Photo by Jason “JSN” Washington Jr.
Oliver Cronin: Boulevard of Hollywood Dreams
Oliver Cronin isn't the type of artist to attribute his success to serendipity. He'd never tell you he was simply in the right place at the right time, or that some A&R type 'discovered' him after he uploaded a half-baked bedroom demo without a second thought. And while that script may be true for a few — and a trope for more — Cronin is unapologetic about his hustle: a bubbling talent crafted on a staunch fusion of hard work and strategy, and paired with an autopsy-like examination of industry mechanics.
Nestled on a quiet street in West Hollywood, and only moments from the Sunset Strip, I’m sitting with Oliver Cronin on the rooftop of LA’s Petit Ermitage Hotel. Although his major label publicist is floating somewhere nearby, Cronin is about to go off-script. “I went about it, I think, quite differently than people go about it.”
‘Differently’ is the modest way to put it. The short version is this: Cronin was always ambitious. He studied more than twenty of his musical heroes with an almost academic focus — lyrical content and song structure, social media aesthetics, marketing strategies, distribution models, and step-by-step career moves. He reverse-engineered the holistic success of acts like Tory Lanez, Travis Scott, Post Malone and Lil Durk in a typed-up manifesto he spent six months creating, and then went about pitching himself, and his plan, to a shortlist of identified industry players.
The longer version is that Oliver Cronin in 2022 is already a project decades in the making. The son of science writer Leonard and writer/former music teacher Laurel, Cronin is a classically-trained, multi-instrumentalist who was making beats before he could form sentences. Beat boxing as a toddler, tapping on the dinner table at meal times and using literally anything he could get his small hands on as an instrument until his parents finally caved when he was five and borrowed a drum kit from a family friend. Cronin graduated to Flamenco guitar in primary school in Mullumbimby and later, in high school — when he wasn’t trekking to Sydney each week to play semi-pro cricket — he would spend hours each day writing and producing songs.
“I always had it in my head that it was a possibility for me to do this as a career,” he tells me later.
And despite the methodology of his approach in these quick, recent years, Cronin’s artistry was never without authenticity. “Once I created that document, I was like, ‘Okay this is what I need to do. But I’ve got to put my own spin on it. And I’ve got to be myself about it’.”
That combination of strategy, artistry, and authenticity would lead to a label deal with Warner Music in 2019, A-List producer collabs with the likes of Kirk Knight, TNT and Cashmoney AP, a global viral hit with “Boys Don’t Cry” in 2022 — which has raked in over five million global streams at time of publishing — and a debut EP (November’s Beautiful Nightmare) that clocked over five million streams in a month.
Earlier in the week, we’re squished together in a booth at Jon & Vinny’s, the Los Angeles dinner hot spot known to be frequented by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and Kim and Pete (when they were an item). We’re joined by Cronin’s manager Tane Hackman, label rep Sarah Thomas, and US producer twelve40 — less than 24 hours after Cronin flew in from Sydney. Fresh from the fourteen hour journey, Cronin had taken an Uber straight to John Legend’s West Hollywood studio where twelve40 and fellow producer TDP (John Legend’s cousin) laid down tracks. Chrissy Teigan was there for a moment (she films her cooking show in an adjoining space) and Legend beamed in on FaceTime at one point to nod along in approval of one of the tracks.
As twelve40 was driving us to the restaurant, he played two of Cronin’s songs so loud the speakers reverberated through the doors. One track, “Last Night”, is an audacious dark hip hop performance, and the other, “Coo Coo”, is an effervescent trap pop song written on the plane and demoed that day. Cronin sang along and grooved in his seat as if it was written by one of his contemporaries.
“Thousand miles away from home / but I’m still right here with your face on my phone / Know I’m gone / But don’t worry baby I’ll be back soon”
Over pizza at Jon & Vinny’s, Cronin is telling me about his many, sparsely separated, tattoos. The butterfly on his right forearm is also the artwork on his upcoming debut album, above it is the word ‘manifest’, an ode to how he tackles his goals. Sitting above his elbow is the album title good kid, m.A.A.d city, a homage to his hero Kendrick; and he’s inked the number ‘42’ on the back of his left arm. “Have you seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” he beams, explaining that forty-two is the number from which all meaning comes. “It’s the meaning of life,” he smiles.
Hot-spots and celebrity sightings aside, Cronin is treating his first time in La La Land like the marathon he’s trained his entire life for. While he’s as wide-eyed and excitable as you would expect for a kid from a rural town, he also seems to be acutely aware that he could become the next victim of its chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out cycle. He forgoes sleep for making beats, schedules sessions across multiple messaging apps, and while I’m tailing him, writes nine songs in as many days.
I get to witness him in his element one night. We’re at the Clubhouse Associates Studio in the Hollywood Hills (which has been used by Future, Kodak Black and Beyoncé in the past) and Cronin — somehow — is a ball of vaping, water-drinking energy as he bounces from control desk to vocal booth.
“I love to pace around,” he says, as if reading the question on my mind. “I spent so long when I started making music like this…” he hunches over to give a Mr Burns impression, “I started getting fat.”
Twenty-six-year-old artist/engineer/producer Jake Mark is seated at the control desk. “I figured I could play some loops and you can pick what you like,” he says.
“Fire,” Cronin nods.
