Kali Uchis has built her career on taking risks.
With Orquídeas, her second Spanish-language album (and fourth overall), Uchis asks her collaborators – from global superstars Peso Pluma, Rauw Alejandro, El Alfa and Karol G to City Girls' JT – to reach her level Fearlessness that pushes her to step out of her comfort zone in a playground of pop, merengue, reggaeton, house music and more.
The record's cover, which references Prince's 1988 album “Lovesexy” among other things, visually expresses where Uchis is in her life and career, some 11 years after the release of her first mixtape: in the middle , with her naked body tightly wrapped in ropes. A colorful palette of pastel orchids paints the empty rooms.
“I liked the juxtaposition of the hardness of the rope and the softness of the flower,” she tells Variety. “I think the whole theme of this record is about that juxtaposition.”
When she released her debut EP Por Vida in 2015, Uchis — born Karly-Marina Loaiza in Virginia to Colombian immigrant parents — defined herself as an outsider to mainstream pop because of her unwavering commitment to doing things her way. “The music industry's view of Latinas is so limited and tied to certain stereotypes – I'm talking in terms of sound – that one of my main priorities has always been to express myself as freely as possible and be as creative as limitless as I can be “, she says. “I am a Latina who makes music in English and Spanish. It seems strange to me that my art is limited to my ethnicity, as if it were a genre. I feel kind of pigeonholed by the term Latin American artist, so I'm trying to challenge that narrative a little bit.”
In recent weeks, she has appeared as frequently in traditional Latin American media as in American media, fulfilling the promise she made in “Heladito,” the penultimate track from the new LP. “No soy pop star, pero si soy internacional” (“I’m not a pop star, but I’m international”),” she sings.
“You have to put in twice as much work,” says Uchis. “It's only my second album in Spanish, so it's almost like I'm releasing a second album. I have this overwhelming feeling like I have to work twice as hard to be seen. At the same time, it’s interesting and invigorating in that way because there’s still so much I want to do in both spaces.”
Uchis spent time between her home bases in South and North America, staying at her family home near the Colombian city of Pereira. She found inspiration for her sound and image in television, film and music. She cites the brooding vocals of Latin soul singer La Lupe as her early muse. “I looked at things or people, mostly women, that inspired me to be confident or live boldly,” she says. “I didn’t have many female role models around me, so I found representation elsewhere.”
In Spanish-language soap operas, Uchis discovered the archetypal woman: perfectly painted fingernails, overly lined lips, sassy attitude and a luxurious lifestyle to match. In the music video for “Te Mata” (“It Kills You”), Uchis emulates this archetype and takes revenge on a toxic ex by setting his sports car on fire.
“That’s a thing of the past now and that’s not me anymore,” she sings in the dreamy Bolero – the haunting yet romantic orchestral music style that emerged in Cuba in the late 1920s. “If that makes me bad, then I’m a devil.”
The 13-song set, sung primarily in Spanish, is “definitely for the girls,” Uchis says. “The underlying concept is the princess treatment – setting your standards to a certain level. It's about self-love, luxury and divine femininity, with mysterious elements and classical allusions to what I believe makes my music my own. I try to give my songs a kind of regenerative power.”
Flirtatious, dreamy, sensual and nostalgic, Uchis' catalog – from her first foray into doo-wop to her latest foray into raunchy perreo – has defined her as an artist who only does what she wants. In songs like “Diosa” (“Goddess”) and “Como Así?” (“How So?”) she declares herself the center of her husband’s universe and is adamant in the song “Piensameintos Intrusuvos” (“Intrusive Thoughts”) Her approach to love broke my heart a thousand times.”
Uchis actively avoids negative comments or reviews as much as she can (“My team sends me the positive stuff… I don't have access to see anything negative”) and never gives too many personal details about her life or her relationship with rapper Don price Toliver. But one day before the release of her record, Uchis confirmed the rumor that had been going on for months that she was pregnant with her first child in a music video.
“I haven't had many relationships, but when I'm in a relationship, and especially this one, I'm very present,” she says. “I think a lot of people are afraid of being in love for this reason – it can be so much effort. There is always the risk of getting injured or something going wrong. You'll have to think about how or why you gave so much to something that didn't work out – but I've never had that kind of fear. Life is meant to be lived. For me, love is the most important thing in the world and I'm surrounded by it, I feel it everywhere… and I'm honestly looking forward to this year. It will be such a transformative time in my life.”
When it comes to music, Uchis loves to be unpredictable. With this album, Mexican trap corrido hitmaker, rapper and singer Peso Pluma's contribution on “Igual Que Un Ángel” immediately stands out. For the first time, Peso's gravelly vocals seem honeyed as he sings over a disco-pop beat – the result is unexpectedly sweet.
“I knew I wanted him on the album,” Uchis remembers. “I sent him 'Igual' and 'Te Mata' but I didn't expect him to choose that one. When I wrote “Igual” it felt very complete and I didn’t think it needed a function, but when [Peso] When he heard the song, he loved it and wanted to join in. I will always encourage people to try something different. Sometimes that can be scary because there are people who just want to hear you exactly the way they're used to hearing you, but in the end I just find it so impressive.”
Other featured guests were more compelling. Mutual fans, Colombian sisters and now labelmates (Interscope), Karol G and Uchis spent studio time together for the first time in 2021 for their collaboration “Me Tengo Que Ir,” a song that eventually ended up on Karol’s “Mañana Será Bonito” (Bichota). Season).”
At this point, Uchis had already written “Labios Mordidos” and showed it to Karol, but “[Karol] I wasn't sure if I should choose a song that was more perreo for me…we both wanted it [‘Labios Mordidos’] on our records,” she explains with a laugh.
“We worked on a few things together, and when we started working on 'Me Tengo Que Ir,' I think she had more in mind what we would do together because it's a little more dreamy. It took a little explanation – I said, 'No, you don't understand!' 'Labios Mordidos' is my goal.' I was just happy that she was willing to take that risk. We kind of traded a little bit in the end.”
Uchis also approached Rauw Alejandro with a similar sentiment: the official and long-awaited release of Alejandro's remix of her 2022 single “No Hay Ley.” “The song was supposed to sound nostalgic, so it's kind of cool because it actually is now “It’s an old song,” she says.
A few steps further, Uchis promises that we'll be hearing more new music from her as she plans to release another album later this year.
“I already knew what I wanted it to sound like, what story I wanted to tell and how I wanted it to flow conceptually,” she says of her fifth album. “All I can say is that writing it was a great healing process. I have projects completed and some are in the works, so it’s just a matter of time.”