One of the most popular movies released in 2018 thus far is inarguably the Oscar-baited, 2 hour and 14 minute long A Star Is Born, featuring stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The film has received generally positive reviews and is on its way to making $225 million dollars nationwide since its October 5 debut.
The movie has been praised for its accurate portrayal of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. However, A Star Is Born has also been critiqued for its very inherent whiteness, as the two main characters are two white, able-bodied musicians trying to maintain a healthy relationship while they simultaneously have their own battles with fame. As the movie was inching towards confirmation that it would be made back in 2016, it was revealed that there was a point in time where Beyoncé was once supposed to have Lady Gaga’s leading role…and discussions started flowing as to how the movie would have played out a bit definitely with a WOC as the lead.
You may be wondering where I am going with this, and it’s important to bear with me. The movie inherently would have been different because a woman of color has different experiences than a white woman does…and while the movie is still continuing to receive positive feedback, it’s arguable to point out that the 2018 landscape of pop may not be accurately portrayed in the movie.
If you really want to immerse yourself in an authentic story about a female’s road to stardom in 2018, you should be paying attention to Kali Uchis. Real name Karly Loaiza, Uchis spent a small time of her childhood in Colombia – but was born in Alexandria, Virginia (her dad wanted her to have American citizenship). Her father moved her family back to the states in the early 90s to avoid violent conflicts taking place in Colombia – though the family continued to go back and forth between Colombia & Virginia: Uchis started elementary in Colombia, then settled in the U.S. for third grade -onward. She has extended family there still, and has said that it often feels more like home than America does.
Kali was a rebel in high school and often skipped class, opting for the photo lab instead: she liked making short films. She was a poet, wrote songs and music, but was initially interested in directing films rather than being a musician in the spotlight. Her rebelling continued to spiral as she was having arguments with her father, who eventually told her to leave his home until she could come to terms with having to succumb to an authority feature. She lived in an SUV for weeks at a time, working odd jobs and still going to school. She eventually made amends with her father and came home.
Kali’s first self-produced mixtape, Drunken Babble, was released when she was just 18 and newly graduated from high school. The music took on a life of its own and went viral, as those things seem to go these days in the age of the internet, and eventually garnered the attention of musicians like Snoop Dog and Tyler the Creator.
Her first studio EP Por Vida was released in 2015 and has collaborations with Diplo, BADBADNOTGOOD and Tyler the Creator. Her 2018 debut album Isolation catapulted her to mainstream stardom, receiving positive reviews across the board and labeled her as “a new gravitational force in pop.”
I had a few minutes to check out Kali Uchis’ late afternoon set at Lollapalooza this year, but she unfortunately was one of the many female singers who were pushed to the side stage with horrible sound that affected performances all weekend (Carly Rae Jepsen, Dua Lipa and Camila Cabello played this stage at various points across the weekend). I was sitting far away on the decaying grass in the 90 degree weather and struggled to hear anything during the performance: which ultimately meant I knew I had to go see her perform again in the future. Isolation was a standout album for me this year (TBD if it will end up on my “Best Of” this year).
Let’s start with the supporting act of this tour: Brooklyn-based R&B pop singer Garbiel Garzón-Montano. Gabriel electrified the eager audience with a 30-minute set featuring hits from his 2017 debut album Jardin – which was named one of the Best Albums of 2017 by the likes of Billboard and Okayplayer. It was also praised by Pitchfork, NPR, Entertainment Weekly and more. Check out his Tiny Desk performance below:
Gabriel was sitting for the totality of the performance, moving swiftly from the microphone front and center to the keyboard during and between songs. Joined by a bassist and pianist both in matching outfits to his left and right, it was clear that he was the star of the show: dressed completely in black as his counterparts were matching in oversized neutral suits moving methodically through each song as Gabriel was able to show off his pipes. I wondered why he sat through his performance, as he had a sort of electricity to his stage presence that could have allowed him to run around the stage for the entire set, and STILL would have left him with energy to do it all over again. As he got up as the set concluded, I realized he was limping – giving reason to his choice to be seated for the performance.
It made perfect sense as to why Gabriel was chosen to perform as the supporting act with Kali: he is also bilingual, self-producing and has undeniable vocal talent. Check out his Spotify page here.
Just a few minutes before Uchis was set to start her 8pm performance at Chicago’s Riviera Theater, the sold-out crowd of 2,500 people started chanting her name with a feverish frenzy that immediately made me realize just how popular Uchis had become over the last six months. I felt naive to her popularity and her impact, but seeing her show made me understand completely.
As the show was beginning, Uchis’ silhouette appeared through a white curtain and the show had begun. Donning a silver & black sparkly, wide-legged jumpsuit and and silver-chained belt around her waist, Kali was ready to deliver a genre-bending performance of pop, R&B, reggae and neo soul music.
Uchis belted out the notes to “Dead To Me,” a track on Isolation: a modern version of Ceelo Green’s “Fuck You” but one that packs twice the punch. Her vocals never wavered as she took the entire stage by storm, walking back and forth to warm up the crowd like a veteran performer. The set continued with an impactful cover of Donna Summer’s 1977 song “I Feel Love,” further establishing that Uchis was a force to be reckoned with in 2018’s current pop music scene: her casual execution of a song that’s over 40 years old showed that she could have claimed this was an original songs and her fans wouldn’t have batted an eye.
My personal highlights of the show included a stripped down performance of “In My Dreams,” a song that shows the softer side of Uchis as she imagines the perfect life that she can live while she’s asleep, and “Your Teeth In My Neck,” probably my favorite track from Isolation.
Uchis’ confidence rarely trembled and seemed at its greatest when Uchis performed in Spanish. Thanks to the success of 2017’s biggest song “Despacito,” it seems as though bilingual lyrics and musicians are becoming bigger than ever: BTS is one of the biggest boybands in the world and sing in Korean and English. They recently sold out two nights at United Center. Khalid and Empress Of have a duet sung in English and Spanish. Even Drake jumped on the bandwagon and recently released a single with Bad Bunny and sings in Spanish.
Thanks to these artists who are embracing their non-white heritages, not only are they inviting more fans to be apart of the conversation, but they are pushing the envelope on how a conventional popstar is supposed to look like. It’s clear that Uchis’ impact will continue to grow with her 1.2 million Instagram fans and 100 million plus streams on Spotify.
Kali Uchis is the true idea of seeing a star born that you can’t experience on the big screens, yet. Perhaps her story will be the narrative for the next remake of the film in another few years? Only time will tell.
Click here to read all of my show reviews of 2018.
Reviews on Mitski, Brockhampton and Maggie Rogers.