Last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling to strike down all bans on same sex marriage brought a triumphant end to pride. On top of all the major victories for sexual and gender diversity, we’ve also been highlighting LGBTQ artists and events, and we’re not done yet. Few musicians embody the true spirit of pride more than Sebastián Sotomayor, the man behind the glittery, pink act (Me Llamo) Sebastián.
Toeing the line between whimsy and sharp criticism, (Me Llamo) Sebastián has become one of the most visible members of the LGBTQ community in Latin alternative music. Not one for metaphors, his lyrics are deeply personal and often graphic, covering everything from prostitution, to gender structures, to his disillusionment with traditional love. His music videos and public persona are fun and flamboyant. On any given day, he might be wearing all pink, clad in Adventure Time gear. The next day he’ll be shooting a Sailor Moon-themed video.
A self-identified bear, Sebastián consistently juxtaposes hypermasculinity with makeup and brightly colored spandex unitards during his live performances. Songs like “Niños Rosados” and “Hormonas” explore the struggle of finding one’s gender identity, and they inform the subversive nature of his music. His work consistently challenges the squeaky clean, normalized image of the LGBTQ mainstream, condemning it as unrealistic and exclusionary, forgetful of the movement’s roots in countercultural activism. He centers the gritty struggle of a community that fought for the right to be different in his work, while still demanding equal treatment and protection under the law. In doing so, he highlights the fundamental difference between equality and assimilation.
We talked to (Me Llamo) Sebastián to discuss his new album, his plans, and his thoughts on gender and sexuality.
Hi Seba! How are you?
Great! Busy! Lots of stuff in the works right now.
We first met you last summer at LAMC. What brought you to New York?
Well, I had already been booked for some shows in Mexico City and Festival Siguiente Escena in Querétaro. I have a friend who told me about LAMC, which worked with my schedule, so he encouraged me to apply. I got in contact with some reps and after some back-and-forth they added me to the Mercury Lounge showcase. I’d always wanted to go to New York, so it was a no brainer. It was my first time touring internationally, which was super cool, and I got to meet tons of people.
That tour was in support of El Hambre. Where were you professionally while recording that album?
Well, that was the first time my music got some real radio play. I was and still consider myself up-and-coming, but it was very exciting because I had the chance to take my work on the road at an international level. I was super nervous, but it was a major success, since I was able to build those connections to come back and play again someday. I’m currently working with some people to try and get back up there, hopefully by the end of the summer, so keep your fingers crossed!
You just finished recording your new album, La Belleza. Has the music taken a new direction?
I feel more comfortable playing live now. People are more interested in the work as well, which I’m thrilled about. Musically, I allowed myself to go dancier than on previous records, though I stayed away from electronic music. It’s all acoustic, no synths. Even the drum loops and beats were all done live by the band. The sound of the album was inspired by soul in terms of its instrumentation and vocal arrangements, though at various points it sounds like a band’s record, which is still exciting new territory for me.
Your music went to some pretty intense places on El Hambre, featuring songs about prostitutes, closeted gay men, and trans people. What draws you to these subjects?
As a child, I dealt with bullying, so I always identified with people who struggle with their identities. I’ve always felt a sort of kinship with these characters on the fringes of society, and these songs are a safe space to talk about them and tell their stories respectfully. I feel like as a society, we can’t seem to have a serious conversation with or about these people without turning them into caricatures, so I’ve tried to use my platform to have that conversation.
What stories can we expect from La Belleza?
Thematically, I’ve followed the same path I did on the last album, but I wanted to explore new roads. La Belleza features a song called “Baila Como Hombre,” which is about what it means to be a man and the rules and expectations that accompany stereotypes about men. We think of them as providers, strong and emotionless, which obviously does not describe everyone. As a man, I speak from a point of privilege, but I’m trying to shed light on how negative it is to have predetermined expectations of people based solely on their gender. On “<3” (pronounced as a kiss), I sing about polyamory and our freedom to love who we choose, how we choose. With every song and album, I feel more comfortable writing about these subjects and doing so more directly, even if they are things that we as a community may not agree on. My goal is to start a discussion, not just between gay and straight people, but among ourselves as well.
It doesn’t seem like you’ve ever had a problem with being direct. A song like “Con Lugar en el Centro (Casado_39),” which was about a closeted gay man engaging in casual sex, was quite candid.
When I wrote “Casado_39,” I aimed to tell the story of a man looking to release urges that he has to keep secret. I never judged him, nor would I. On this album, I have a song featuring Gepe called “Masaje,” which is about a masseur who doubles as a prostitute. See, I’ve introduced a different character that has sex for money, and enjoys the power he has during these encounters, but I don’t ever judge him. Even though these are rather crude subjects, they are still stories happening today and we can’t pretend they’re not part of our history. A lot of the songs on this album are meant to reflect the diversity of opinion within our community. Having attended equality marches and human rights events these last few months, I’ve met so many trans people who just want to live a quiet, heteronormative life, as well as queer people who vehemently oppose gender and binary structures. I feel that the majority of the organizations with real presence here in Chile have a heteronormative attitude where marriage equality is the goal. They focus on the idea of living the same way as cisgender heterosexuals. Though I believe that we all deserve to have the same rights, I appreciate and celebrate the right to be different and to have my life and choices respected instead of having to assimilate to standards and rules that don’t represent me.
We talked a bit about your new single “<3.” Can you tell us a little about the chorus?
Haha, yeah. You’re talking about the vomiting sounds. Well, first of all, it’s not so unusual when you think of other pop pianists like Kate Bush or Elton John and what they have to do to stand out in a live setting, since they are usually confined to their pianos. It’s also very sad to think about everything that’s going on in Chile, from the struggle for LGBTQ rights to the fight for quality and affordable education, so I think the best way to approach these topics is with humor.
You mentioned that Gepe makes an appearance on the album. Are there any other fun collaborations we can look forward to?
Yes! One of my favorites is with Nano Stern, whose folk-oriented music is based in Latin roots. On another track, I got to sing with Juan Manuel Torreblanca, who is always a class act, and Alejandro y Maria Laura from Peru. I also did a beautiful song with Mon Laferte, who’s Chilean, but based in Mexico. I think a few of them will be at LAMC this year so you guys should check them out!
Before you go, tell us, what’s next for (Me Llamo) Sebastián?
My vision is to keep playing and living off my music. I want to travel and meet people and build a network of artists. I want to put my work out there and hear what people think. It’s exciting to hear my music on the radio and to see my fans growing. I’d love to be invited to play at Lollapalooza or Vive Latino. Hay que darle tiempo al tiempo, you know? As long as I can keep making music my way, and I’m not starving, I’ll be happy.
You can find (Me Llamo) Sebastián’s new album La Belleza at mellamosebastian.bandcamp.com.