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Interview With Singer Girl Ultra


And finally today, when we think about music coming out of Mexico City, R&B probably isn't what comes to mind. But our next guest is trying to change that. She is Mariana de Miguel, who goes by the name Girl Ultra.


GIRL ULTRA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: Although she is only in her 20s, she's been at the forefront of a movement to grow Mexico's R&B scene, and now her first full-length album, "Nuevos Aires," has been released. And Girl Ultra is with us now to tell us more about it from her studio in Mexico City.

Girl Ultra, thank you so much for joining us.

GIRL ULTRA: No, thank you for inviting me.

MARTIN: So where does the name Girl Ultra come from?

GIRL ULTRA: It just came out of this special, new energy I felt because I was part of a disco band when I came out of high school. And I was thinking about going solo, and I felt like I needed a name that empowered me that way. So I just wanted - I just did, like, this superheroine-ish (ph) thing. I just brainstormed, and it just came out. And I feel very comfortable with that alter ego thing.

MARTIN: So, as we mentioned, that there really hasn't been that much R&B scene in Mexico. And I think it's fair to say you're one of the few artists making this type of music there. What is it about R&B that started to speak to you?

GIRL ULTRA: I don't know. Like, I just summed up the music that I grew up with, like, Beyonce and Destiny's Child. And then I was, like, what is this? And why does this feel so comfortable and passionate? And when I started singing by myself, and I just really realized that it was inside of me when I started composing when I was, like, probably 14, 15 years old. And everything started to shape into this R&B contemporary soul thing because that was what I was listening at the time, when I had LimeWire and Addis (ph) and all that illegal stuff...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GIRL ULTRA: ...When I was young. I just became this musical researcher, and I just found out, like, Erykah Badu, J Dilla, The Roots and all of these stuff - D'Angelo. And it was like a whole new world for me.

MARTIN: So, as we - as I think a lot of people know, you know, R&B is kind of synonymous with a sort of a sultry vibe. I want to play something from your new album that fits that description. This is called "Discrecion".


GIRL ULTRA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: How would you describe what you were going for? And how did you know when you had found it?

GIRL ULTRA: I realize I'm looking for a particular nostalgia I've never lived, such as, like, what happened in the '80s. And I'm a big fan of the '80s. I just - I worship the '80s. And I don't know. Like, I feel some kind of mystery and passionate thing about my personality on and off a stage. And I just try to find that connection between the sound and the words and the person that I am, like, currently and this femme fatale that I become when I step on stage.

MARTIN: Most of your songs have lyrics in Spanish, but there are some bilingual tracks. And one of the songs I want to play now is a collaboration with Cuco. And it's "DameLove," and the video is already getting a lot of love. So let me play a little bit of that, and then we can talk about it. Here it is.

GIRL ULTRA: OK. That's cool.


GIRL ULTRA AND CUCO: (Singing) I won't tell you twice, amor. Feelings always come and go. Si lo tienes damelo. Dame love, dame love. I won't tell you twice, amor. Feelings always come and go. Si lo tienes damelo. Dame love, dame love. There's something about you, something. There's something. There's something about you, something. There's something.

MARTIN: Very nice. That song does so many things. So tell me a bit about how it came together.

GIRL ULTRA: It was crazy because I met Cuco here in Mexico City, and we were playing the same festival, different stages at the same time. And I was particularly very drawn to Cuco's music in the past, and we exchanged numbers, and we started talking online. Like, we were exchanging, like, these crazy memes, meme stuff because we're meme people.

You know, I was, like, hey what's up? I'm coming to LA. Let's hang. Let's link up. And he was, like, hey, why don't we make a song or make something? Like, let's go to the studio. So we rented a studio, and as soon as we came in, like, we just started vibing. We just connected. And we were, like, OK. Why didn't you sing in English, and why don't I sing it, like, completely the Spanish in my verse? Like, let's just, like, switch things up.


GIRL ULTRA AND CUCO: (Singing) Si lo tienes damelo. Dame love, dame love. I won't tell you twice, amor. Feelings always come and go. Si lo tienes damelo. Dame love, dame love.

GIRL ULTRA: And, I don't know, we started writing. And we were, like, laying down, like, dude, like, let's make a smoke-and-makeup song like people want to listen to. Like, yeah. And we were writing the lyrics. And it just felt very comfortable going back-and-forth, Spanish and English.

MARTIN: Well, the whole thing sounds really comfortable. I just want to mention for people who aren't aware, Cuco is like a teen phenom. I mean, he had a huge online following. And what's so fascinating about this is that it is so easy. It just feels so natural to kind of go back-and-forth between the Spanish and the English. And I just wondered, do you think that that's maybe more - what's the word I'm looking for? - more typical than people may realize is that, for people who speak both languages, they just go back-and-forth? Do you see what I'm saying?

GIRL ULTRA: Yeah, it is completely typical. And you know what? Like, a lot of people in Mexico really speak English because we got English and everything, like, in our products and TV and the music. So it's - we're just like very close to each other.

MARTIN: Do you feel that the - I don't know whether this was intentional or not - but do you feel that having the lyrics be in both Spanish and English will kind of help the song reach a broader audience or is it just that's just how it appeared to you, that's just how it came to you?

GIRL ULTRA: It's how it came to you is how it came to me. But we definitely wanted to make, like, this cultural clash. Like, Cuco regularly speaks English in his everyday. And I speak Spanish. But he speaks fluent Spanish. And I speak kind of a fluent English. So it just feels so natural. Like, let's just switch to our second language.

MARTIN: Well, what kind of reaction are you getting to the album? Especially as we mentioned earlier, you're trying to grow the R&B scene in Mexico. Obviously, you know, north of the border, there's already a big, you know, appetite for R&B. What kind of feedback are you getting?

GIRL ULTRA: I was very worried about this album because it was, like, an experimental album because it just - I wasn't aware of what people was going to think about all of these proses (ph). And it was well-received. Like, I don't know. Like, they've been very thankful for the album, and that is just a blessing.

MARTIN: Well, what's your favorite song on the album? Or maybe that's not a fair question. So what song do you - shall we go out on?

GIRL ULTRA: I love the last song of the album, "Amora Salvaje," because it's a very, very personal song I wrote about - it's like a love letter to my city.

MARTIN: And your city, Mexico City, is what you meant, right?

GIRL ULTRA: Mexico City, yeah. So I don't know. I felt like I - this year especially, I had this pretty hectic, passionate love-hate relationship with my city. And I don't know. I just felt like writing a love song to that. And I've never, ever written a love song. And that's what it is.


GIRL ULTRA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: That is Girl Ultra aka Mariana de Miguel. Her new album, "Nuevos Aires," is out now. Girl Ultra, Mariana de Miguel, thank you so much for joining us. And congratulations on everything.

GIRL ULTRA: Thank you so much. Big hug. Besos.


GIRL ULTRA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: Before we go tonight, we'd like to tell you about a story that we are working on for tomorrow's program. In the Spanish language, all nouns are gendered. Feminine nouns end in an A, and masculine ones end in O. But there is a push among teenagers in Argentina to make all nouns gender-neutral. We'll have more on that story tomorrow see.


GIRL ULTRA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.