Tunde Olaniran: Whipped Cream & Daydreams
Written by Michaela Stock. Courtesy Photo

Tunde Olaniran has been pushing the boundaries of pop music for more than seven years. The Flint-born, multidisciplinary artist began to take their music seriously in 2016 after a particular performance in Detroit–the city they now call home.

“My first lightbulb moment was performing at Allied Media Conference. It was, and still is, this really amazing gathering point of queer media makers and artists that came from all over the country to Detroit,” Olaniran said.

The conference exposed Olaniran to creators that inspired and reflected their identity.

“I think artists from West Michigan can probably relate to this, but when you’re in a smaller city, sometimes it’s hard to get a sense of what’s possible,” Olaniran said.

“Being around Black and brown queer people, queer artists, who were giving this love back to the work I was doing, really pushed me.”

This performance became one of many concerts that continued to lay the groundwork for Olaniran’s artistic self discovery. Now adorned with elaborate costumes and choreography, Olaniran’s shows also inspire those who attend them.

“I’ve had people come up to me after shows and be like, ‘I wish I could do that,’” Olaniran said.

“I’m like, ‘You can do that!’ I think that society really traps us into thinking we can only express ourselves and live in certain ways.”

As a songwriter, Olaniran fuses pop music’s verse-chorus blueprint with unexpected soundscapes, resulting in catchy melodies marbled with sonic surprises. 

“You can map out pop music like a math equation. I like filling that equation with different variables, like different sounds, different lyrical approaches, and different approaches to using my voice that are not traditional pop music,” Olaniran said.

This musical mixture ushers listeners into an entanglement of desire, identity, and storytelling.

“It’s a mixture of really unfamiliar sounds and unfamiliar melodies, but in a very familiar format, so that it becomes easy to listen to and understand what’s coming next,” Olaniran said.

“I like to surprise and put in sounds just to make you go, ‘What was that? What was that texture? What was that noise?”

Olaniran’s most recent project, a mixtape titled Ephemerrreality that was released in 2022, brilliantly captures this element of surprise. Each song hosts a collaboration between Olaniran and various artists, which further pushed their exploratory approach to songwriting.

Despite featuring more than 20 musicians, producers and writers, Ephemerreality was a completely virtual project that came to life during the pandemic. “No one was ever in the same physical room together.”

Beyond surmounting these logistical hurdles, Olaniran also wanted to use the project to provide Black women with a larger platform on digital streaming services.

“I was also really frustrated being on Spotify and just seeing so few Black women artists on playlists, especially in 2020,” Olaniran said. “I had this desire to bring together a lot of really powerful Black women, who I really admire, and see if we could make some cool music together.”

One of the tracks that inspired the mixtape was Olaniran’s own Whipped Cream Daydream, which features an upbeat pop melody with whimsical lyrics about having a crush.

“I was actually doing a virtual visit for a University of Michigan class about music business, and I was talking to them about songwriting. I was trying to give them an example of not feeling like you have to write metaphors that are based in reality,” Olaniran said.

“Let’s say you have a crush on someone, and instead of saying, ‘I have a crush on you,’ you could say, ‘I wish I was on a lavender cloud, dripping honey into your mouth.’ That’s just such a random thing that couldn’t have happened in the real world.”

This metaphor founded Whipped Cream Daydream, the song that not only sparked the 12-track mixtape, but was playlisted by high profile artists, spun on BCC One, and played at World Pride. 

“Someone contacted me and said that their nine-year-old twin boys love the song Whipped Cream Daydream, and so I’m going to be their first-ever concert,” Olaniran said. “That’s the song they play every day before they go to school. I just love that.”

Olaniran’s upcoming record, titled Chaotic Good, is slated to be released this fall. Preceding the release, Olaniran is performing at the Pyramid Scheme on April 15th. As Olaniran’s music is written for the live experience, they hope to see faces both fresh and familiar come to their show.

“When I write music, I am imagining what it would be like to perform it. That really affects the music and the way I produce it,” Olaniran said.

“I think the live performance is a big part of what makes the song fun for people. We love dancing, and we love having costume reveals. We love just delighting people.”

Tunde Olaniran
The Pyramid Scheme
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
April 15, 7 p.m.