Bathed in a patchwork of red and purple LED light, the producers grow from two to ten incrementally, slowly and unassumingly filing in without disrupting the creative process. The studio is a hive mind of topline talent — from Luke White (XXXTentacion), Mikefrom31st, actor Jabari Banks (BEL-AIR), R&B artist sabine smh, to hip hop acts RMR and Javi Marzella — and they’re all serving the song.
Between recording impromptu vocals in the booth, Cronin is producing too: “Turn down that new kick a little,” he tells Luke White. “What do you reckon about taking the bass out of the guitar and adding the 808?” he asks.
The full song, “Nevermind”, is ready in just a few hours. It’s a flickering soundscape weaved with soft guitar patterns and lyrical bruising. But the night is young for LA’s music creators, so Cronin and his manager head to a studio to meet Repko, the multi-Platinum producer behind tracks from Trippie Redd, Juice WRLD and Iann Dior. They don’t make it back to their hotel until after 9am.
Oliver Cronin isn’t risk-averse, and in the pit of his stomach knows that it’s his talent, and intuition, that are going to ensure his return trips to the US (and the world). Granted, he waited patiently to release his first song “Best Life” on SoundCloud to catch the industry’s attention (“I only had one shot really to network with certain people”). He also tactically followed all of the one hundred Instagram accounts The Kid LAROI was following back in 2018 (one of them was his now manager Tane). But if this LA jaunt proves anything, it’s that he welcomes situations which would give most people hives.
On the way to a Lakers game in an Uber, he’s organising a studio collab with YouTube sensation Salim of the Nelk Boys, who he’s never met before; and when I speak to him back on the rooftop about the highest climb ahead of him to break America, he seems… ready.
“I know that I can’t get what I want just from Australia,” he admits.
“[…] I want to be the one to start the next trend. I don’t want to just follow what’s cool and what’s popping, especially in music. I want to be the one to make music.”
By the time his first LA visit is over, Oliver Cronin will have completed more than two dozen studio sessions with more than thirty producers and songwriters. Some sessions were set up by 300 Entertainment, the Warner-owned giant behind acts like Megan Thee Stallion, Young Thug and Fetty Wap, others are set up by Warner’s Elektra Records, but many of the sessions happen on the fly, well into the night, and don’t finish until long after the sun comes up.
It’s a new process for Cronin too. As a multi-instrumentalist and producer on the rise in a global pandemic, he’s accustomed to laying down the melodies and lyrics floating around in his mind, sometimes on piano or via a voice memo. He’d then work with producers in an online setting and trial the songs on TikTok, where he boasts 2.8 million and almost 200,000 followers at time of publishing.
“One of the cool things about music and why I love it so much, is that like…” he trails off. “And this has only become a recent thing that I’ve been thinking about — but to be able to have nothing, and have something in your head, and make that into a song, like make. I don’t know,” he pauses as if conjuring the feeling from yesterday’s session. “A blank page and make art from that?” He shakes his head in delight, grinning.
Luckily, most of Cronin’s TikTok followers are based in the US, followed by the UK, Australia and Germany. So when he began posting remixes of tracks like Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” and Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” back in mid-2021, he clocked millions of views overnight. After his remixes blew up (his Adele remix of “Rolling In The Deep” received over 270,000 likes), he set himself a public challenge to write thirty songs in thirty days. After ten days, he was taking requests from followers — a genius marketing move to bring fans behind the proverbial curtain and into the creative process. His track “1985” was the result of a request for a song with an EDM chorus and his voice “chopped up”.
“I was worried,” Cronin says. “I’d done so well with these remixes. Like, ‘Do people want to hear my original stuff?’ And so when it blew up on the second day it was so relieving.”
Shadowing Oliver Cronin around LA at this stage of his career, during the formative lead-up to a debut album, can feel like eavesdropping your way through a house party. Cronin had invited me to join him at places like the Ruby Fashion Library showroom, where he met with stylist Natombi in a warehouse filled with rows and rows of clothing for hire and purchase.
“It’s like a playground,” smiles Natombi, looking effortlessly cool in head-to-toe black.
The warehouse walls are adorned with quotes from big-name designers: “Fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick to the same menu,” reads one quote from Kenzō Takada.
Cronin cradles the glittery sleeve of a silver Balmain jacket, “Whoa that’s a bit too over the top,” he chuckles. He settles on matching denim co-ords by Sean John and Dickies.
At a very LA dinner at NOBU in Malibu that night, restaurant-goers gawk at him in his new threads and Prada sunglasses, seemingly perplexed as to why they don’t know him when he’s so clearly somebody. Cronin climbs into the Uber afterwards. “Sorry, I’m big,” he says coyly, folding his six-foot-three frame into the front passenger seat.
You get the feeling he will be big, career-wise that is. He’s unapologetic about his ambition and the path he took to get where he is today, but more importantly, he has the essential ingredients to make the leap to where he wants to go. It’s not all high and dry manifestos and social media marketing for Cronin, he has the secret sauce found in his idols too: an overarching desire to be the change he wants to see in the world, underscored by raw musical talent.
“I want to be someone who shows people that they don’t have to give up, or can give opportunities to people who have not had opportunities. Inclusivity is a big part of what I stand for.”
“[…] I believe that love is the driver of the world. I think there’s not enough love in the world, there’s so much hate. So much hate,” he pauses briefly, letting a sadness pass over him. “I just think… I always try to write around love. The world wouldn’t work without love. And it’s something that everyone can relate to.”