Skip to content
Lleo wears rings by Lag World and necklace by Mi Manera

Today, rising star lleo becomes the first of four acts to be spotlighted by Breakthrough, GAY TIMES and Coke Studio’s campaign to find the very best unsigned LGBTQ+ music talent in the UK and Ireland. As part of the campaign, Breakthrough will offer all four acts a range of exciting paid opportunities comprising a photoshoot with a leading queer photographer, valuable festival experience and lasting support propelling them, beyond the summer Pride months, in an industry so few manage to break into. Festivals include the likes of Luno presents All Points East, Boardmasters, and Longitude as well as performances at Pride in London and Brighton Pride as part of Coca-Cola’s Parade Float. The four acts were chosen following an online callout which saw over two hundred applicants with three more rising stars to be announced shortly. 

London-based lleo describes their sound as “bipolar pop” because it contains “the highest highs and the lowest lows condensed into bangers”. When they say their music is “full of layers – like my mind”, they aren’t exaggerating. On their brilliant new single boyfriend, driving pop-punk guitars dovetail with savagely catchy pop hooks in a thrillingly anthemic way. Though some commentators have aligned lleo with the ultra-modern “hyperpop” sound pioneered by Charli XCX and the late, great SOPHIE, they hail everyone from indie firebrands The 1975 to pop icon Lady Gaga as an influence. 

Like those era-defining artists, lleo isn’t afraid to go there – really go there – in their lyrics. Boyfriend, an unrequited love song on which they pine for someone who’s already coupled up, features the frank admission: “I know it’s bad, but I hate him, yeah.” It’s this raw and enthralling honesty that makes them stand out as a future LGBTQ+ superstar. Breakthrough with Coke Studio is launching during Pride Month, a time when the LGBTQ+ community looks back at past victories and forward to future battles. For lleo, Pride is all about “love, acceptance, and freedom” – namely, the “freedom to be who you are and love”. It’s a time to celebrate – “what’s more amazing than that?”, lleo says – but also to take stock. “Although in many aspects, we are moving forward as a society,” they say, “I think it’s so important that we are realistic about where we are at in society for LGBTQ+ people and remember that there is still a long way to go. We need Pride more than ever.” 

lleo makes no attempt to sugarcoat their own personal obstacles, either. “As someone who lives with bipolar disorder – or cyclothymia – dealing with my head can be really turbulent,” they say. “Being an independent musician can be challenging enough, so when you add the fact that I have bipolar to the mix, you can imagine how up and down things can be!” Lleo has found a way to manage their cyclothymia, but remains committed to sharing their mental health journey in a totally open way. “With the right medication, therapy and being mindful of the decisions I make and how I take care of myself, my life has completely changed for the better,” they say. “I’m happier, healthier and my career is thriving more than ever.” 

In fact, this ongoing journey is fuel for their creative fire. On their 2021 single bipolar, a purposeful bop that packs a hefty emotional punch, lleo turns their demons into deceptively breezy pop gold. “They say i should medicate myself to regulate my feelings, tempted to try ‘cos right now I need help,” they sing on the pre-chorus.  It’s a brave and utterly unvarnished moment that reflects what lleo stands for as an artist. “My music is for everyone who feels like they don’t fit in, and for anyone who struggles with who they are,” they say. “I’ve always been different – I can’t put my finger on why. I want people to listen to my music and know that it’s OK to feel whatever you’re feeling at 100%.” Lleo’s message to others who feel as though they don’t fit in is straightforward: “Get it all out: there’s no shame in that.” 

Music is lleo’s vehicle for making sure they “get it all out”. They’ve been writing songs since they were 12 and now produce their own music, too. Their collaborators include London-based songwriter-producer Sophie Ackroyd, with whom they wrote boyfriend, and Essex-based musician Jamie Sellers, their co-writer on serotonin, lleo’s most streamed song to date. “Frustrated, jaded, you’re looking pretty tired,” lleo sings on the latter. “You’re not good at trying to hide it.” It’s clearly a pretty dark song, but also a cathartic and life-affirming one. “Music makes me feel,” lleo says. “From as early as I can remember, music has been my whole life – I can’t do anything else!” 

Though songwriting and performing has always been their calling, lleo says their musical breakthrough came when they started to trust their gut “completely. “I used to think ‘what should I write about?'” they explain. “But I had this moment one day a couple of years ago where I thought ‘what do I need to get out?’ And that changed everything.” From this moment on, lleo began drawing from a songwriting well that is uniquely their own. “Whatever is going on in my head is what I need to address when I go into the studio,” they say. “I don’t know anyone with a mind like mine, and I haven’t heard many tunes like mine. Like, who else writes about antidepressants, birthday parties and falling in love with straight girls, then puts it all on one EP?” 

Titled am i making sense, that EP dropped in 2022 and helped to expand lleo’s swelling fanbase, which has also been boosted by support from Radio 1’s Future Artists with Jack Saunders. They now have 13,000 TikTok followers and 57,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. On meds, an incredibly affecting track from the EP, lleo sings tenderly about the desensitising side effects of mental health medication that isn’t quite right. “Losin’ track of who you are,” they sing, “now I never see you smile anymore – not like before.” Elsewhere on the EP, the dreamy ballad birthday party taps into the ultimate childhood nightmare: a celebration of your special day to which “no one turns up”. “I had party rings and paper hats all by myself, how sad is that?” lleo sings longingly. 

In fact, lleo’s bipolar pop is striking such a chord with fellow “outsiders” that they are now being asked to perform on the biggest stages. Last August, they sang for an audience of 25,000 at iconic South London cricket ground The Oval. “It was wild,” lleo enthuses. “To be playing songs about mental health to a crowd that big was an incredible feeling, and something I’ll remember for a long time.” As we approach Pride season and beyond, lleo is definitely on course to create more unforgettable moments for their fans. Asked what advice they would give to an aspiring queer musician, lleo shares a pearl from their own personal journey: “Be who you are and trust your gut.”

Listen to Ileo’s new single, i hope KARMA, now. 

Creative Director: Julia Salotti
Senior Producer: Sophie Christophersen
Account Director: Pav Grewal
Executive Creative Director: Josh Fletcher
Sales Director: Tiffany Gumbrell
Art Director / Designer: Jack Rowe
Designer: Yosef Phelan
Photography: Jordan Rossi
Photography Assistants: Doma Dovgialo, Ally Cook, Marcus Lister
Fashion Director: Umar Sarwar
Styling Assistants: Lily Hobson, Bradley Turner
Hair: Louis Byrne, Marc Ramos
Makeup: Byron London, Matilde Ribau
Videographer / Editor: Joe Wood
Sound Recordist: Smiley Sound, Ben Williams
Grade: Studio RM