By Ural Garrett
Dreamer Isioma walks a multicolored tightrope between going with the flow and having a clear plan for their artistic trajectory. This approach allowed their alt-funk breakout 2020 single “Sensitive” to become a viral TikTok sensation that also earned a placement during the final season of Issa Rae’s iconic comedy-drama Insecure. It’s also apparent on a refreshingly loose recent Zoom call with MTV News, where Dreamer chills on a sofa with a miniature Ms. Pac-Man arcade stand to one side and a snare drum visible to the right.
Everything about the Chicago-based singer-songwriter is fairly impulsive, from their music that hops seamlessly between indie rock, funk, pop, and hip-hop to stylish outfits in addition to cleverly made DIY-looking videos. Where does this unpredictable nature come from? Dreamer answers with nonchalant glee.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing myself,” Dreamer says with a laugh. “I literally make up what I’m going to do as I do that shit, and if it works, it works. And if it don’t, it don’t. That’s how I be. That’s how that happens.”
It all works on Goodnight Dreamer, their new album that dropped on February 23, which continues this creative momentum through its fluid maneuvering around various soundscapes and themes of being one’s authentic self.
Growing up living around the world including suburban Illinois; Lagos, Nigeria; and parts of the United Kingdom, Dreamer settled in Chicago for college to study communications (they were initially a marketing major but the math credits required were a no-go) as a way to study people. They are a self-proclaimed observer. As they leaned more into music, their slick fusion of sounds garnered them a small local fan base before having that breakthrough moment artists dream about once “Sensitive” gained traction.
By the time their Sensitive EP dropped at the start of the global COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 — followed by the EP The Leo Sun Sets later that year — Dreamer’s buzz reached beyond Chicago. It was easy to understand why genre-bending fan favorites like “Blue Sky” and “Stop Calling the Police on Me” featured vibrant sonics inspired by Dreamer’s eclectic range of influences like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Chief Keef.
Dreamer utilized social media to sustain their buzz until touring could safely resume. But as ever, they did it at their own pace.
“I guess it's been weird, because even though I'm an internet kid — I grew up on the internet, always on social media and stuff like that — I'm still a very real-life person,” Dreamer says about growing their fan base through social media. They often share posts that give insight into their personal life and creative process. “I don't talk to anybody unless you're right in my face. And so from that to, like, you literally can't see nobody, you have to do a lot of stuff online.”
Meanwhile, dreamy music videos like “King” and “Meadows in Japan” engaged fans even more as Dreamer made the most of their indie budget. The “King” visual looks like a surreal kickback in a small apartment, while recently released “Bad Ting” showcases a surreal romance on the beach.
“The littlest more I can get, the more we can do. Me and all the people I work with, we're all learning as we go. I pretty much only work with my friends, and so the DIY shit only makes things more fun. You've just got to be creative with it.”
As regulations began to ease up for live performances in 2021, Dreamer was admittedly unprepared as they hit the road from coast to coast on a tour of around 12 dates. But luckily, they found packed crowds eager for real interaction.
“To be straight up, I had no idea what I was doing that entire time,” Dreamer says. “I thought that if I have the right equipment, everything will go smooth. I didn't think about, now we actually have to perform and engage and turn people up and all this shit. I literally had no idea what I was doing.”
Around that time, a personal transition began to happen in Dreamer’s life, partly inspired by social media. “I remember on tour I would be going to parties after the show. When people would address me, they would address me as ‘Dreamer,’ because that's what they see as my at-name on TikTok and shit like that.”
The more people called them by the TikTok handle instead of their gender-specific deadname, the more something felt off. In a big Instagram announcement in January, Dreamer made the change official. The caption simply read, “Call me dreamer pls & ty.”
“I was just like, my deadname don't even sound right,” Dreamer explains. “I've never even thought that my deadname sounded right. I would really just be looking at myself in the mirror and be like, this isn't added up. I don't even see this person. Once the names became a norm in my life every day, I was just like, oh this makes way more sense. That's when it all just clicked type shit."
Taking things further, Dreamer donated a percentage of their merch revenue to an organization that helps trans youth in an Instagram post.
Dreamer represents a paradigm shift in music with the increased visibility of Black LGBTQ+ artists such as Young M.A, Saucy Santana, Syd, Tiffany Gouche, and Kehlani, as well as current mainstream top-charter Lil Nas X. According to Dreamer, there’s work to be done for Black queer artists to gain more mainstream acceptance.
Until then, Goodnight Dreamer is celebrating Dreamer’s unparalleled creativity. Featuring singles “Huh?,” “Crying in the Club,” “Really Really,” and most recently “Bad Ting,” the album is a collection of songs for which they found artistic inspiration everywhere.
“I'm a really big fan of Declan McKenna, and David Bowie is a huge inspiration to me, just on how he was changing his persona every time he would drop an album,” Dreamer says. “The Neighbourhood's Chip Chrome & the Mono-Tones album was really cool. That inspired me creating the character Dreamer because I was really inspired by how lead singer Jesse would paint himself silver on some crazy shit and paint his whole body silver and just be out in the streets of L.A. acting a fool.”
Dreamer already has plans to take the conceptual style to their upcoming live performances, as well.
“After my last tour, it’s much more important to me than ever to make sure that I build a true story and create a new world,” Dreamer says. “I’m trying to be on my Tyler, the Creator by building sets and doing all types of crazy shit, like costume switches and all that.”
Between the hustle of gaining more fans, engaging on social media on their terms, rolling out an album, and pushing past anxieties daily, Dreamer is growing and learning. “The more I learn about things, the more I steer away from what one would traditionally think of when they think about religion or Christianity or sexuality or queerness. I just find myself going more and more left than what people think is the norm, I guess.”