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On the Rise
A boy named ROSA

15 January 2024, 09:30

A Boy Named ROSA is searching for self-awareness and authentic connection in a world full of noise.

“I’m still in limbo, so I tried to start 2024 with a detox,” says Roger William Saro, better known these days by the moniker ‘A Boy Named ROSA’. The retrospective glimmer of festivities and New Year advent are not yet out of sight, and being thrown discourteously into customary resolutions for 2024 feels somewhat cold.

It’s been two months since the release of his anticipated debut album FEMALE, an important landmark that, for ROSA, proved a long time coming. Preceded by a clutch of singles in 2020 – “Phone”, “BLOW”, and “Eye Candy” – but delayed significantly in the wake of the pandemic, he found himself trapped in a limbo entirely outside of his control. For any artist with a vision of trajectory, lost time and agency can be a kicker. “To sit on the music, and have all these plans, the limbo was pretty heavy

Despite being suspended in January’s transitional purgatory, ROSA is not daunted by the seasonal goal-setting. While “not necessarily spiritual”, he is very intentional about his life path – both in the short-term and the long. “I don’t want to sound cliche, but you have to take it one step at a time. But we’re all human; by February, you forget your whole intention – you gotta regroup, and start again.”


He attributes such self-awareness in his strengths and shortcomings to a challenging childhood. Born to a Surinamese mother and a Native American father in Amsterdam, ROSA’s childhood in a single-parent household was often solitary. “I’ve always been [self-aware], maybe because I didn’t have anyone to hold my hand. I had to watch my surroundings and learn by observing.”

Photo by Nora Taher

While ROSA’s mother, who gave birth aged 17, “was around for the basics”, he was often left to his own devices and sought solace in pop culture and comfort in creativity, writing and drawing to pass the time; he recalls watching A Clockwork Orange at 2am at far too young an age. Herself young, ROSA recalls his mother playing CDs in the home.

“She was into cool hip hop, pop, Janet Jackson,” – who he says his mother resembled – “the combination of singing and dancing. Not just vocal-heavy stuff like Whitney Houston, but the cusp of a new type of music. [Artists] who can make a song that can be universally liked, but still has authenticity.” Michael Jackson was his “Holy Grail”, and Prince is framed on the wall behind the sofa where ROSA sits, laidback in grey sweats in stark contrast to the sleek, high fashion ensembles which garb his pop star image.


ROSA is striving for this same longevity, diligently studying artists later in their careers once their initial hype has quieted: how much did that album sell; how many Billboard hits; does she still tour; how do you age gracefully in music? “I go back for nostalgic reasons, but [to ask] what do you do when you can’t compete with the young anymore?”

For an artist so concerned with curating longevity, A Boy Named ROSA is still very much at the start of his career. Imbued with woozy samples, coercive grooves, and an instinctual flitting between hip hop, R&B, and soul, FEMALE is an anthology of odes to the women who have made an impact on his life, whether their impressions be flitting and superficial, or twined in the fabric of his being. After a few months he looked up and realised he had happened upon a theme.

“It’s all pulled from real life stories that are logged in my brain,” says ROSA. “But it’s not all recent – I dug back for some stories. Some emotions that I expressed on this album are so old it’s not even relevant in my real life now. But because the feeling of love is so universal, people can relate to the euphoria and downfall.”

Produced by Nora Korra and imbued with rich synth and subtle beats, recent single “She Belongs To The Show (pt2)” sees ROSA muse on the consequence of ownership in relationships, and how love for another may not always be akin to their individual best interests. Inspired by an acquaintance whose ambition and poise he admired and a lost love who he met “too early in life”, the track and its accompanying video are a celebration of the agency of women and their right to create a joyful life of independence without obligation.

Photo by Nora Taher

There is a duality with which ROSA regards women: tracks like “Picky” and “Eye Candy” linger on physicality, temptation, and materialism in a way that can feel superficial without reprieve. Elsewhere, and the contrary bubbles to the surface: the scatting urgency to impress in “Perfect”; the despondence of apps and modern dating in “Women” and “Phone”; the often paradoxical perspective of relationships in “Sex or Love”. Whether it be reverence of his muse or not knowing how to connect, the writing made ROSA look deeper into why he’d written such songs in the first place. As for which are anecdotal, observational, or a piece of social commentary, well, who can say?

“It’s like the Wild West now,” says ROSA of the modern dating experience. “I think we’re in a renaissance period – we’re all looking like ‘how does this go?’ Women know what the fuck they want and [men] can’t approach women in the way they have done in the past.” In a dating landscape fuelled by ego, he often doesn’t participate and longs for an uptake of sincere communication. “We can meet each other halfway; I won’t be looked at as weird for being emotional, and she for vice versa.”

ROSA is not one to shy away from emotions or vulnerability. “BLOW”, a song close to his heart, sees him address his journey with addiction for all to regard. “The song is so straightforward and not metaphorical; the first line is ’I’m addicted, it’s kind of a sickness’ – how much clearer can I get?” While it was daunting to be so honest, he is proud of releasing the song as he wanted his listeners to know the artist: it was his way of rebelling against the algorithm. “As I grow in my career, it will be a reference point of my authenticity.”

Photo by Patrick Kenawy

And for ROSA, it all comes back to this desire for universal authenticity – whether it be through his music or his image. He considers himself unburdened by the construct of masculinity and femininity and what society deems fit for either box, expressing himself freely and without self-conscious restraint, experimenting with make-up, movement, and clothing in the manner of which his idol Prince did decades prior.

This self-expression and his self-aware willingness to fertilise his thoughts means he clicks better with the women around him, and keeps a tight circle, one where he feels seen and galvanised. “The women in my life keep me grounded and inspire me to be a better version of myself.” It is the company of women in which he feels most free: whether it be his mother, his friends, or Janet Jackson herself, they have all helped create A Boy Named ROSA.

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