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The rise of a popstar and an ode to his younger self

Alex Suarez

At the age of eight, Ethan Xander Alonzo found himself writing his first song, “Popstar.” 

Twelve years later, Alonzo is a junior studying music business at Columbia and an upcoming independent pop and R&B artist, who goes by the name of XNDR. 

“Writing that at eight years old and I look back at that now at 20. Things come full circle and I totally believe that you can be the author of your own success,” he said. 

Alonzo is a second-generation American with his roots tracing back to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. 

Growing up, he was never taught how to speak Spanish as his parents were fluent in English. Alonzo now lives with his grandmother who only speaks Spanish. 

“As I have gotten older, and as she gets older, I recognize how important it is for me to… [pick it up] and pass it down to my [future] kids… I want there to be some sense of our culture and heritage.”  

Although he grew up listening to classic Latin rhythms like salsa, bachata and merengue, he said deep down he is an R&B soul lover and glam boy. Some of his idols include: Justin Timberlake, Usher, SZA and his long-time idol, Beyonce. “She has the persona of Sasha Fierce, XNDR is mine,” he said.

Alonzo and XNDR are very distinct. He said XNDR is more of an alter-ego and a persona, as opposed to himself. “I think the things that I might say or sing about are parts of me and my experiences but I like to fabricate them a little bit as XNDR because it’s more of a fantasy.”

Alonzo said he started composing music when his parents gifted him a metallic guitar notebook, still looking back to that story.  

“It is an ode to little Ethan because he had very specific ideas as to where he wanted to go with his career. He did not know what XNDR was. He had an idea of where he wanted to go and he knew he wanted to make music.“ 

Micah Daniels has been a friend of Alonzo’s for a decade now. They met while singing for their church’s Youth Worship Team.

According to Daniels, “Ethan has always been Ethan. He’s always had this confidence and star quality about him.”

An anecdote that Daniels shared from their childhood was that “it would just be so entertaining and honestly inspiring to see him performing in church because he would be on stage as if he was headlining a concert being like ‘come on guys!’ It was just the cutest thing ever, he was so brave to do that.” 

Alonzo now works alongside his manager, Hailey Works, who is a Columbia music business alumni. They are working hard to establish a brand that fits the image that has been created. 

“She is very passionate about managing artists and marketing and being on that side of artist development… so we teamed up.”

“Ethan is my friend you know and XNDR is this superstar we are creating,” Works said. 

Together they promote music through social media which has been a big help to them, especially Instagram reels and TikTok. 

“It’s been really really amazing and we have a lot of cool stuff coming up, so I’m super excited,” Works added.  

His newest single was released in January, titled “Rush.” Regardless of it being written in 2021, he says he wanted to be able to have this to himself before the world got to listen to it. 

“At the very least, I can go to bed every night knowing that I gave my all to it and I waited for the right time and waited to work with the right people to bring the vision to life”. 

Daniels hopes that she is able to witness Alonzo’s success and be beside her friend, because what he’s already done is awesome and leaves her speechless. “I see Ethan the performer, Ethan the artist as who Ethan is because he lives and breathes it. I know that he wakes up thinking about it and goes to sleep thinking about it. It just motivates him through everything.”

Being a firm believer of timing is key, XNDR understands that not everything will be handed to him. He has to work for it, especially being an independent artist. He said more work will have to be done before putting out a Latin record. 

“Something as vulnerable as putting out a Latin record because it hits a little closer to home and is a little special to my family. For me everything has to come at the right time for me,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s 20 years out. I’d rather have peace of mind that I put it out at the right time instead of rushing it. It’s the same thing with Rush.”

Alonzo’s main focus is to finish writing his extended play which he hopes will be finished by August. “Metamorphosis” will be the title of this EP and it will include “Rush” as its first single. “It is literally an encapsulation of the past four years. It’s journal and diary entries of things.”

Alonzo said that it will start off sonically slow and build up to genres such as house and dance music, referencing that to the title of his EP. 

Although he is not where he wants to be just yet, Alonzo is content with the progress it takes to achieve his dreams. “You take one step every single day and later on down the line you’re going to see it manifest when you take a step back to look at the bigger picture. When I do that now, I’m like ‘wow.’” 

Daniels has been a witness of the hard work Alonzo has put into his dream. “There are times when he needs to rest and give himself grace and really take a beat and realize how far he’s come and what he’s done to get there.“

Within the next couple of years, Alonzo wants to incorporate Latin rhythms to his repertoire to pay homage to his heritage but more so, as a musical experiment to dig deeper. 

“It’s no coincidence that I am living with my grandma who only speaks Spanish and makes Puerto Rican dishes daily and I’ve been able to pick up so much of my culture that I was not taught at home.”

Through his art and the persona he has created, Alonzo wants people to get to know who he is and promote motivation. “XNDR is one that wants to push the limit and inspire others to be their best and be their most authentic selves in whatever way that looks like.”

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About the Contributors
Citlalli Magali Sotelo, Bilingual Reporter
csotelo@columbiachronicle.com   Citlalli Magali Sotelo is a senior broadcast journalism major. She has reported on local businesses, student and faculty demographics and Mexican Independence Day in Chicago. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Alex Suarez, Creative Director
asuarez@columbiachronicle.com   Alex Suarez is a senior traditional animation major and has created graphics for Chronicle stories in various sections. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Hebron, Indiana