The World According to Natalia Lafourcade

   By Andrew Casillas | Nov 21st, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

Only ten short years ago, I interviewed Natalia Lafourcade on the balcony of the Austin Convention Center; conducted during our annual SXSW coverage, it was the first interview ever published on Club Fonograma. In the decade that followed, Natalia:

  • Released the seminal indie album Hu Hu Hu;
  • Shot straight into the upper annals of Latinx pop stardom with Mujer Divina (which included a performance at the Latin GRAMMYs);
  • Released “Hasta La Raíz,” Club Fonograma’s #1 song of the 2010s;
  • Released an accompanying album by the same name – Hasta la Raíz – which won an actual Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative album and was nominated for Album of the Year by the Latin GRAMMYs (and led to another performance on the telecast);
  • Performed on the seminal American music series Austin City Limits;
  • Released her highly-successful Musas album series (which led to ANOTHER Latin GRAMMYs performance); and
  • Performed the Academy Award-winning theme from Coco, “Remember Me,” which included a performance on the telecast.

Phew. Seriously, that all happened within ten years of performing “No Viniste” before a ballroom of laconic, half-bored music industry middle-managers (and one overeager blogger) in central Texas. Even the Kim family in Parasite would impressed by that quick rise in stature.

But this essay isn’t meant to contextualize Natalia’s music within the spectrum of the Latin American songbook. For anyone interested in that (and you damn well should be), I suggest reading Julyssa Lopez’s excellent NPR essay on the subject. Instead, as we close this chapter of Club Fonograma, it’s important to contextualize how one of this site's own achieved a level of canonical importance and what it potentially bodes for the next decade of Latinx pop.

For the casual Latinx pop fan in March 2009, to see Natalia Lafourcade go from playing the token “Latin” SXSW showcase to performing on the fucking Oscars would have been unfathomable. But even the high of that creative peak was quickly diminished upon seeing many U.S. media outlets (including one self-anointed “Most Trusted Voice in Music Criticism”) not even reference Natalia Lafourcade by name in recapping the performance. That is to say: that for many Latinx musicians, even some of the most popular and critically acclaimed, public discourse is still prone to ignoring your achievements completely for . . . reasons.

And Natalia Lafourcade is arguably one of the lucky ones, albeit with some built-in advantages. She started her career with a Sony recording deal and quickly developed a profile and marketing strategy worthy of the pop star 1%. And as Rosalía’s rise to global fame has shown, there remains whole segments of the media who will go to bat over lighter-skinned (if not literally white European) artists occupying the same space as Afro-Latinx or non-European, U.S., or Mexican-based artists. Even the most well-meaning outlets (including this one) could have done a better job at prioritizing non-white Latinxs in their coverage.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Latinx artists are greater able to seek success on their own terms – and in their own language – far more easily than in generations. Even ten years ago, it would not have been surprising to hear Bad Bunny drop an English-language verse on a Katy Perry track, or Cardi B playing hook girl for Usher, and everyone just accept it. But that’s no longer the case. The #1 song in the United States of America was a Latin trap song headlined by three Latinx artists. And rather than have J Balvin in the studio for a remix, Beyoncé jumped on J Balvin’s own song and made him the special guest for her iconic 2018 Coachella performance. Latinx artists can now suffice appealing for their own, predominantly Latinx audiences, and everyone else can jump into the line if they choose (looking at you, Grammy Awards).

Of course, there’s also the issue of “Despacito.” One of the global smashes of the decade, if not the century, came perilously close to becoming a novelty hit, resurging the talking point of “a new Latin boom.” Even “I Like It” and its boogaloo sample almost fell subject to the same trap. (For greater detail on that issue, I’d highly recommend Gary Suarez’s excellent Vice article.) Ultimately, however, those tracks were able to avoid “cultural fad” status. And the fact that general music fans can look beyond the novelty, and Latinx audiences have a space to call out media bias in the promotion and promulgation of white artists over their Afro-Latinx precursors or contemporaries, is something to celebrate. It shows that these artists – our artists – are operating within something bigger than a movement. It’s something that’s growing to scale, and will survive into the next generation.

And that brings us back to Natalia Lafourcade. To think that this generation – the oft-examined Millennials – has its first legacy artist . . . and that she was one of Club Fonograma’s seminal artists . . . and that such success was achieved without catering to a cynically created “Latin Explosion” or on the back of an English-language crossover (even her verse on “Remember Me” is in Spanish) is remarkable. Her decade of rapid success is unlikely to be repeated again any time soon, at least not while streaming media waits to fracture and consume us all. But to think that there’s a chance – an actual, plausible chance – that this level of acclaim and fame could happen to your own future favorite Latinx artist or band, that is what’s life affirming.

Think about that the next time you read an interview taking place on a non-descript balcony. Club Fonograma forever.

Andrew Casillas is an attorney and former Club Fonograma writer from Texas. Today, you can find him writing about Latin music for Rolling Stone and on Twitter @PincheAndrew