Como la Flor: Latinx Artists Blooming into Stardom
Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla won the hearts of all in the early 90s. Almost 25 years later, she remains a household name. In honor of her birthday, here are some up and coming Latinx artists that are continuing to pave the way for Latinx artists in the 21st century.
Written by Samantha Paradiso
Illustrated by Alexa Chung
If you were to utter the name “Selena Quintanilla” in a room full of people, you’re guaranteed to get a few bittersweet remarks lauding the late Tejano singer. Even those who weren’t alive during Selena’s active career feel just as fervently about the artist as those who did. There is no doubt that her fans, old and new, would do “anything for Selenas.”
The Tejano singer’s success skyrocketed around 1994 when she won the Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album, beating acclaimed music giants such as Vicente Fernandez and Los Tigres del Norte. This award marked many firsts in history, making Selena not only the youngest singer to receive the award, but also the first Tejano artist to win a Grammy.
Perhaps a testament to her ambition, her breadth reached farther than just music. In the same year, Selena started her own boutique called Selena Etc., with a couple of locations in South Texas. Additionally, the late artist jump-started her own stay-in school program called Selena Agrees! while maintaining involvement in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and women’s shelters. A devout advocate for education, Selena lamented in an interview that “music and money come and go, but your education stays with you for the rest of your life.”
Due to her untimely passing, the Latinx community was robbed of both a groundbreaking singer and an outstanding individual. She was one of the most influential artists the community has ever seen.However, in recent years, new individuals have risen in the music scene that emulate and exude the late Tejano singer’s vision.
Virginia-born singer Kali Uchis self-released her Por Vida EP in 2015 at the age of 21. Thanks to her upbringing and family’s frequent travels to Colombia, her work spans a variety of genres, such as latin pop and psychedelic alternative, leading her to have collaborations with artists such as Juanes, Bootsy Collins, and Kevin Parker. But, the multi-faceted singer’s interests don’t stop at music. In September 2018, Kali Uchis collaborated with Refinery 29 on their 29Rooms project, where the artist created an installation based on her dreams. In an Instagram post, Uchis stated her gratitude for the opportunity since “one of [her] ambitions is to design architecture, furniture, more sets and galleries.” In addition to these interests, the artist’s eccentric style, reminiscent of Selena’s bold outfits, stems from her admiration and support of smaller designers.
Uchis’ accomplishments are quite impressive considering her humble beginnings. When the artist was still in high school, she experienced homelessness. In an interview with FADER, the singer disclosed her struggle, explaining how at the age of 17, she would go to school in the day and sleep in her old Subaru at night. During that time, however, she produced the demo for her hit song, “Killer.”
Despite her trials, Uchis remains down to earth and true to herself. In an interview with Genius, she acknowledges that although she has been able to succeed in the music industry thus far, this is not the case for all. She refers to herself as a “unicorn”— an unlikely statistic among many who have come from similar backgrounds. Considering these barriers, it’s amazing to see what this young artist has accomplished in such a short time.
Cuco, born Omar Banos, is a Chicanx artist from Hawthorne, California. At first glance, Cuco looks like any other average teenage boy. But in the short time he’s gained popularity, the artist has pushed many boundaries. The teen only attended a year of studies at Santa Monica College before dropping out. In an interview with FADER, the singer bemoaned his schooling, mentioning that “there’s the idea that school is the thing that you have to do to make it in life.”
In an article about the alternative dream pop singer, FADER states that “part of [his music’s] power lies in how it resonates with anyone who has felt the weight of expectation from parents who’ve worked to provide a better life than their own.” Between bearing the load of being first gen and complying to the wishes of brown parents, Cuco rejects the American-esque ideals surrounding education. In an interview with NPR, he remarks that “being an artist is already a form of activism.” Until recently, people of color have been disregarded in the arts, typically expected to fill the role of a blue collar worker. Despite this reality, Cuco rebels against these ideals by simply pursuing his passion: music.
