A bicultural upbringing can sometimes be alienating: Attempting to straddle both can draw as much criticism as aligning yourself with just one side. An Inglewood-born Chicana, Becky G knows the feeling — and rather than fight the polar pulls, she's embracing the spectrum that is her identity.
Having launched out of Disney and English-language commercial pop and, in the past few years, headfirst into the Latinx market, Becky G undoubtedly solidified herself a bonafide urbano star in 2018. Trepidations about whether or not she'd be welcomed into the market quickly subsided with help from reggaeton king Daddy Yankee, who enlisted the young singer for the "Dura" remix alongside Natti Natasha, her collaborator in the single "Sin Pijama."
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Then there's "Mayores," featuring Bad Bunny — released ahead of the other two, the track was enough, on its own, to earn her a place on any decent contemporary reggaeton playlist.
But in 2019, Becky G is returning to singing in English: Starting with "LBD," released earlier this month. PAPER caught up with the singer ahead of its release to hear more about what's next in her career, and how lessons in navigating her own identity will guide her going forward.
You've posted in the past about your fears around acceptance from the Latinx music community. It really feels like you're being embraced, though, especially considered all your Univision Premio lo Nuestro nominations. How do you feel about those fears lately?
It's been, I don't know, how many years since I got signed at 14 for my first record deal. And obviously I started with singing English music when I got signed, and I always knew, since the beginning, that one day I would want to embark on that journey of singing Spanish music, but I just didn't know when that time would be. I always had this subconscious fear, and I don't know if it was instilled by watching the movie Selena too many times — when her dad is like, "You're either too Mexican for the Americans, or too American for the Mexicans! — and you're just like, OK, I'm in the middle. I'm clearly so proud of my upbringing and being submerged in both cultures, and obviously the Latina side of me being such a huge inspiration in all of my videos, it was never something that was done with the intentions of gaining a market for financial benefit. It was a genuine pride to represent this flag, and kids like myself, who are born here in the United States but very well aware of the history of their last name, and how their stories began before they were even born, and with all this common thread which is the American dream. As scary as it was to make that decision, all signs at this point in my career point to just do it, Becky. Just go for it. You've got nothing to lose. And it's real, it's a dream of yours: What's stopping you?
In that moment, I realized that the only thing that was stopping me was myself. Because I can always learn more Spanish, and I can always surround myself with more Spanish-speaking people, and that's exactly what happened. I got in the studio, started working with some really awesome producers and songwriters and explained to them a little bit of my insecurities around these things, and they were like, "Girl, you got this." Because they were so encouraging, it created this safe space for me to be OK being what we call pocha — Spanglish-speaking, I guess.
I think people still struggle to understand that I love singing in Spanish but I think in English. It's hard for people — if you don't live that life, it could be confusing for some. But I learned that it's only brought more fans to the #beasters community, I guess you could say. A lot of my fans are the same as I am.
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Working with people like Maluma, did you feel welcomed?
Oh, 100 percent. I would joke around with them all the time. My grandma always makes fun of me because she says that my Spanish accent is a mix, she's like, you sound so diverse with your Spanish.When you're singing songs with, like, Joss Favela, this regional Mexican music, you sound very dulce, very sweet. And then when you sing reggaeton, you sound like you're from the streets, girl! I'm like, don't forget I am — I'm from Inglewood!
So it's totally been influenced by traveling, and it's the best thing that's ever happened to me, traveling throughout Latin America and other parts of the world that speak Spanish. The truth is that I'm like a child of the world now. Because I'm open to learning, and I guess too, they say that when you have a musical ear you kind of pick up on people's tones of voice and their accents, and that's kind of what's happened to me. My accent's not really anything except a little bit of everywhere that I've been and everyone that I've met. I think that's so cool, and it kind of makes my sound very unique in a way, and kind of like a chameleon.
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Of all the Spanish-speaking cultures you've visited, which have really stood out to you as especially impactful?
I mean, everywhere, to be honest. I'll never forget, for instance, my first time to doing a tour in Latin America; I was doing a tour with Fifth Harmony and we went to places like Chile to Argentina, and it was like my first time really performing in these territories. I was so overwhelmed with the love and how they received me. Ever since that tour, when I was given the opportunity to travel to places like that — it was very eye-opening and inspiring, and it made me feel like you know what? My biggest critic is going to be myself, and I just gotta do it. So if I go onstage and I mess up, talking to the crowd, saying a certain word, they're going to understand what I'm saying anyways. I feel like everyone speaks a little bit of everything these days. It was really cool to feel accepted, you know?
For sure. And you're a "dura in training," I saw.
[Laughs] It's kind of an inside joke because Yankee and Natti constantly use the terms like that song, es muy dura la canción, or ella es muy dura. And Natti's thing was like "la dura de las duras." The best chick of all the chicks. I think it's so cool, and when they totally embraced me in that little family that they have, it was one of those situations where I was like, oh my god, I just felt embraced by them as like a little sister. They took me in, kind of guiding me — when we were recording the "Sin Pijama" song and also when we were recording the "Dura" remix, they were super hands-on with me recording my parts, and super encouraging. Like, maybe you should sing this line like this, or with a little bit of this accent, and emphasize on this part. Just for them to take the time to do that — Natti, as another female in this industry, we really do have the same message and believe in the same thing of empowering each other and building each other up, and she was totally hands-on in that sense, like a big sister, and for Yankee to do the same, he's like the king of reggaeton. That's why when I saw dura in training, I feel like they have swag in their own right, they've accomplished so many things, and for them to take the time to guide me was really awesome.
