Nuevo Culture

‘It’s the Future’: Danny Ocean’s Music for a Hyper-Online World

Back in 2016, when Danny Ocean scribbled out the lyrics to “Me Rehúso” in the quiet of his bedroom, he was really only writing for one person. The song was dedicated to a girlfriend he’d left behind in Venezuela, his home country, which he’d departed in the midst of an economic and political crisis. He’d moved to Miami, and he missed her. But in a flash, “Me Rehúso” took on a life of its own: The song snaked up Spotify’s viral charts and caught the attention of Warner Music Group, who eventually signed Danny. The track went platinum 13 times in the U.S., and the official audio currently has 1.6 billion views on YouTube.

“Your life changes, you won the lottery suddenly. That’s what that song feels like,” Danny says on a recent Zoom call from Mexico City, where he’s been working. “I’d been writing music for a long time, but when things happen that quick, you just feel like it’s like the lottery, even though it took me 10 years to get that song.”

“Me Rehúso” was catchy, but there was a quiet longing running through it. Looking back at the song now, Danny sees it as a political message, one that hits on the pain of migration. “It was like, ‘Why do I have to leave somebody behind, and why do I have to leave my country?’” he explains. Putting his feelings out there kicked his career into high gear, and he hasn’t stopped writing since.

He’s prolific: After releasing his debut album, 54+1, in 2019, he kept dropping single after single and working on what he estimates to be about 180 songs. Within that creative pile-up, his new two-part album, @dannocean, began taking shape. Last Thursday, he released the first half through Warner, and the 16 songs on the project capture how he’s evolved as an artist and where the road took him after his viral breakthrough.

“I’m coming from an album that I produced and I wrote by myself, to this, which is way more collaborative,” he says. “I think it’s a Danny that’s more mature, in a sense, after ‘Me Rehúso’ and after all that. It’s an album done with friends that I’ve met since.”

@dannocean gave him a chance to expand his sound. “Rubia sol morena luna v2” swerves into pop-rock territory; “Dicen” is an acoustic ballad. “Apartamento” features the Dominican Republic’s brilliant production maverick Diego Raposo, while Tokischa adds flair to the spiky electronic jolts of “Dorito & Coca-Cola.” All of the collaborations happened organically, Danny says, a result of following his instincts and identifying artists who were bringing something new to the table. “I knew Tokischa was going to blow up,” he says. “That’s the kind of artists that I like, who have this sense of uniqueness.”

While the new album sees him teaming up with lots of people (Justin Quiles, Guaynaa, TINI, and Dread Mar-I also make appearances), he’s also interested in the changing nature of relationships in the digital age. “ADO” was inspired by a conversation he had with a friend in the adult film industry, who described how she’d noticed more people being drawn to online interactions rather than physical ones. On “Oficiales,” he sings about the idea of making a romance social media-official. “That’s one of the reasons why my album is called @dannocean,” he says. “Because everything is going to be in a digital environment. It’s just in our DNA now. This reality is something that we can’t escape. It’s just the future.”

He’s not afraid of exploring a hyper-connected, online world; after all, it’s the Internet that made “Me Rehúso” a viral hit. But he’s also learned over the last several years that there’s no predicting what takes off, and no recipe for the intangible quality that makes fans connect with something. Although he always gets a little nervous when he’s sharing new music, those lessons have made him approach the creative process with a sense of acceptance. “Every song has its own path, and once you understand that you just have to let it go,” he says. “You just have to be like, ‘Fuck it. I just did my job, now it’s the universe’s job.’”

As soon as he’s done with our Zoom call, he says he’s planning on listening to some demos for the second part of his album. He’ll work through them and eventually release them out into the world. Then he’ll let the music take its course.