Karol G’s career was a family affair from the beginning. In fact, it was the big project of the Giraldo Navarro family. Her career began as a child as soon as she demonstrated a charming voice and a fascination for any family setting that involved songs and an audience. Carolina Giraldo Navarro (February 14, 1991) was born and raised in Medellín. She was the youngest of three daughters in a wealthy middle-class household who showed promise from early on.
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When she was five years old, he became the promoter, manager, and coach who took the young artist to sing at village fairs, to a children's reality show, to sign her first contract at age 14 and even to the United States in 2009. Although that time he told her to leave the meeting after she was asked to be a songwriter and not the main star.
Her father, Guillermo, an empirical musician, assumed very early – stubbornly like a good paisa – her career, which is why today everyone knows her as Karol G and him as Papa G.
She says her career had to take “the slow route”. Something that the two of them understood when they hugged in Don Francisco Te Invita, in 2018, when the veteran host welcomed him as: “He is the father of Karol G!” as he entered the set and she, a 27-year-old artist with a successful studio album (Unstoppable, 2017), greeted him proudly.
Four months earlier, in January 2018, Karol G had won the Latin Grammy for best new artist and took her father on stage with her. “I want to share this with this man here, who is 99 percent of the success of my career: my dad!” To which he added: “To the Academy, to the Latin Grammys, and to everyone in the industry: thank you for believing in our project and God bless you”
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By then, Karol G had been signed to Universal Music for two years, the same record company of big stars of the urban genre like J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, and Don Omar. All this after a persevering career that put made her the first woman to succeed as a soloist within the new generation of reggaeton, singing openly sexualized lyrics just like the men in the business.
Today, she is the #1 Latina in the world for the second consecutive year (2019 and 2020), according to Billboard, the most viewed singer on YouTube, and one of the most listened to on Spotify, where she has 33 million monthly listeners and an accumulated of more than 2,200 million streams, at least by the end of 2020. Her last megahits, 'Bichota' and 'Ay, Dios mio', were certified with 5 and 6 platinum albums, respectively. In Medellin, it is not uncommon for one of these songs to be a cell phone ringtone in a pharmacy, or for younger children to sing it while carrying a cell phone in any popular neighborhood. She is an omnipresent musical figure in Colombia.
In 2020, as the world was reeling from the pandemic, she reached an important throne with her song 'Tusa', a song alongside Nicki Minaj, which debuted at # 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Song chart and became the number 1 streamed song of 2020. Quite a phenomenon.
On that same year, Karol G attended the Latin Grammy gala with a pink Dolce & Gabbana dress with a slogan: “Un hombre le pagó mal, ya no se le ve sentimental.” Moments later she did one of the main numbers with a band composed exclusively of women. Harpist, drummer, bassist, cellist, and violinists reaffirmed Tusa as anthem of the year in the middle of an evocative setting of Mount Olympus where she, Karol G, was a mythological figure: the ‘Bichota’. “Dice que por otro man no llora, pero si le ponen la canción [...]”, she sang.
Furthermore, she was nominated in three categories on that year, including best recording of the year by 'Tusa'. Today, she remembers the moment, many years ago, when she envisioned that scenario. “Someday there will be a whole audience going to a place for me”, she told herself one of the first times that she introduced herself as a backup singer for Reykon 'el líder', a Colombian reggaeton singer, more than ten years ago.
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Karol G has a sweet and friendly voice. She just turned 30 years old and wears blue hair, just like when he was in school. She studied at Calasanz, a religious female school in Medellín. Her first YouTube channel was called CaritoGCol, which she started in 2010 and uploaded only three videos there. She has a tattoo on her right forearm with the faces of her three great musical loves: Rihanna, Selena Quintanilla, and herself.
On her latest album, Ocean (2019), she collaborated with Damian Marley, Anuel AA, Yandel, Maluma, J Balvin, and Nicky Jam. Culpables, one of the most successful songs on that album, was the origin of her relationship with Anuel AA, the Puerto Rican ragboy with whom she got engaged in 2020, although it seems their relationship ended in the last few days.
"I had very indecent proposals along the way, from people for whom you become a product. It was a very painful situation", she said.
Her career keeps growing every day because it is a crucial part of a musical genre that has captured world pop since 2015. At the beginning of February, the Bloomberg portal, an American corporation that provides global financial information, ranked her as number 10 of its Pop Star Power Rankings, the list that measures, month by month, the 25 biggest pop stars in the world and that currently includes five Puerto Ricans (Bad Bunny as # 1 on the list) and four Colombians.
