OMI: 5 Things You Didn't Know About the 'Cheerleader' Singer
Sitting stoically in Billboard’s New York offices, OMI looks like he’s the calm, cool, collected type -- or about to pass out from exhaustion after months of whirlwind travel and promotion. “I’ve just never been the get-excited type -- but inside I’m screaming with excitement,” assures the Jamaican singer, 29.
His reggae-pop single “Cheerleader” (Ultra) just crowned the Billboard Hot 100 after topping charts all over the world, from Sweden to Australia to the United Kingdom. It has been a slow climb: The original was a hit in his native Jamaica in 2012, but it’s the 2014 remix by Felix Jaehn that has blown up. OMI, born Omar Samuel Pasley, isn’t celebrating -- yet. “I try to stay focused. Whatever I did to get me to this point, I’m going to have to keep doing it to stay here. This is no time for complacency, or to get comfortable.”
1. “Cheerleader” was eight years in the making.
“I woke up humming the melody one morning when I was 21,” says OMI, who still lives in Clarendon, the sleepy village he grew up in, a stone’s throw from Kingston. “It was like a little Jamaican nursery rhyme, like ‘one, two, buckle my shoe,’ that kind of thing -- ‘ring game’ is what we’d call it. The rest of the song just fell into place like a jigsaw puzzle.”
2. “Omi” means “grandma” in German.
That’s just one foreign word he’s picked up on his many international jaunts as the song ascended the charts. But “Omi,” short for Omar, is simply the nickname his dad used to call him. His father, a singer whose music OMI still listens to, died when he was 9. “He was very in love with my mom, and he had a very good way of expressing himself musically -- you could hear the soul when he sang.”
3. OMI hasn’t found his real-life cheerleader yet.
His last serious girlfriend was eight years ago, right around the time he began writing the song. “I’m not looking for a ‘yes’ woman, but a strong person who knows when to be objective and when not to be,” he says. OMI’s happy to report that his mother, who raised him and his three older siblings alone, is the No. 1 lady in his life for now. “My mom has been my support system from day one. Admiring the type of person she is gives me a sense of what to look for in my ideal cheerleader when the time comes.”
4. He’s preparing his full-length debut album for a fall release.
“People are expecting 15 [versions of] ‘Cheerleader,’ but it’s going to be pretty diverse, with a few features and songs written from different perspectives.” He recorded it in Jamaica, Miami and the United Kingdom. “The different environments each brought inspiration.”
5. His biggest indulgence as a No. 1 star? Pimping his ride.
“So far I’ve bought a new set of rims for my car, a brown Infiniti. I love that car. I’m giving it a face-lift.” But he’d like you to know that was no paid product placement: “That’s not for branding, by the way -- that’s actually what I drive.”
Listen to OMI's big hit and more music from this issue in the Spotify playlist below:
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of Billboard.