Sofia Reyes: Meet Mexico's multilingual pop sensation

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

image copyrightWarner Music

"Trilingual empowerment anthem" isn't the sort of phrase that gets bandied about at record label marketing meetings; but that's exactly what Sofia Reyes has on her hands with her new single, RIP.

A vibrant, infectious slice of Latin pop, the song is a collaboration between the Mexican singer, Brazilian artist Anitta and Albanian-British pop star Rita Ora.

Each flits between Spanish, English and Portuguese as they sing about shedding unwanted emotional baggage, before teaming up for the addictive "bim-bari-bom-bom" hook (so it's actually quadrilingual, if you count gibberish).

Reyes' lyrical style evolved naturally from the way she speaks to her friends at home, where Spanish and English are largely interchangeable.

"Growing up in Mexico, we have a lot of American culture," she explains.

"So even though Spanish is my first language, at school English was very important, and we listened to English music all the time. So I wanted to sing in both,"

The 23-year-old admits there's a commercial consideration, too.

"I knew that, obviously, English is a language that more people around the world understand," she says.

"My goal is to touch as many people as possible with my music, and I figured that English would open that door for me."

Monsters and insecurities

And it seems to be working: In just two weeks, RIP has racked up 30 million YouTube streams and been added to BBC Radio 1's "best new pop" playlist.

"I wanted to make a happy song that made you want to dance, but with a deeper message," says Reyes of the track's exhortation to say "RIP to the BS".

"We all have these monsters or insecurities that are holding us back; and I really believe that if you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself."

The singer has even been encouraging fans to write down lists of the personal demons they want to defeat.

"I feel if you actually write it on paper, it's better. And if you burn it, it really helps."

Topping Reyes' own list are "negative comments" on social media, and the pressure of "trying to fit in" in her adopted home of LA.

"But there's so many things, even celery or pimples," she laughs.

"I've updated my list a couple of times, and I'm still going."

Born Úrsula Sofía Reyes Piñeyro, the singer has been immersed in music since her grandmother taught her to play piano at the age of six.

She was encouraged by her father, an amateur musician who "always had his little studio at home" in Monterrey, and helped her record an album with her best friend when she was just 13.

"We were called Café Au Lait and the songs were all beautiful ballads and pop songs - but we never put the album out," she recalls.

"We sent it to a record label and they said, 'Oh no, you're too young. You need to know who you are as an artist'. And I remember we started crying."

Undeterred, Reyes took a role in the TV musical Mi Linda Anabella; and briefly joined the girl group TAO, before quitting to pursue a solo career.

"I decided to move to LA as an independent artist when I was 17," she says.

"I didn't realise it back then but, if I think about it, I was very little.

"My parents were really brave. They didn't know anything about the music industry but they were like, 'OK, we'll be there for you and support you.'"

image copyrightTania Todd
image caption"I'm super-thankful and grateful because the support for RIP has been amazing," says Reyes

The move was a certainly a gamble: Reyes didn't know anyone in the city except her managers, Charlie and Paloma, who'd come with her from Mexico.

"It was tough in the beginning," she recalls. "It's not like I came here to go to school, where you would make a new set of friends. It took me two to three years to feel like LA was home.

"But on the bright side I was focusing on acting, dancing and recording sessions. Sessions, sessions, sessions."

At the same time, Reyes started posting cover versions to her YouTube channel, mixing Western hits like One Direction's What Makes You Beautiful with Spanish-language fare such as Reyli's torch song Qué Nos Pasó.

"It was a challenge, because people were not used to listening to bilingual songs," says Reyes - but her voice and charisma soon captured the attention of bachata star Prince Royce, who signed her to Warner Music under his D'Léon Records imprint.

A duet between the pair, Solo Yo, topped Billboard's Latin Pop Songs chart in 2016 (ending a five-year drought of women at number one); and Reyes swiftly became the biggest Mexican artist on Spotify, with 11.9m monthly listeners. Last year, she recorded the country's official World Cup anthem, Vamos por la Estrella.

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Having conquered the Latin market, she's got the rest of the world in her sights for 2019.

RIP comes hot on the heels of the Jason Derulo collaboration 1,2,3 - and both highlight Reyes' multilingual approach to pop.

"Honestly, it's harder for me to write in Spanish," she says. "The words have an even deeper meaning for me - so anything could sound cheesy.

"But I like the challenge of writing in Spanish and English. Going back and forth, I find it really exciting.

"And in this case, with RIP, having Anitta from Brazil and Rita from the UK and me from Mexico, it just felt super-inspiring.

"I feel like the world should be like that. We should always welcome all kinds of cultures. I think that's beautiful."

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