Now, she is preparing the release of her third studio album: KG0516, an encrypted name of May 16, 2005, the date of “the first time that in I was legally called Karol G on paper”. It includes a cover designed by David Lachapelle and a seven-minute reggaeton tribute song featuring Ivy Queen, Zion, Wisin y Yandel, and Nicky Jam, and a feature with rapper Ludacris and a tiktoker girl that she found one day while she was scrolling on her cell phone. “I'm going to pass away [laughs]. If this album doesn't come out, I'm not going to last”, she says, with the same smirk that’s the signature of all her music videos.
In my family it was super crazy because from day one they believed that everything was possible, especially my closest family: my parents and my sisters. Since I started saying that I wanted to be a singer, they were always there. I think that video was from my first “concerts”. It is amazing to have photos and videos of those moments because today I can see how far we have come and remember that since I was little I wanted to be here.Back then in your house there was a heavy influence from boleros and popular music ...
My dad always wanted to be a singer. He had a music group with which he played at village parties; it was his hobby. Several times he took me to sing Pimpinela songs with him. The first artists I listed to were Pimpinela, Sandro, Tormenta, also a lot of vallenato. Thalía was an artist that I fell in love with hard when I heard her for the first time, and she was so young. But my dad also listened to a lot of music in English: The Bee Gees, Metallica. I was very romantic in my early years. My style was similar to those ballads that I heard when I was little.But, before becoming a singer, you wanted to be a motocross rider, right?
I had a dream of becoming a professional motorcycle rider. I have two cousins who have done motocross for many years, and they have won several awards. But there was no way my parents would let me follow that path. One of my cousins had a very bad accident and from that moment on it was forbidden to ride a motorcycle in my house. Whenever I met with my cousins I would ride with them, but that was that. Nowadays, it is one of my favorite hobbies, I really like riding two-wheel motorcycles. But actually, of all my talents, my favorite one was music.
At school I was a very introverted girl. I was very shy and did not have that much self-esteem or many relationships with people, but I was the best one in music class. At least there was a class where I didn’t have to do things alone, nor wait to see who was left to work with. In music class there was always someone who wanted to be with me. It was my moment of glory.
(Keep reading: Bad Bunny sweeps the nominations for the 2021 Billboard Latin Awards).It was a religious and all-girls school in Medellin, did you ever rebel against the type of education you received?
Never. Actually, I was recently talking to someone on my team that you are raised by codes. Some people manage to let them go and develop their personality more, but there are others in which those codes remain for life. In my house we were a traditional Colombian family that went to mass every Sunday and on Saturdays we visited my grandmother, so I never had a problem with my school's education. Maybe, in 10th and 11th grades, I have to say that I was a very rebellious girl.How? Tell us about that.
First, I got piercings on my nose, on my tongue, on my ears. My face looked like a display of earrings. Then I began to dye my hair in all the colors I could think of. In fact, when I wanted to dye my hair blue right now, it was because I told my team: “Oh, I want to feel like when I was in school.” I became a bit annoying for teachers because I encouraged a lot of practical jokes.How was your life in your neighborhood?
I was born in La Mota, in Medellín. I spent my first years of life there and then we moved to a place called El Velódromo, a quiet neighborhood, very lonely, not many people to hang out with, as they do in other neighborhoods, and which I love. There weren't many things to do. I was the typical 15-year-old girl who went to parties and left early. I would arrive at nine at night and at twelve they would pick me up. Literally, I would eat and leave. The only full fifteen-year-old party I ever got was mine. I believe that throughout all these years I have experienced many things that I did not experience when I was younger.Is it true that for your 15th birthday the theme was Tinkerbelle?
Yes, the theme of the party was Tinkerbell, and my dress was orange. It was very funny because out of a hundred guests, my mom only allowed me to invite 28 friends. I will never forget that number.
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The first urban sounds that I heard, more than those of Puerto Rico, were those of Los cuentos de la cripta, who were from Panama. Cuentos de la Cripta were everything! I also listened to La Factoría and from there I began to listen to the first reggaeton songs, such as La gasolina. I really liked 'Latigazo', by Daddy Yankee, and Dembow, by Wisin y Yandel. It was love at first sight. I have loved reggaeton since I heard it the first time. Actually, I didn’t end up singing this genre because it touched me or to fit in, or to sing what was happening. The moment I called myself Karol G, I knew that my music was going to be reggaeton, urban music.When you were fourteen, you auditioned for the 'XS Factor'. How was your audition and who took you there?