"I'm going to jump out of this box that they're putting me in, and I'm just going to jump into whatever I'm feeling at that moment."
That's so great. Can you tell us a little about where you're taking your music from here?
For me personally, as the years have gone by, and for feeling kind of like my creativity was suppressed for some time, and I was constantly being put in a box just to check it, and being told to only stay in that box, once I learned the power of my own voice and the power of the fans and having that stronger connection with them, and finding ways to really get your vision through to the people around you and creating a safe space with the people around you, I realized you know what? I'm going to jump out of this box that they're putting me in, and I'm just going to jump into whatever I'm feeling at that moment.
I've been working on more English music. I released a song not too long ago called "Zooted" with Farruko and French Montana, and it wasn't an official single or anything, it was kind of just to put it out there and let people know that this is kind of the vibe I'm going for. I think my last impression on the English market was pop music, and it was music that didn't really represent my message. I think too, when you're young, you don't really know what you're capable of or what you're allowed to do. Now the English music that I'm making is 100 percent a side of me that's so authentic and so genuine, and that's the side of me that's more urban, a little bit R&B influenced, a little bit of that Latin flavor. That's going to be coming very soon, which I'm really excited for.
It's like building pillars for me. I kind of want to set all these pillars in place to create a new platform for my sound, because I don't think people have seen this side of me yet. I'm not talking about smash number one hits right out the door, but more so pace-setting songs for my fans to kind of live with and digest, and kind of get familiar with me singing music of this style, if that makes any sense.
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It does. I like that you're thinking in terms of the fans adjusting to changes, but sticking to the changes you want to make.
I'm totally looking for longevity. I'm not trying to find — I've done the one-hit wonder thing before, and don't get me wrong, songs like "Shower" really did teach me a lot of things: Good things and maybe not the most positive things, but it did teach me that a song can be bigger than the artist, and it can take on a life of its own. I was very fortunate that that song was mine, but that song wasn't written with me in mind, let alone was it a style of music that I wanted to continue singing. I think my fans could see that. I think people who loved the song loved the song but didn't know who I was. And so now, moving forward, take away the numbers of views and social media — I just want to make good music that means something to me. And that kind of captures these moments in my life, and like I said, that may be more rap music, that may be more R&B music, that may be more ballads, that may be more, I don't know, reggae-type songs. The truth is I can't say I am one genre because I am inspired by everything, and that's kind of created this overall sound.
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What do you think the through-line is, then? What ties it all together as a representation of you?
I've been super transparent since day one about my upbringing and who I am and how I was raised. Being born here in Los Angeles, which is one of the most mixed-culture places you could possibly live in when it comes to fashion, when it comes to music, when it comes to food, the people. Growing up in what I guess people would call the hood, but I call it home, in Inglewood, growing up going to school with kids who only spoke Spanish and the other 50 percent were African-American kids who listened to hip-hop music and my parents would play Tupac and Biggie and TLC, and I'm a '90s baby, so I grew up on '90s music, and my parents had me super young, and I would listen to Brandy and Christina Aguilera. I was never limited when it came to that catalog of music. You can even say, because of the quote Chicano background in L.A., even the lowrider oldies, to my parents playing James Brown and Etta James, the inspiration literally goes on forever. When I think of things in the studio, it's all drawn from those moments in my life.
Like, I just recorded my first country song with Kane Brown, and I don't think anybody was expecting that! But little did they know, I grew up listening to country music: Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, the Dixie Chicks. That is stuff that I also grew up on, so it's not something that's like, fake, you know? All these things are authentic layers to my artistry, and my inspirations.
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I'm really looking forward to hearing what's next.
I'm genuinely super excited to dive back into the English side but with a new sense of self, where I can finally be who I am, because I know who I am now. And obviously continue doing what I'm doing as far as the Latin market goes, because it's a genuine passion of mine to keep pushing those boundaries. Since I started in the Latin space, the walls that we've managed to tear down for women in music and urban music and the people that I've had the opportunity to collaborate with, has been so educational and inspiring. I'm just super excited for this year.
"Both sides of the music that I create, the Spanish side and the English side, are so true to who I am."
I hope it's clear to everyone, when they hear a single like "LBD," that it doesn't mean you're abandoning the Latin market.
Not at all. More present than ever! And that's the thing, what I really want people to understand is that they can't make an artist choose one or the other, when both are very much so part of the artist. Both sides of the music that I create, the Spanish side and the English side, are so true to who I am, and they mirror each other but they're not the same, and I like that. I don't want to just record an English version of a Spanish song because I have to. Sometimes the translations come out super cheesy and don't make any sense, and to me, that's when people are doing it to get a bang for their buck, and make more money. Nah, I just want to make good music. As far as being present in both markets, obviously I'm much more established right now in the Latin market than in the English, and I'm super excited to get down and dirty and kind of build something from the ground up. It's going to be a very humbling experience but it's exciting because it's something that's really true to who I am. I think one's going to feed off the other eventually, but they're kind of in different places — I'm on one level in the Latin industry right now and kind of starting from the ground up in English. But it doesn't scare me, it feels right.