding ways to look more exclusively at what comes next.

“I’m always looking ahead, or wishing I was better than I was,” Orlando explains. “I feel like three years ago, I was looking ahead to this period of the music that I’m releasing now. So I look back at that, and… I wasn’t that good at singing, and I’m better now. And then in three years, I’m gonna say the exact same thing. I’m writing things and they’re almost where I want them to be. I’m always like, almost there. You know?”

Part of that glimpse ahead was developing a rollout strategy for his music that transcended the well-loved single-single-album structure. Orlando drew inspiration from Drake’s “small drops,” and he had begun conceptualizing that concept for his own work before he even had a breakup to write about. To some degree, the following pieces of the puzzle for The Ride to exist fell into place on their own.

Outside of the relatability of the tracks themselves, Orlando was excited to build a release plan that felt “more in tune with how people listen to music these days.” He took into account his own music consumption and his favorite ways to listen to artists he loves; how could he keep The Ride fresh in people’s minds with more than just a single and an album drop? “I feel like albums are kind of taking a backseat,” Orlando says. “Everybody’s attention span is so short… I was trying to release music that reflected that.”

The unique “pack” look of the project gave each pairing of tracks a moment in the spotlight for Orlando’s listeners. It provides an opportunity for hyperfocus, for example, on Part 1’s focus on the initial frustration at the cracks in the foundation or Part 3’s emphasis on the stages of mourning. They showcased his takeaways from each stage of the relationship that inspired it, but maybe more excitingly, each part felt like its own season of a much longer story. It’s easy to choose a favorite and find yourself returning for another listen, but it manages to seamlessly into the greater picture. Visually, Orlando wanted to match that energy. “We wanted it to be little, tiny short stories,” Orlando explains.

Perhaps the most interesting visuals for The Ride, though, are the permanent ones. Orlando had the idea to do a series of tattoos that memorialize elements of the project (and lent themselves to the covers of each pack and, eventually, the full product). They aren’t necessarily pieces of art that reflect any part of the breakup; rather, each of the tattoos is a symbol of a greater message for Orlando to, in simple terms, pause, reflect, and take a breath.

“I was just in the kitchen one day with my sister, and I was like, ‘How fuckin’ funny would it be if I got tattoos for all of these and we did it as the album cover?’” Orlando remembers. “And she’d be like, ‘That is not that funny.’ But I thought it was hilarious, and also they did mean a lot to me. They’re the reminders of patience, and taking things slow. I always kind of got ahead of myself, which is what these two [the horse and the cowboy] are for in different ways. They say the same thing. And then the one on my back [the eyes] is about reflection. As a series, all three of them were just about calming down.”

While his tattoos center around remembering where he has been, Orlando is true to his fast-paced brand and focuses on what’s next. The Ride may be a chapter that is coming to an end, but it won’t close out the impact it has on Orlando’s next work. He’s ready to be present, to take in the journey, and — as the name of his project suggests — really take the time to be along for the ride. 

“As much as it’s important to let go of things, it’s also important to be hyperfocused on what you’re creating while you’re creating it,” Orlando says. “I think the let-go portion should happen after. A lot of times, I would just kind of go through the motions. One thing I learned [last year] is to never be a passenger. When I was on tour, sometimes I would just go through the motions, and then I would have a moment and be like, ‘Fuck. I’m on tour, dude. I’m in Texas or I’m in Mexico City or wherever. This is not a normal day. I’m doing something sick today. Take it all in.’ For so long as a kid, I was confused about everything, and I was kind of just like, ‘Fuck it, whatever.’ I just kind of moved throughout my way through life. Being present and being intentional is a big thing.”