When we’re chatting over Instagram DMs, prior to our actual interview, L.A.-based pop star Vinícius assigns me homework. I am to watch the Madonna documentary Truth or Dare, explore Mariah Carey’s entire discography (including the MTV Unplugged live EP) and watch Lady Gaga’s early-career ‘Gagavision’ YouTube series, of which there are over 40 clips.
If there’s one thing he knows in this life, it’s pop music. And it’s not just familiarity with mainstream artists; Vinícius’s life is dedicated to learning from the greatest modern pop stars, knowing as much as he can about them and letting their artistry guide and inspire his own.
It’s 2020, and despite America more or less bursting into flames, Vinícius has one song out and a loser complex (his words). Don’t mistake his vulnerability for weakness, though; the Brazilian-born, mostly-New England-raised singer comes across incredibly confident in a refreshingly unintimidating way. He is a person anchored by, and to, his own aspirations.
“Being a coffee shop barista, that’s my day job. But I’m a pop star,” Vinícius tells me, the tone in his voice unwavering between both sentences. These are both facts. Under a surface-level shyness, I can tell he takes his artistic ability seriously and knows what he wants out of life; he’s a self-assured star.
The coffee shop is, coincidentally, an important part of Vinícius’s pop star narrative.
One day at work, he struck up a conversation with a patron at the café who complimented the bossa nova music that he was playing. That patron turned out to be a producer who shared a manager with Mick Guzauski, a Grammy-winning sound & mixing engineer. The producer told Vinícius to send his debut single, ‘Uninvited,’ to Guzauski, who later offered to mix the track.
Guzauski just so happens to have mixed projects for Mariah Carey, Brandy, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Jackson, LeAnn Rimes and many other titans of the industry. To him and his wife, ‘Uninvited’ was reminiscent of Billie Eilish’s ‘bad guy.’ For Vinícius, who never imagined his first single to be mixed by the same person who had a hand in his icon Mariah Carey’s 90s catalog, this compliment was a cherry on top.
At work, whether that’s at the café or a previous retail stint, every social interaction is an opportunity. For Vinícius, that opportunity looks like talking to patrons jovially while carrying himself like the pop star he wanted to be.
“Working at the register is practice for my future meet-and-greets,” he says, and I don’t think he’s joking. “No customer interaction should be the same!” His brain is always working on that wavelength.
The cerebral pop star, a concept and role Lady Gaga has inhabited for more than a decade and ran with, meat dress flapping in the wind, is a major source of inspiration for Vinícius. When he was 12 and he heard ‘Poker Face’ for the first time, he knew exactly what it was he wanted in life.
“That [song] rocked my world,” he says. “Then it came to me… of course this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m a pop star. Gaga had laid out the blueprint: she always outlined her whole thought process; it wasn’t necessarily about what she did, but how she did it. She taught me how I wanted to create my art.”
Having bounced around between Brazil and the States for most of his youth, Vinícius found his pop star dream at an age when most adolescents were living in an awkward middle school hellscape envisioned by the show PEN15.
For two years, Vinícius pleaded with his parents to move to the U.S. for high school. It was all part of his long-term plan; after high school would be New York, where he’d start his pop career. Finally, he got his wish, and at 16, he began taking voice lessons. He shakily sang Adele at his first session with a voice coach.
“She gave me permission,” he says, “to believe in myself and my voice.”
From there, everything snowballed; he was doing musical theater at Hudson High School in Massachusetts and getting involved with community theater. Suddenly, he finished high school.
But when given an offer to study at a prestigious music program after tentatively applying, he remembered his plan to go to New York.
“I’d gotten an apartment in Boston and everything. But at the last minute, I realized it wasn’t the dream I had promised myself.”
So he closed the door on music school and shipped out to Brooklyn. And a couple of years after that, when it felt like his dream wasn’t on the right track, Los Angeles was calling. He traded coasts, and then in 2019, he wrote ‘Uninvited,’ which he eventually released this summer.
Writing the song, which is about FOMO and loneliness, felt like mining extremely familiar emotional territory. ‘Uninvited’ is one of the most joyous, exuberant songs about overthinking and battling your own mind games, a delightful juxtaposition à la Charli XCX’s ‘Gone.’
“I do have a loser complex where I feel like everyone’s hanging out without me,” he admits. “I’m not special in that way, but this song did come from that feeling I had. I’d just moved neighborhoods in Los Angeles and I was feeling so lonely, so when I would see my friends all hanging out without an invite, I was like, wait, huh?”
Turning anxiety, uncertainty and other shitty feelings into airy, carefree pop is already a clear strong suit of his. Like most bad feelings, though, we usually look back later on and laugh at how we lied to ourselves or beat ourselves up.
We’re just silly little humans going around doing things with our silly little brains, right?
“In the end, after releasing the song, I remember laughing about it being like, okay. Oh, look, I am so, so fine,” he tells me before his face hardens. “But it comes from a lifetime of that. It comes from a lifetime of feeling rejected or set aside or forgotten. Which I realize is more of an internal thing than it is an actual thing. But it’s always my pursuit to mend those pieces and feel whole by myself.”
While these are somber thoughts, ‘Uninvited’ is all sun and no clouds, a piece of positive art constructed out of the erratic misgivings of the psyche.
“I’ve been thinking about everything and sinking into every little tinkering desire,” coos Vinícius on the song, his tone betraying a playful nature as he uses the song to investigate his own thoughts over laid-back guitar plucking. “I’ve been uninvited but, maybe I’m excited to be alone tonight, on my own this time.”
Though it was written last year, ‘Uninvited’ is an ode to the introverts of the world in quarantine. In the end, Vinícius will be just fine; he’s harnessed his vulnerability into one of his biggest strengths, after all.
You can listen to ‘Uninvited’ by Vinícius on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music or listen for free on YouTube.