Written by Molly Gorman
‘I think I just love attention’, Brazilian-born, London-based singer Nonô Lellis jokes as we discuss the incredible year she’s had. I met with the newly-turned 25-year-old pop star via Zoom to chat about her anticipated new single, Lovesick. She’s glowing, having celebrated her birthday just the day before.
Lovesick is an infectiously fun dance track. It’s accompanied by bright visuals which encapsulate Nonô’s playful image and personality; she’s a young woman having fun and dreaming big. Inspired by a break-up after a three-year-long relationship, the lyrics express longing for a loved one and the pain of heartbreak. She describes it as her ‘love letter to anyone whose heart ever needed an intravenous disco ball.’ Connecting with her listeners through relatable and shared experiences is something Nonô strives for and she thinks that her most honest songs, which capture specific moments in her life, are the best ones.
As her Instagram bio states, Nonô shipped herself over to London in 2016, hoping to see more of the world and reach more people with her music. Affirmed by family and friends back home who stay in regular contact, Nonô is making Brazil proud. Recently she surpassed a hundred million streams on Spotify with over two million monthly listeners, and has collaborated with the likes of Example, Majestic, and Moti, furthermore garnering support from the likes of Danny Howard, Party Anthems, Mollie King and Jack Saunders, who announced her as ‘the future of pop’. ‘We shouldn’t focus on the numbers, but it feels nice to see that people are supporting, listening and helping me to hit that huge milestone. It’s so nice to see how my hard work is paying off,’ Nonô says, smiling.
Wanting to firmly establish herself as part of the London music scene in 2020, Nonô began exploring dance music with friends. It led to collaborations with DJs who liked her writing and then progressed to her requesting her vocals. Eventually she met a producer who put her in touch with Example, who invited her to support him on his UK tour in February this year. ‘We just bonded,’ she says. ‘We were freestyling one day and he showed me a song that he’d just started writing. He asked me to freestyle something on it and the next day we were in London recording Deep.’
Over the summer this year, she was playing festivals frequently and often joined Example to perform Deep, which she loved after being ‘trapped’ for so long through Covid. Reflecting on lockdown, she was lucky to have had songs ready to be released which took a lot of the pressure off, ‘I didn’t have to go into studios. I was able to learn how to edit my music videos, use Photoshop to create artwork, or do my photoshoots at home.’ However, having only recently built connections in the industry and playing her first shows in 2019, it was a big setback and like most performers, missed being on stage.
Before moving to London, Nonô was already making music professionally from the age of 16 and gained recognition on Brazil’s The Voice. The show changed her life overnight, and she went from covering songs on YouTube and singing in church for school to having over three million people watching her sing every night. ‘My phone started blowing up and I got 90,000 followers in one day. It was a very strange experience because it was my first time singing on big stages and to a lot of people while going through my teenage years.’ she says. Like a lot of teenage stars who find fame at a young age, Nonô didn’t know how to deal with the fame. Instead she tried to absorb it all, ‘I was living through my biggest dream – I’m grateful for the learning experience as now I have a foundation and I know my limits of what I can handle.’
I wonder how she has stayed grounded and level-headed after so many years in the industry already, ‘my family keeps me humble…’ she grins as if to imply that they keep her too grounded, if there is such a thing. ‘Also, I try not to get jaded by it all. I think the most important thing is remembering that I love singing and being able to reach people that are going through the same thing as me.’
Nonô holds Brazil close to her heart and is zealous about inspiring Brazilians who hope to become a singer or songwriter. ‘I want to show them that it’s completely achievable. When I’m representing the Latino community in the UK, I feel a pressure, but it’s also an honour that I have this possibility to show the world a different side of Brazil. I’m so proud of where I’m from.’ She speaks so affectionately about her home and despite always dreaming of moving to the UK, it doesn’t detract from how hard it can be to be hundreds of miles away. Most of Nonô’s family live in Brazil, apart from her sister who moved to London in 2020. ‘It’s very hard sometimes because the culture here is so different and there were moments that I felt a bit left out. I hadn’t even been to Europe before I came here – I was also only 18. Quickly I realised that I wouldn’t settle in with people that were joking about Greggs.’ She notices the smile on my face as I describe Greggs as the clear height of British culture, ‘I had no idea what it was! I was like, is that a person?’ she laughs before proceeding to do an incredible Essex accent. She must have watched TOWIE.
Before long, she had learned about British culture and embedded herself into it. ‘It’s a privilege to have these two sides of me…’ – although this may at times be unsettling – ‘...but I don’t think I’ll ever be a hundred percent here or there.’
Signing to a supportive label and team that embraces Nonô’s heritage and culture was extremely important to her. It’s making her work even more enjoyable – long gone are the days of being an independent artist and doing her marketing alone, for example uploading videos to YouTube and figuring out how their ads work (something she funnily describes as ‘one of the seven circles of hell’). ‘I’m so excited to be signed with them [Helix Records] because they believe in me and they understand my heritage. They know that I love dance music and I love Brazilian music.’
Drawing inspiration from strong women such as Rosalía and Rihanna, Nonô describes her sound as a colourful, fun and free shot of Brazilian influence. ‘Free’ is a reference to her ability to move across different genres of music and her fear of being defined. ‘I like the whole creative process. Melodies come very easily to me. When I’m writing, I really like to listen to either a guitar or keys or a beat, and then the melodies and words come naturally.’ I ask if she’ll ever make a sad song, ‘I’d love to. Oh, I’d love to make everyone cry. I can release whatever I’d like as long as I’m doing it with my heart – maybe dance, pop or Brazilian hip-hop, maybe a ballad!’
Just like in her song Rockstar, where she sings ‘Imma be a rockstar / Gotta keep my head high’, Nonô is manifesting more success. Professing her dream of headlining Glastonbury and Rock in Rio Brazil, she also wants to win a Brit award, ‘In the first year that I moved here, my aunt gave me a ticket to the Brits. I was just in awe of the talent. Adele sang Hello, and I was far up in the back, in row R or something, and I thought, ‘okay, I’m gonna do that one day.’’
Head over to Nonô’s Spotify page to hear more of her music and keep an eye out for upcoming tracks.