Riela knows a thing or two about breaking bad habits. On her debut EP Tranquila y Tropical, out this October, the Miami-raised, LA-based musician conjures a variegated soundscape of reggaeton beats, R&B, and pop informed by a multi-lingual, multi-sensory childhood in South Florida. Listing everything from Ja Rule to Sade to reggaeton as an influence, Riela crafts a very particular kind of music, mellow and tortured, tough and tender.
With songs like uptempo “mala maña” (“Bad Habit”) and “no soy yo”, where she sings “Ahora solo salgo de party / Para pensar toda la noche en tu body” she roots her music in a downtempo escapism that you can still dance to, being in love and longing while taking charge à la neoperreo demigoddesses Tomasa Del Real and Ms Nina. A Spanglish-singing, seductively crooning neophyte of the movement’s philosophy of perreando por fuera, llorando por dentro (in English, “grinding on the outside, crying on the inside”, Riela is posed to be an exciting voice to watch in the new age of Latinx Music.
LADYGUNN spoke to Riela about the shifting definition of Latin Music, her creative approach, and her debut EP Tranquila y Tropical.
Your music goes in a lot of different directions, from rapping in Spanish to making use of heavy trap and R&B-influenced production. The songs are all very disparate, but still convey that tranquila y tropical vibe. Can you tell us about how these songs relate to each other and your process?
I’m still getting two songs mixed and mastered on the EP, but it’s done. Growing up in Miami, you hear disco everywhere, you hear reggaeton, you hear everything. I was obsessed with pop; Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and grew up on Sade, Selena, Celia Cruz, and Ja Rule. It was a mix of all those things, and I was making music in 2016 in school. I was making stuff I thought people wanted to hear, and I fucking hated it; I deleted everything kind of started from scratch, figuring out what represented me in the sounds, how my identity could be translated over into music. Growing up bilingual and speaking Spanglish was also important; that’s just how it is in Miami. I don’t necessarily make it a point to sing or write in Spanglish, I just kind of forget a word in English and I know how to say in Spanish. The other day I was thinking of “conceited” and when I was in the session I ended up saying creído because I forgot how to say it. I wasn’t even going to Google it; I was just like whatever let’s just slap creído in there and figure it out.
I like that you sing in Spanglish, especially now when Latinx artists are breaking out of Anglo expectations, especially younger rising artists like you, who are blending everything because we grew up listening to all these very different things. Would you place yourself in a genre?
I don’t like to. My goal is to be able to make whatever music I want. I haven’t even released a full project yet, but I want to be able to put out a pop song or puro perreo. I don’t want to categorize myself…I’d say I identify most with like RnB, but not all my music is RnB influenced. I’m still defining myself.
Tell me about the lyrics and the way you’ve structured the EP. They were all striking but still fun, talking about love, yearning, and the power plays within it. It’s about being in love and in charge of it. Can you give us a peek into the emotional world that inspired this EP?
These songs are about the same person. “Mala Maña” is about this person going back and forth and making it seem like they want to be with me but not actually going for it—that’s the mala maña that they have. “Quien Te Conoce” is me letting you know like “dude, what the fuck?” We know each other so well, we’ve been so close for so long and it feels like it’s common sense to treat someone okay, but it’s not. “Your Place” was about somebody else…I asked them to hang out once—mind you, we hung out a lot—and they were like “you’re being really clingy.” Like quien tu te crees? “No Soy Yo” talks about escaping from all these feelings. The EP is going to be a part of a trilogy…it’s mostly about my experiences and what I’m going through. The second is gonna be called Llorar y Perrear, which is processing everything I felt on Tranquila y Tropical. I don’t know the name of the third one yet, but I’m gonna wait ‘til I get there because that one’s gonna be about how I grew from those experiences. As far as lyrics, I’m gonna be honest: I get high and then I walk around and I see what influences me.
Can you speak on the shifting definition of Latin Music as the industry starts getting specific rather than lumping everything with reggaeton roots under that umbrella?
I think that there is a really big gap. It’s a very gray area when you say Latin Music; someone like Omar Apollo is put under Latin Music, but he doesn’t make “Latin Music”— he is just a Latino making alternative music. I hate that term…like, yeah, we’re brown, we’re here, we’re making music, but it’s not “Latin.” Even a song like “Your Place” I wouldn’t consider Latin even though it has Spanish in it. They don’t call Cazuu or Bad Bunny trap artists; they say they’re Latin Trap. That’s why I want to make sure that I bring a lot of variety into my music, which I do naturally, but want to make sure it’s prominent so that when people try to fit me into a genre they can’t. I don’t know how this happened, but BBC Radio 1 put me on “Best New Pop”—they didn’t put me on Best New Latin Pop, they didn’t put me on “Latin Pop,” they didn’t put me on a Latinx-centric list. That’s how I want it to be…the term Latin music is outdated and confusing.
What’s the plan after the Tranquila y Tropical?
I’m going to keep pushing the EP six months after, so probably in April 2021 I’ll drop the second one. I feel like it’s a very slow process but my main goal is to focus on the creative. I feel like once you start moving, press and these things are going to come naturally so long as I put in the work. I’m gonna lock myself up in the studio and write as much as I can, as honestly as possible.
CONNECT WITH RIELA
Story / E.R. Pulgar (@er_pulgar)
Photos / Arturo Evaristo ( @artcrooks )
Creative Direction & Styling / Phil Gomez ( @styledbyphil )
Makeup / Sasha Glasser ( @sashaglasser )
Hair / Naomi Summer ( @naomisummerstyles )
Nails / Soji ( @sojinails )
Earrings + ring, PR SOLO. ( @PR_SOLO )
Top, KNORTS. ( @_KNORTS )