Unboxed Vol. 42: Isaac Dunbar Wants To Dance Like Prince And Bowie

The 21-year-old pop star searches for euphoria on his upcoming project, ‘Beep Beep Repeat.’

Isaac Dunbar is ready to party. 

The doe-eyed pop singer-songwriter only recently moved to Los Angeles and is still brimming with all the possibilities of moving to a new city. We met on a sunny Thursday afternoon at Echo Park and sat in the grass on a hill overlooking the lake as geese squawked nearby. 

He just celebrated his 21st birthday, but looking at him, you might feel transported back in time. Dunbar rocks a mustache and bell-bottom jeans. A huge afro frames his face, and he’s quick to smile.

And he’s got a killer voice. 

The singer grew up in Barnstable, Massachusetts, with a white mother and a Liberian father. “She was always making me African dishes,” Dunbar says of his family. “We were always going to my family, and she made sure to immerse me and make me very aware of things. And I thank her for that because it could have taken a very different path.”

He was raised Christian and “wasn't allowed to listen to all my favorite artists. I was only allowed to listen to Hillsong,” he laughs. “There was definitely fear involved, especially going back to the whole Christian thing having hell dangling over your head like a dark cloud.”

Dunbar understood his queerness at an early age, crediting Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP for launching his music obsession at just nine years old. Early in life, he had to ask himself, “What are your goals as a person and how do you want to live?” Still today, “It's always in the back of my mind personally.”

He’s a bit jealous of people who “were not raised with doom and gloom over their queerness,” but he’s left that behind for the most part or funneled those feelings into his art. “It just takes time and it takes growing and living life. If it's God that you're scared of, dive into that. If it's society that you're scared of, dive into that.”

If he were to ignore or suppress his questions or fears, he says he “would hurt myself and I would hurt other people. And I would hurt society.” Though he wasn’t allowed, he snuck and listened to the musicians he liked, including genre-bending artists like Prince, Bowie, and Sylvester, who all forged their own paths. 

Isaac Dunbar

The religious fears, his questions, his queerness; Dunbar channels all those complicated feelings into his voice, art, and music today. If he suppressed it, “I would hurt myself and I would hurt other people,” he says. “And I would hurt society.”

How did he find that strength? “I think it took me taking a step back from the noise, going in my cocoon, and then leaving the nest and going out into the world and seeing other people, how they live, and hearing people's perspectives. To fear the unknown, it's not doing any service to you.”

Dunbar left his childhood home in Massachusetts two days after his 18th birthday, “I moved to New York. I pissed off a lot of people,” he recalls. “Luckily, I was able to do that, first of all, and I made friends and people didn't bat an eye that I was f**king gay, which I was, Lord.”

That allowed him to find himself, in and out of music.

 “It's just been really interesting navigating what my place is being who I am within pop music,” he reflects. “From the jump, I have always been quite unpredictable with my sound. Luckily I find myself being boxed in many other ways. But the one thing that I don't find is that I'm boxed into one genre.”

Perhaps the world’s preoccupation with genre has more to do with the industry than the individual. “People want to sell something and it goes down to the people in power.” Those decision-makers “subconsciously instill certain things within the general population,” but ultimately, “whatever is popular is pop.”

His new record is firmly in the dance world, exploring the 80s sounds of artists like Sylvester, Prince, and Bowie. Newly 21 and still unpacking his apartment in Los Angeles, Dunbar is ready to dance. “Disco was made by Queens. It was made by gays and trans people, Black.” 

Today, the disco sucks movement is long gone, and the genre is cool again, fun and nostalgic. Flip on the radio and you’ll hear disco tracks from Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, Beyoncé, and more. 

Dunbar wants to make music fun again.

“I grew up a Gaga fan, and all of those records are so dance-inspired, so club-inspired.” He laughs, reminiscing about " the whole recession pop moment, just songs about total unseriousness.” 

He, just like many of us, needs that energy right now. 

“There's been such an era of sad music, and I'm really sick of it right now. I'm not saying I don't like sad music, but just turning on the radio, I want to feel happy when I listen to music right now.” Of course, “there's always a time and place to get into your feelings,” he says, but “Let me live, let me live.”

Since releasing his 2022 album Banish The Banshee, Dunbar has been “so sick of thinking and I'm so sick of pondering. These last two years, I've had the privilege of being able to do the complete opposite of that and have fun and experience youth and that's just been so inspiring to me.”

His upcoming EP, Beep Beep Repeat, channels all of those firsts—the chaotic, fake-ID-using, experimentation-kind of nights out on the town. “Those nights of seeing people just lose themselves and celebrate themselves are really inspiring to me.”

And the latest track, “American High,” dives into American party culture. “It's about my experience with it and my thoughts on it and how I play my role into it, what I like about it, what I don't like about it, and it's really just meant to not be the most serious thing ever.”

Beep Beep Repeat is set to release on April 26.

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