When the commercials for the second season of 'XS Factor' started, my dad insisted that I go. He sent a family member to line up and he came back with the number. The next day I had to go and do the audition. I went with the flow. I went to the final and traveled to Bogotá, where I had to compete against 150 children. I didn't make it to the tv performances. When there were eleven of us left and they chose six, I was sent home. The disappointment was huge for my parents. They blamed each other a lot. They said that maybe I didn’t wear the right clothes, that maybe I didn’t choose the right song. It was a very nice learning moment. After that, I came back to Medellin determined to be more outgoing.At that time, you were a student at the music children group at the University of Antioquia, in Medellín.
Yes, I was part of it for five years. I had classes on Fridays and Saturdays, five to six hours a day. It was a very brutal process because it was understanding music not only as a hobby. I began to see greatness, profession, and art. I studied the history of music and the reading of musical notes. Thanks to that knowledge I can sit down today to produce one of my songs. I am not a professional producer, but thanks to that time, I understand music. That time really helped me to fine tune my skills.
(We recommend: David Beckham: a huge icon of the English team).And then you ended up studying undergraduate music at the same university. What was the most life changing thing about attending a public university?
The fact that I got in [laughs]. When I finished the music group I applied, and you know that at the University of Antioquia the spots are limited, not everyone makes it pass the application exam. It was very satisfying for me. In a very crazy way because I also applied to the University of Antioquia for a degree in foreign languages. I had many things that I wanted to study: graphic design, at some point international business, but, anyway, music pulled me in a different direction.Did you graduate?
No. When I started undergrad, I had a great opportunity to work as a backup singer for Reykon. He was very popular at the time, touring countless countries. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to understand music from that side, to really learn what a show was like, how the press was handled. I worked with Reykon for two and a half years, almost three. They were my first stages with an audience and that made me able to visualize myself and say: “Someday there will be an entire audience going to a place for me." That was a very special university for me.How did you get in that university?
I was the girlfriend of Reykon’s producer. He invited me to a trip to San Andrés where they had a show for a quinceañera, on a boat. When we were on the boat I said to Reykon: “Come on, Andrés - which is his real name -, give me a microphone and let me do the chorus for you. I swear I'm not going to make you look bad”. Then he gave me the microphone and I was behind doing harmonies. About three weeks later they made a formal proposal to me: “Hey, Karol, we loved what we did that day. We watched the videos, and it was so cute that we want you to be part of the team. We would love for you to be a backup singer and travel with us on tours ”. I didn't even think about it, it was an immediate yes. So, I dropped out of college because I was convinced that what I could learn at that time was going to mean a lot in the evolution of my career.
Those covers were the tests given by my coach. I studied for almost six years with Mirabay Montoya, who is one of the best music teachers in Colombia. It was five days a week, and for exams she asked me to sing songs by Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, etc. I remember seeing Justin Bieber's process and I realized that he had been booked for a video that he had uploaded singing to YouTube. I said: “It's something I have to try, maybe it will also happen for me” Nothing extraordinary ever happened to me with those videos though; people saw them, but it never opened any doors for me.
(You could read: Interview with El 'Pibe' Valderrama: a colombian legend).While you managed to find your place as an artist of the urban genre, you did other things, such as voices for commercials. How did you get that job?
One day, while I was talking to my vocal coach like a doll just playing around. She said, “Wow, are you capable of doing voices like that?” She had direct contact with the person who is in charge of doing all the Play Doh, Hasbro, and Barbies commercials in Colombia, which is someone who takes the commercials in English and does them in Spanish for all of Latin America. She took me and he told me to do voices. I had never done it, but I tried to do what he asked me and he was pleasantly surprised by that. I did that for like two years. See, I’ve done it all, even TV commercials [laughs]. I was the voice of Polly Pocket, of Barbie, of little girls playing with dolls. In the end, I remember saying: “They are the new pets you can collect from Hasbro” [laughs].During a television interview you said that you and your dad decided to “take the slow road” for your career. What did you mean when you said that?
