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Over the last few years, more artists than ever before have bucked against rigid music genres. Machine Gun Kelly and Mod Sun, who made names for themselves in hip-hop, are now making pop-punk music. Ice-T goes back and forth between gangsta rap and thrash metal. These artists laid down the groundwork for iann dior, who refuses to be defined by one specific genre. “I want to be the first artist to be able to dominate every genre of music,” dior says. “When I go to the studio, I could want to make a pop song or a punk song. I have the right people around me to be able to do whatever I want, so why not experiment and see what happens? The thing is, with me hopping onto different genres, my music still sounds like me. And the fans, they adapt to it.”

Dior showcases his genre-defying prowess on his latest studio album, “on to better things.” He’s broken new ground with this album, flexing his versatility as an artist through the diverse features he chose to include, the first being Lil Uzi Vert. “‘V12’ was a fun song for me,” dior says. “I’d texted Uzi the hook and he fucked with it. So we ended up going to Miami and shot the video out there. Uzi’s someone that I’ve always wanted to work with—he’s a funny guy and amazing to collab with. That song was more so me living my life, having fun and you can’t stop me.”

Photos by Sam Dameshekh

Photos by Sam Dameshekh

“V12” certainly leans hip-hop, but on several songs dior rocks out with the help of Travis Barker. Dior and Barker had already worked together on dior’s 2019 single “Darkside” and this time around, Barker co-wrote three of the 15 tracks on the album. “Writing ‘Darkside’ was where we first met and then when we got in the studio with MGK, that’s when we really started to click,” dior says. “That’s also when I realized that rock music was meant for me. I feel like I can fully express myself on a rock track, and ever since then Travis and I have been really close.”

Dior and Barker not only bonded over drum beats and heartfelt lyrics, they’ve formed a mentor-mentee relationship. Barker became one of the most talked-about musicians on the planet with Blink-182’s “Enema of the State” in 1999, which happens to be the same year dior was born. And with over two decades of music experience, there’s a lot for dior to learn from a legend like Barker. “Travis is the one person I talk to whenever I’m confused or don’t know how to handle a situation,” dior says. “I’ll call him and he always has the answer. I think one of the best things he’s told me is, ‘A wise man once said nothing at all.’”

While collaborations with Lil Uzi Vert, Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker certainly enhance dior’s body of work, “on to better things” is a very personal story. It took more than two years for dior to release his second album, as he didn’t want to drop an album just to drop an album. He needed to make sure he told his story the right way and to be in the right state of mind to do so.

“Over the last two years, I was really trying to find myself,” he says. “Along the way, I encountered things that weren’t good for me—bad habits, drug addiction and a lot of things I wouldn’t have done if I were in the right headspace. All the songs I made on the album are timestamps of those moments and that’s the reason it’s called ‘on to better things.’ Now I’m sober and doing a lot better. I’m hoping the music I put out for my fans will help them too.”

Photos by Sam Dameshekh

Photos by Sam Dameshekh

Dior needed to dig deep within himself to pull out his true emotions. He’d gone through a lot in those two years and one of the most important parts of the process was putting those feelings to paper. “I actually cried while recording ‘thought it was,’” dior says. “I’m speaking about things people don’t like to talk about in my industry. It’s very real to me and it takes me back to a time where I was really messed up in the head. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. So every time I listen to that song, it just hits me.”

In order to showcase his trials and tribulations to the fullest extent, dior was extremely involved in creating the visuals for “on to better things.” And with this album, dior started planning the music videos from the jump. “As I’m writing and recording, I’m picturing the music video in my head,” dior says. “With ‘on to better things I wanted the videos to show you what’s going on and what I’m talking about—but in an exaggerated, fantasy type of way. Something you could watch and that has a nice visual, but there’s a deeper meaning behind each video.”

Dior takes his audience through many different worlds in his music videos, whether it be a twisted carnival in “let you” or an underwater utopia in “complicate it.” He’s showing the depths of his imagination, but one thing that’s united these videos thus far is his artistic muse, dancer Lexee Smith. “Lexee is amazing,” dior says. “She’s super talented and she’s helped me narrate the story of the album. It’s not a different girl every time, and having her be in each of the videos helps people to understand she’s the problem.”

In addition to showing genre versatility and telling his story to the masses, iann dior wanted to use “on to better things” to show his growth. Although he’s just shy of 23, he’s already accomplished so much and he’s miles ahead of where he was when writing “Industry Plant,” or even the two EPs he dropped in 2020 and 2021 respectively—“I’m Gone” and “Still Here.”

