VJ Rosales has a successful career as part of The Filharmonic. But he knows that he has his own story to tell, both in his music and his life.
You only have once chance to make a good first impression. And depending on how it goes, it can make or break you. So, for Filipino-American singer-songwriter, musician, performer, and music director VJ Rosales, his recent single debut this June was laced with extra pressure as he expanded his music career as a solo artist while also being a member of Filipino-American a capella group The Filharmonic. But his solo debut became extra special and above all personal when in the announcement of his solo debut, he also came out. When all was said and done though, VJ’s solo debut was more than just a new chapter of his career. It was a move that allowed him to be true to himself and that he finally feels free.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, VJ got his name out there as a member of The Filharmonic, the viral a capella group on Pitch Perfect 2 that later went on to compete in the NBC show, Sing-Off. As part of the group for over nine years, he got to perform all over the world and on shows like The Late Late Show with James Corden. They were the in-house a cappella group where they got to perform alongside stars like John Legend and Lizzo.
All things considered, VJ had things going pretty well for him as The Filharmonic attained a level of success that few a capella groups ever achieve. But he felt that there was something else waiting for him. “I think I have always had it in the back of my mind,” says VJ in an interview with NYLON Manila. “I never made it a priority because I was still finding myself for so long.” But once he reached that place and the hurdle cleared, going solo wasn’t a hard thing to do.
MEANT FOR HIM
Going by the stage name VRO, which is pronounced Vee-Roh and takes inspiration from Jennifer Lopez and her nickname JLO, he dropped his debut single Red Eye on June 4. The track is an upbeat pop number with elements of funk, jazz, and groove. It’s a fun song that fits VRO’s voice very well and radiates pop star energy. But the track initially didn’t go to him and almost went to someone else. “Red Eye was written for a music label that shot songs out to many different artists.” He explains that at the time, he was working with songwriters who worked with artists like Chris Brown and Janelle Monae. He assumes that the song would have probably gone to them or someone around that caliber. But life had other plans. “I knew that song was meant for me.”
He specifically credits fellow songwriter Natalie Lauren for planting it in him that he should take the song. “She said, ‘If no one took this song, VJ, this is yours.’ And I definitely took that to heart, because once we tracked the demo for the song, I knew that the universe was saying, this is a great direction for you to move in, musically. It felt so right, and I remember for many years I worked on it and perfected it because I knew it was mine.”
DANCE FUNK BOP
While it would have been interesting to see an A-list musician take on Red Eye, the track fits VRO like a glove. Dropping a first single is never easy for a musician. This will be your musical introduction to the world. And with Red Eye, VRO leapt out of the gate as a solo artist strong. It was a song he knew was special the moment he worked on it. “When I wrote these lyrics, I remember saying to myself that this was such a banger, and that the concept and meaning of it was general enough to reach a greater, pop audience. It was also very ‘dancey’ and I think that type of music, with its foundation in funk, jazz, and R&B, is very much my vibe. I want to make the world dance.”
Due to the tracks infectious joy, VRO feels that he and the song has done its job when listeners want to move to it. “I know I’ve achieved my goal when people say that it makes them want to dance. Dance has been an art form that I never took myself seriously in. But, I love doing it, and I love the joy that it brings to people. So, with whatever song I have, I want to make people dance and forget their worries and struggles for just a bit. To enjoy and revel in music is such a vibe, and I want people to experience that all the time.”
FROM THE FILHARMONIC TO SOLO ACT
Now that he’s exploring his career as a solo artist, VRO is ready to make a name for himself. . “I like forming my own identity away from the entity of a group setting, thus creating an entirely different sound from a cappella.” He adds, “It’s nice to have the cushion of musical instruments. I don’t have to worry too much about straying away from the key or blending.” He made sure to say though that a cappella will still have a special place in his heart.
This isn’t to say though that VRO as a solo artists vs. him as part of The Filharmonic is different. But his growth as an individual was the main driver in pushing him to this new chapter of his life. “At the core, as an individual of the Filharmonic, I am the same. I don’t ever want to be someone that I’m not. This is why coming out as a solo artist is a very important step for me. I’ve grown so much being in the group, but now, at this point, I feel like I’m ready to forge my own path musically and artistically.”
His time with The Filharmonic taught him many things about himself and his musical skills. This is why he doesn’t see himself shying away from using what he learned to his advantage. “I have learned so many valuable things by being in the group musically that I’ve naturally adapted it to my own solo endeavors. There are so many things that I’d love to experiment with as a solo artist, that I wouldn’t necessarily try out in a group setting.” And what exactly are those lessons? “I sang the highest part in the Filharmonic, which helped me hone my vocal technique a little bit more, my voice has extended and gotten stronger the past nine years being in the group. So, I love applying those skills musically to my songs. I’ve also learned how to arrange music to my liking because of all the arrangements I’ve done with The Filharmonic”
LIVING HIS TRUE SELF
When VRO spent the past few years finding himself, it wasn’t just who he was musically. It also related to something deeper as who he was at the core of his heart. In his Instagram post announcing his solo debut, he also opened up on his true self. “I’m queer af and I’m so proud to be. I never got to say it. But it’s been a long time coming. I’m crying as I say this but I’m gonna work my ass off to make y’all proud. We deserve it. We are incredible. Let’s continue to be great and put in the work we always put in to be seen and heard,” he wrote in the caption.
That post and moment was a confluence of feelings and emotions. And to hear it from VRO himself, that post was just the beginning of his journey. “I still feel like I’m coming out,” he expresses. “There’s never an end to coming out because of the kind of social pressures the world puts our community in. I would say the right time to come out is not just a singular moment in time, but a span of years and years of discovering yourself and unpacking the things that have kept you from being your true and beautiful self.”
But as VRO continues to live his true self and establish his name as a solo artist, he is also aware that his coming out may rub people the wrong way or overshadow his career beginnings. But those issues aren’t clouding his mind. “ I’m not fearful of it. This is who I am, and you either take it or leave it.”. And when it comes to being who he is, that also includes his Filipino-American roots, something that will always be a part of him. “The Fil-Am experience is a very niche and particular culture that, I think, is very underrepresented in the US and the world in general. I would love to bring that into focus more.”
HIS STORY BEGINS
With his debut solo song and music video under his belt, VRO shares that this is just the beginning of his story with more of his work on the way. “More music that unfolds my story so that people who resonate with it can feel like they belong somewhere and that they’re not alone.” As that story continues, VRO not only hopes to live and share his true self, but also inspire others to feel good about themselves too. “I want to be an artist that inspires good in the world. Good being, the feeling you get when you forget all your worries in the world when you’re on that dance floor jamming out to your favorite song. Good being, realizing that it’s okay to be your true self even when the world says not to.”
And as for those who are still trying to find themselves, VRO says it starts by taking that first step. “Take your time but don’t waste your time. Be assertive and take initiative and find out what you really want in life. It’s gonna take a lot of work for you to find what it is you’re looking for- but I will say, it’s definitely worth it. So grind, work, put in the effort to be your true self. And then you’ll realize once you reach that point, it then becomes the easiest thing in the world.”