I had very indecent proposals along the way, from people for whom you become a product. It was a very painful situation. It was very nice to have my dad supporting me in those moments. I used to say to him: “Daddy, that person is suggesting weird things that make me feel uncomfortable and I think we should run”. My dad believed in me, and we made the decision to do it the slow way. We did not have the contacts, nor did we know the industry, but thanks to certain people we met along the way, we began to do concerts in schools, shows with radio stations, performances at municipal parties. J Balvin for example, was a crucial person in my career. Selflessly, he introduced me to many people and introduced my project to many people as well. It was the slow way, but it was done with dignity.What is your mother's story about, when, on a trip to the United States, she took your CDs door-to-door to record labels?
Someone told my mom that there was a person called A&R (artists and repertoire) at the record companies, who was in charge of finding new artists. When she heard that, she started calling different record labels from Colombia. I remember we made some physical records and she first traveled to Miami and New York, then she got a face-to-face meeting. My dad, my mom, and I went to Universal in Miami, we sat down and listened to my album. That A&R told us: “Look, here's a CD of a woman who sings reggaeton. That is not going to happen, but what if you are a composer for other artists within the label?” And my dad took it very badly. He took the folder he had, closed it and said: “My daughter is not anyone's composer. You are not going to take her work to fill someone else’s pockets. We are leaving. Seven years later, seven years later! We received a formal offer from Universal that they wanted to sign me as an artist, and I have been with this label for four years.Your dad also tells a story, but with Andrés Calamaro and the song Mil horas, which you wanted to use in one of your songs ...
I came to Ovy’s studio (Ovy on the Drums), the producer I have worked with for six years, and he had made a beat with a melody that sounded like the song Mil Horas. I told him that I did not dare to do something like that masterpiece, but that we could try to make a new song. I told my dad about the idea, but we had no connections. My dad kept calling different people until he reached Calamaro's manager, and it was incredible because three or four weeks later, Calamaro was playing at the Estéreo Picnic in Bogotá. We went there to meet him. It is amazing to think that we started at home thinking about what to do with a song and ended up sitting at the table with the artis who wrote it and obtaining legal permission for the song. Another bonus point for my dad, he works hard until he makes things happen.
My team was me and my dad. So, I was Karol G's assistant. When I called places I would say: “Hi, this is Karol G's assistant” [laughs]. I remember that in my assistant email I received a message where they said that they wanted to have a meeting because there was a formal proposal from Universal, that they wanted to have Karol G as a company artist. At that moment I panicked because my dad and I were alone, we didn't understand the business very well. So, I took a beat, I didn't even reply to the email. I started looking for a manager. I found three people who gave me an incredible vibe and who knew the industry; it was a group of managers, one had worked at Universal, one at Warner, and the other at Sony. I signed with them, and we answered the Universal email. Like: “Okay, we just saw this email, what should we do”? [laughs]. They sent a person from Miami to Medellin, and I remember that when we sat down I said to him: “What made you call me back after seven year?” And he told me that they did a study to evaluate all the new artists and see which ones had the most international projection. That study gives them ten names in the world and Karol G. was on that list. At that time, I was very impressed that they did that kind of thing. Then we started negotiating and finally we signed.You were the first woman in reggaeton to make songs with the great male artists of the genre such as Nicky Jam, Ozuna, J Balvin, Bad Bunny. Tell us about that experience.
I was the first woman they all sang with. They were a very important part in the development of my career because at that time there were few opportunities for people to hear a female singer in this genre. It was very important to me that their fans said: “Wow! If Ozuna is singing with her, then I want to listen to her.” I felt like their darling girl because I had no other opportunities, neither on radio nor on television, to express myself, but they gave me that opportunity and that made my work evolve faster.At your 2020 Grammy performance, you sang Tusa with an all-female band. You reminded me of Patricia Tehran and the Diosas del Vallenato thirty years ago, where all of them, even the accordionist, were women.
Of course, you know why? I have realized that it is not that there are no women in this business, but that there are no opportunities for us. Not only in this industry, but in all professions, women have to fight a little more to have credibility, something that shouldn’t happen. We are just as talented, we have the same capabilities, sometimes we are even more organized and strategic. I’ve met women with so much talent that it made me think: “So… Are there female producers? Are there female sound engineers? Are there awesome female guitarists? I mean, so much talent to show, but why doesn't anyone show it? Well, in this team, we are going to showcase that”. So, in my team the majority are women. If I can give the opportunity to other women to show their ability, I will. In my new album one of the goals that I set myself is that I wanted to collaborate with female singers, but not with the ones that people expect, but with the women who are great and need to be showcased. That’s why I have Nathy Peluso, Mariah Angeliq, and Kali Uchis did the voice in the visual intro of my album.More news
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