“The more I grow up and the more I change, the more my music is going to change,” dior says. “You realize the smaller things you worried about were actually tiny. There are a million things in this world to worry about that don’t have to do with love or breakups. There are real-life problems and I think that’s a big thing I’ve realized this year.”

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Despite the success he’s acquired over time, his career began in a very modest way. At the time, he had no idea what he’d be in store for. In fact, he had no idea he even had the pipes to go all the way.

“I never knew I had any musical talent until I dropped my first song, ‘cutthroat,’” dior says. “I was always into poetry; English was the only class I could ever pass. So when I dropped that song on SoundCloud and it got, like, 14,000 streams, my best friend and I were freaking out. We were like, ‘This is what we’re supposed to do!’”

Dior was inspired to start writing music after going through his first heartbreak. At the time, he had a girlfriend who’d cheated on him with two of his best friends and shortly after, his debut EP “A Dance With The Devil” was made. Dior continued pouring his heart out into his music and before long, his breakout single “emotions” came to be. “That was around the time me and that girl split up,” dior says. “Honestly, it was really early in the morning when I made that song and I’d been up all night. I was just explaining the situation, what she’d said, what I’d said … what she’d done. Everything that I put into my music is the truth of what I’m going through in my life and that was the first song to start my career.”

“Emotions” propelled dior into the spotlight and just a few short months later, he dropped his first studio album “Industry Plant.” For those who aren’t familiar with this term, an industry plant is a musician who has allegedly achieved success through record label or media intervention. It’s a term that’s been thrown around with great frequency over the last few years and many artists across all genres of music have been accused of being industry plants—from Billie Eilish to Lady Gaga to Olivia Rodrigo. Dior decided it was time that someone finally addressed this term head-on and squashed the rumors once and for all.

“We named the album ‘Industry Plant’ because everyone was calling me that,” dior says. “I make my own music. If you like it, then you like it. If you don’t, then fuck you. Calling someone an industry plant means you’re robbing someone of their talent. You’re telling them they’re not actually the person who’s behind what’s going on and that’s how I took it. That’s why it made me so upset that I put it in front of their face. Now, they have nothing to say. Now, you just listen to the music.”

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Dior proved the haters wrong with “Industry Plant,” which peaked at No. 44 on the Billboard 200 chart and earned him his first RIAA gold certification. It was also the starting point of dior’s writing relationship with musician 24kGoldn, who’s credited as a co-writer on track three, “gone girl.” After working together on this song, dior and 24kGoldn got close and after a few months, they began working on the pair’s first No. 1 single—“Mood.”

“I was just chilling in my apartment and I called [24kGoldn] to come over, but we weren’t planning on making a song,” dior says. “We were just playing ‘Call of Duty’ and we just decided to do it—we didn’t really think much about it. We made the song and then we continued to do what we were doing. It’s a blessing that every single person on that track is a friend of mine. It became the No. 1 record in the world and that’s a big accomplishment, I’m very blessed and proud of myself.”

A top single is one of the biggest achievements in the music industry and for many artists, it can take years to check off this milestone. But ever since dropping “cutthroat” on SoundCloud, dior has put his all into making it big. This has included manifesting his hopes and dreams through tattoos. “My first tattoo is on my arm and it’s a microphone with roses and music notes,” dior says. “That’s when I first told myself, ‘This is it. I’m fully giving my life to music and it’s gonna happen.’”

Following his microphone tattoo, dior caught the tattoo bug and began collecting as many pieces as he could. This was his way of convincing himself that he had what it took to make it in music and to prevent his father from enlisting him in the Navy at 18, as you can’t join if you have visible hand tattoos. “[My dad] didn’t think I was gonna make it,” dior says. “I get it because your kid telling you that he wants to be a rapper is like him saying that he wants to be a superhero. My dad didn’t want to see me fuck up my life, but I was so driven and determined to make it happen. Then I made it happen.”

Dior’s microphone represents the drive that pushes him to be the best artist he can be. Since making it, he’s taken the opportunity to reflect on his success by collecting a piece in homage to “on to better things.” “I have the album art in the center of my chest,” dior says. “This symbol represents fluidity, smooth motion and a perfect life. I took this symbol and I made it edgy and grungy because my journey wasn’t smooth. There were a lot of bumps in the road, but at the end of the day, that’s life and it goes full circle.”

A tattoo is dior’s way of tying a bow around his latest album. He’s written the songs, filmed the music videos and now has a tattoo over his heart to show for it. But he’s someone who doesn’t spend too much time in one place. With this project wrapped, he’s already on to the next and it may drop sooner than anyone could have expected. “My birthday seems like a good time to drop it, but who knows?” says dior, who turns 23 on March 25. “But I guess that’s just for you guys to find out.”