Karol G Moves Away From Bubblegum Pop on ‘KG0516’

Courtesy of the artist

It’s been 15 years since Karol G signed her first record deal. Three albums and 48 singles later, the artist, born Carolina Giraldo Navarro, has reinvented herself with KG0516: 16 songs that make up arguably the most ambitious album of her career, exploring new ways of singing, a clear concept that was perhaps more difficult to understand in her previous albums, or betting on being alone with no feats on potentially huge singles.

Musically, the gap between her first albums Unstoppable, Ocean and, KG0516 is important. The first ones showed what already existed within the genre, serving as albums that were a collection of singles with some filler songs. KG0516 is a coherent album, closer to what a global pop star album should be: a work that finds a conversation between the songs and functions as a conceptual discourse as a whole.

Album cover. Courtesy of the artist
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As one of the architects of the pop-reggaetón, you’ve likely heard her songs on TikTok or will hear them at a post-quarantine party. Her new album KG0516 has the biggest debut for a Spanish album by a Latina in Spotify history—ranking at No. 1 global album on the platform. Karol G is an artist who performs to sold-out arenas and stadiums, a magazine cover superstar that has billions of streams, millions of followers, and a lot of stans. But we know the current global impact of the 30-year-old Colombian reaps the rewards of reggaetón’s precursors legacy, such as Rude Girl (La atrevida), Glory, Jennifer La Sexy Voz, or Ivy Queen. Part of that legacy is what Karol G wanted to honor in “Leyendas,” a tribute to some of the artists who came before her to show her fans where she comes from musically.

Photo by Sebastian Quintero. Courtesy of the artist
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Meanwhile, there is no need to listen to “El Barco” twice to know it will be a great hit. One of the oldest tricks in the music industry: a beautiful heartbreak song, the most used sentiment in popular music’s history. A bachata-pop song with a brilliant sensibility that could easily be mistakenly-overproduced but, thankfully, hitmaker Ovy on The Drums and Karol G showed their expertise and left it as is.

“Déjalos Que Miren” opens the album with a very effective hook, to later deliver an even more catchy one: “Todas las noches me la paso soñando contigo” (I dream about you every night). It’s exactly the kind of song that seems to work these days—one that leaves behind the more traditional pop song structure: verse, pre-chorus, chorus. We have no time to wait for the chorus now, and songs need to give us their best in the first few seconds, an infinite hook-after-hook display.

There is no need to listen to ‘El Barco’ twice to know it will be a great hit.

Karol has shown to be an expert in pop-reggaetón throughout her career (“Secreto” ft Anuel or “Ay, DiOs Mío!” being great examples), by mastering the trick of blending infectious melodies with the appropriate vocal performance and lyrics. In KG0516, she succeeds again with “DVD” and “Sola es Mejor” featuring the Medellín duo Yandar & Yostin —both songs have the most effective and memorable melodies of the album.

Meanwhile, the otherwise pop-savvy album has not-so-bright moments in songs like the pop-country-TikTok wannabe hit “Location,” ft. Anuel and J Balvin. However, it should be noted that Karol G almost succeeds in making the cringy Camilo sound OK in the otherwise safe pop-reggaetón intent “Contigo Voy a Muerte” (an almost impossible task, in her defense). Lastly, in “El Makinon” Ft. Mariah Angeliq, the Colombian has that fun upbeat single that’s necessary for any album of this kind.

Karol G has become one of the most relevant names in reggaetón today. The artist is no stranger to controversy, though—earlier this year, an infamous black and white bulldog photo led to her apology in the LA Times and, more recently, she falsely claimed that in Colombia, “the percentage of racist people is so low it’s almost imperceptible.”

Amid uncertainty, great expectations, and a slightly strange album cover, KG0516 shows Karol G moving away from the more bubblegum pop-oriented path she traced on her previous records; instead, she shows a creative revamp, proving that her career goes beyond just making great hits.