lleo is a unique kind of pop star. In the last few years, they have begun to establish themselves as an artist to watch, blending bouncy, upbeat hooks with emotionally vulnerable lyricism. Their debut EP, am i making sense? poses various questions of their psyche, exploring lleo’s experience with bipolar disorder piece by piece. Each track deals with a different feeling, from the depressive, searching meds to the manic, near-delirious THE PARTY.
‘am i making sense? is me trying to process everything that goes on in my head,’ lleo says. ‘There are so many layers to my brain. I’ve never been really able to make sense of my mind and what goes on in it, and I realised that I had to try and do it by putting each feeling into a song.’
Initially, the EP was a way for them to process these feelings. Beginning with a series of singles, they soon realised that they would need a bigger project to fully explore the intricacies of their experience. ‘To be honest, I didn’t know I was even writing an EP until I was about 3 songs in, and I realised that I was trying to explain what was going on in my head - and that couldn’t just be done through singles alone,’ they say. ‘I realised that if I was gonna properly try and explain everything, I needed to do it through a body of work.’
Once the format was decided, it wasn’t long before work on am i making sense? was completed. ‘I struggle to connect with the songs that take me ages to finish, so everything I release is a song that has come together quickly. I just sit in a room, a song comes out, and then I produce it,’ lleo says.
There were bumps along the way, though. As a completely independent artist operating without a team, lleo found themselves stretched thin trying to take care of all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into releasing an EP alongside the actual songwriting, recording and performance. ‘I don’t have any sort of team around me, so there were moments I found pretty stressful, as I’m basically trying to do the job of about 3 people,’ they say.
lleo has previously described her work as ‘bipolar pop’, which may sound tongue-in-cheek but is in fact ‘deadly serious’, they say. It is also just a conveniently simple descriptor – lleo has bipolar disorder, and they make pop. Their music is anything but simple, though. The first single to be released from their EP, serotonin, is an alt-pop exploration of their brain behind the scenes. It resonated with listeners, and launched lleo's profile into the mainstream.
‘I was really blown away by the response,’ they say. The track racked up plays across BBC Radio 1, and is still receiving support on Spotify four months after its release. Meanwhile, second single meds struck a chord with lleo’s fans.
‘meds is about the time I took some new antidepressants last summer that really didn’t agree with me,’ lleo says. ‘I felt so vulnerable putting it out into the world, but the reaction was so beautiful. I had people messaging me saying “I can’t believe you managed to put what I’m going through into words.” It made me really emotional.’
There have been a lot of emotional moments in their relatively short career so far. Writing and releasing music can open creators’ most vulnerable selves up to scrutiny, walking a fine line between candidness and over-exposure. For lleo, it has allowed them to forge real connections with their fans. Having only started releasing music during the pandemic, lleo has only played three headline shows so far, but the reaction at each one has been overwhelmingly positive. ‘Hearing the crowd singing the lyrics to my songs is such a surreal feeling, and makes me cry. I’ve cried at all the shows so far - every time it happens, I find it so funny because I’ve always been so over emotional. In my head I’m like, “this is just classic,”’ they say.
The emotional rollercoaster isn’t about to let up anytime soon. Even though their first EP has only just been released, lleo is already looking towards the future, with more music on the horizon for 2023. The next wave of tracks doesn’t shy away from the emotional honesty that lleo has already established, if anything going further into vulnerability. ‘They’re a bit heavier, and really delve deep into the stuff in my head I haven’t been ready to talk about yet,’ they say.
If their track record so far is anything to go by, the future is looking big.