Peeling Back the Layers of R&B Duo Emotional Oranges
Emotional Oranges are the moody new R&B group on the block—only nobody really knows who they are. Fronted by producer-slash-vocalist A and vocalist V, the duo (or are they a collective?) only shows face while performing. Elsewhere, they’re in disguise, whether on social media, their website, or even their own cover art. Though they draw inspiration from R&B icons like Sade and Lauryn Hill, their largely Gen Z fan base might be more keen to draw parallels to The Weeknd, Kehlani, and Daft Punk, their semi-secret spiritual siblings.
Masks can hide, but perhaps also liberate. Without being tethered to identity, the duo are free to leap genres and gender. Interview spoke with A, admittedly the more anxious half of the duo, to peel back the layers on touring, therapy, and the difficult but ultimately fruitful work of infusing emotion into art.
KARL ORTEGON: Anonymity in music has been kind of in lately. You have The Voice, obviously, and there’s that new show The Masked Singer. It has a long history, of course, with legends like Sia and Daft Punk and DeadMau5 who all hide their identity. When it comes to performing, even though you keep anonymous, how do you connect with your fans?
A: Well, believe it or not, you get to see our faces when we perform. We have a really interesting lighting design, which in essence keeps us as silhouettes, but there are moments in the show where we intentionally turn all the lights on to pull the veil back. In general, we wanted to hide our faces because we didn’t want to deal with what can come with being recognizable artists and putting out records.
ORTEGON: So you lift the veil on tours so you can really have that connection with your fans.
A: Absolutely. And I think it’s really helped the day-one people feel even more connected to us. Since we rarely have our faces out there, some people don’t know that we’re brown and black. You start to meet people backstage, and people have these powerful stories about how our music stopped them from committing suicide, or helped them get through the worst parts of an abusive relationship. After hearing those stories, that’s when we decided we had to start showing a bit more of ourselves, so that little brown boys at our show can be like ‘Oh, A from Emotional Oranges is brown. If he can do what he does, I can, too.’
ORTEGON: Do you feel like you have a younger fan base?
A: Yeah, the 18-24 age group is big. But more than anything, seeing our fans who are just kids in junior high who have to come with their parents is super sick.
ORTEGON: Who is V? What is it like working with her?
A: She’s amazing. I couldn’t imagine making music with anyone else. There’s a certain confidence that she exudes that makes me feel like home. And being on a song with her, I feel safe, I don’t feel like I’m being judged. I feel like we could talk about everything together and it’s like a super open book. I look at her like she’s an icon to me.
ORTEGON: So, what’s your sign?
A: I’m a Taurus. Which, when I found out about that and learned about it, I came to realize how stubborn I can be. And I’ve really been able to dig deeper through music and understand the complex emotions that I have. Oh, one second. It just started raining here and there’s rain hitting my car, I apologize for the extra noise.
ORTEGON: Rain in LA? That’s so moody. It sets the tone. Talk to me more about your emotions. How do you navigate being vulnerable in your music?
A: Music is the safest place for me. For the longest time, people would tell me that therapy was for weak people. I went when I was super young because my parents got divorced when I was two years old. And my friends would clown on me. And as you get older, you don’t even want to tell your friends you’re doing it, but therapy is one of the best things for me. I am a bit anxious. No, actually, not a bit. I’m really anxious, and I constantly have so many things going on in my head that I need to either talk to someone about or take with me to the microphone. But V is great for that because she’s so centered. We can talk deep, and we can dig deep to make our music more vulnerable, more open. Between The Juice: Vol. I and Vol. II, we explored that more. V would ask me really, really personal questions about certain topics that I wasn’t comfortable talking about before. Like masturbation, for example, which is what led to the track “Just Like You.”
ORTEGON: You guys had your first-ever tour this year, and it was both in the States and overseas. How do you manage anxiety when you’re touring?
A: Yeah, it’s hard. Something I like about being home is having the gym, but when you’re in an AirBnB, or a smaller hotel, there’s no gym. There’s no physical way to work through the tough feelings. After we toured the States, which was amazing, I was so scared about Europe. In many places, like France or Denmark, music in English isn’t even on their radar. I was super afraid to go perform in Paris, for example. Then when you get up on stage and start to kind of get their energy, and even though it’s Paris we were playing for just 150 or 200 people, it felt like everyone knew every lyric. People bought merch and hung out afterwards to chat with us. They were telling us which restaurants to go to. There were four girls who all individually came to the Paris show but didn’t know each other beforehand, and then after the show they all got wine together and they were tweeting about it.
ORTEGON: I bet that’s so rewarding.
A: Yeah. I learned so much about myself on that tour. V’s been a performer her whole life, she’s been on Broadway. But I realized I do tense up in crowds and when I get up in front of big groups of people. I didn’t know this before tour, but at shows I started getting really, really nervous mid-set. Not even before the set! But mid-set, I would start to feel overwhelmed.
ORTEGON: How do you ward off the anxiety?
A: I try to be really open about it as best I can. V has been great, she’s coached me through a lot of it, but I just try to talk about it and be honest with myself and the people around me.
ORTEGON: Summer Walker recently canceled a bunch of her upcoming tour dates because of her social anxiety. We expect performers to be able to perform, to be extroverts, but that may not always be the case. She was super up-front and honest about it on social media, and there were a lot of mixed responses. Some people would point to a different social media post she’d made and say, “Oh, you seem so happy and outgoing here. You’re scamming us.”
A: I really respect her for that. Even being brave enough to do that, for someone who’s that big, is sick. It really makes me respect her and appreciate her even more than I already do, because it’s such a daunting thing. She probably felt really bad for her managers or whoever has to deal with the aftermath of it all. As a fan, I’m just really appreciative of that decision because that means that she cares about us and that she’s going to come back. She wants to be well enough to come back.
ORTEGON: What are you excited for in 2020?
A: Working on my physical and mental health. Keeping myself healthy is so hard for me, if I’m being honest. I found out a bunch of foods that I’m allergic to that had been messing up my blood and my digestive system. Being on the road all the time can really detract from your health. Next year I also want to get more serious with my girl.
ORTEGON: So your girl isn’t V?
A: Right, she’s someone else. I actually started a cooking class recently. I need to learn how to cook if I’m going to keep my girl.
ORTEGON: What are you excited for this week?
A: Do you know Lewis Capaldi?
ORTEGON: Yeah, for sure.
A: I love his voice and I saw him posting about this artist, Aaron Smith, on his Instagram. So I’m going to get dinner with my friend and we’re going to his show at the hotel cafe. I just moved to West Hollywood, and I’m going to go do the Runyon Canyon situation this week, too. Believe it or not, I’ve never done it. And then I’m going to go have dinner with my mom on Saturday.