Meet Bad Gyal, the Viral Sensation Making Trap and Dancehall in Catalan

Née: Alba Farelo
Raíces: Vilassar de Mar, Catalonia
Sounds like: President of the blanquita Rihanna fan club
You should listen to Bad Gyal because…She’s the guinea pig when it comes to where Spain fits into 2016’s global dancehall mania.

Spotify reports that Spain listened to more reggaeton than any other genre last year, so it makes sense that Catalan emcee Bad Gyal is getting local media attention as an emerging talent. She’s from the land of hip-hop group PXXR GVNG (and their reggaeton side project La Mafia del Amor), and the generation of young Spanish rappers they inspire.

After growing up in a beach town northeast of Barcelona, the 19-year-old broke on the Spanish music scene with March’s “Bandulés,” featuring fellow Catalan crew Pawn Gang emcee Lil Guiu (The collectives’ names can get confusing, as can their shifting artist allegiances: Steve Lean, the 808 Mafia-associated Uruguayan, departed from his work on Pawn Gang’s 2013 Impara mixtape to start PXXR GVNG that same year). She raps in English sometimes, but most frequently in Catalan. “It’s just what comes out of my head,” she told Playground.

Bad Gyal says that her first collaboration came out of chance — a friendship with Lil Guiu that led to messing around in La Krak Haus, the studio of producer Hacha. The pairing may have thrust her into the spotlight, but “Bandulés” is not her most convincing song. The music video shows Bad Gyal drinking and vamping in her shots, stark contrast to her sterner, sharper persona in the solo songs that she subsequently put out this year. In other videos, like May’s “Indapanden,” she hangs out on the street with friends wearing turtlenecks, track jackets, and baggy jeans, her assertions of being the “baddest gyal” suddenly more believable.

That early pairing could be one source of her heavy virality — over the last few months, her lo-fi YouTube channel has amassed over 1.5 million views. Or maybe it’s Spain’s desire to see one of their own women laying down the beats they’ve gotten a taste for? Girl-centric directives in both English and Catalan on her songs have opened up Bad Gyal to a slew of the “Are you a feminist? What kind of feminist?” interviews that the media deems mandatory for emerging women artists. “My discourse is to inspire girls to lead a more empowered lifestyle,” she said in that same interview with Playground. Practically speaking, songs like “Leiriss” lay out fairly coherent rules for girls looking to navigate scenes with grace: “I’m not selling brick/I won’t be your bitch/Won’t come to your party.”

Even if it’s way too early to foretell how Bad Gyal’s six-month-old career will develop, she is at least marginally aware that songs like her latest “No Pierdo Nada” borrow heavily from Panamanian and Jamaican beats. “Dancehall is a cool thing, and I really, really respect the tradition,” she told Playground. “For example, if I upload a video I don’t say that it’s dancehall because it’s probably one of my freestyles.” The seriousness of that statement, of course, is up for debate — particularly when she tends to play her cultural references a bit too fast and loose on social media, gratuitously labeling her Instagram posts with other peoples’ nationalities from time to time. Dominican is not your hype word, bb girl.

Given the history of appropriation, and that of the commercial support given to those who do it, Bad Gyal’s intent may not matter that much. We can say this much for sure about the Catalan artist: she seems to be giving her paisanos what they want.