And this isn’t the only way that the artist is making waves. In another interview, the self-proclaimed romantic boasts about being categorized in the “sissy category.” “I’m expressing my feelings and I’m being real,” Cuco says. By staying true to himself he’s resisting machismo, a prominent construct within the Latinx community that fosters toxic masculinity and misogyny.
In addition, the artist also feels very strongly about DACA and the lives of immigrants. When speaking to FADER, he says, “I’m not the most woke person ever, but I do understand how much DACA impacts people.” In the past, Cuco has helped his manager Doris Muñoz with immigration advocacy. He has performed in a series of concerts for Solidarity for Sanctuary, helping raise funds for immigration-related legal expenses. Considering Cuco has only just started his musical career, it’s safe to assume his listeners can expect a lot of more great things to come.
Bad Bunny, or el Conejo Malo, won our hearts with hits such as “Soy Peor” and “Amorfoda.” But his catchy music isn’t the only reason to be heart eyes about the Puerto Rican native (aka Boricua). Traditionally, the reggaeton genre has exuded a questionable cocktail of toxic masculinity, machismo, and sexism. Though we love to dance along to hits like “Gasolina” and “Picky,” the songs’ demoralizing and degrading lyrics are difficult to ignore. However, the Puerto Rican breaks the traditional mold with his flamboyant style. Donning painted nails, multiple piercings, and bright traditionally ”feminine” colors, the artist pushes back the stereotypes typically associated with the genre.
Around the time that news broke of the murder of the first openly gay Latinx trap artist, Kevin Fret, Don Omar, an og legend in the reggaeton genre, tweeted a picture of himself with the caption “lunch break! Alguno de ustedes come (pato)? Yo no [lunch break! Do any of y’all eat duck? I don’t]” with hashtags “digalenoalacarnedepato [#saynotoduckmeat].” Pato, literally translating to duck, is a slur used to describe a gay person. Bad Bunny, among others, quickly clapped back to the tactless tweet saying “homofobia a estas alturas? Que verguenza loco,” meaning “homophobia at this point? How embarrassing.” This isn’t the only time the rapper has called out people for their biases. When rejected from a nail salon in Spain for being a man, he took to Instagram to rant about the event, some of his comments being “what year is it? F---ing 1960?”
However, the reggaetonero still has much to learn. When people criticized him on Twitter for his femininity, Bad Bunny boasted of his virility and even stated he could impregnate a hater’s wife. After being called out on his sexist remarks, he did apologize for his misogynistic comments. Though his statements were cringeworthy, his self-accountability and acknowledgement show his room for growth.
Shedding the classic reggaeton music video full of sexualized women, Bad Bunny’s ’s 2018 music video for “Caro” portrays a story of gender fluidity instead. In the opening shot, the rapper is getting his nails painted in a dreamy pastel colored scene. Within the next shot, a woman takes Bad Bunny’s place. Throughout the video, these two individuals switch roles back and forth, portraying the fluidity and spectrum in gender. In another scene, several individuals of all shapes, age, and sizes are celebrated as they strut down the runway. In between these scenes, the Boricua sings “¿En qué te hago daño a ti? / Yo solamente soy feliz / ¿Por qué no puedo ser así?” explicitly calling out those who judge him for his rejection of social norms.
In an article about the Borinquen islander, La Remezcla alauds the singer, stating that “part of this concept includes advocating for better education in Puerto Rico, bringing awareness to gender-based violence, embracing femininity, and believing in self-made dreams.” In a genre that has historically been degraded not just women, but men as well, Bad Bunny is redefining what it means to be a reggaetonero.
No one can compare to the beloved Selena Quintanilla, but in these recent years alone, plenty of artists have risen to the challenge. Uchis, Cuco, and Bad Bunny are all reinterpreting what it means to be a Latinx artist and advocate in the 21st century. Though a legend is no longer with us, these artists have proved themselves in the Latinx community to have tremendous potential and have made a spot for themselves at the table.