Why Being on Obama’s Summer Playlist Is Lit Yet Complicated for La Doña

Photo by Thalia Gochez.

Not everyone can say that a former President listens to your music. But La Doña isn’t just anyone. Former President Barack Obama recently revealed the 2023 version of his annual summer playlist, which included the Chicana’s 2022 dembow-infused salsa track “Penas Con Pan.” Her reaction? Nothing short of surprised — especially coming from someone with her political views.

“I was in a meeting, and my homegirl Jaz Vargas actually texted me, ‘OMG, Obama listens to La Doña,’ and I was like, ‘Girl, what?’ I was so swamped,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she sent me a screenshot of the playlist.”

La Doña recalls the emotions, describing the contrast between a triumph you’re striving for and an achievement you didn’t even imagine. “That was so crazy. It was so outside of anything that I had been anticipating, thinking about, or even striving towards. When something good happens that you’ve been working towards and wanting, you’re like, ‘Yay!’ But when it’s just a shock out of nowhere, it’s a very distinct feeling,” she told Remezcla over a Zoom video conversation.

The fact that a president made this inclusion gave La Doña more to reflect on, given that her perception of the government isn’t rose-tinted. She describes herself as an anti-nationalist and shares her voice in mediums like the recent documentary called Anthem, which unravels the layers of the national anthem. “It’s all very different and new for me: to feel like I was being green-lighted by the United States of America. I’m anti-nationalist, I’m a community organizer, I’m anti-border. So it’s just pretty hilarious and kind of unexpected,” she said. “But it’s also really fortifying to feel that somebody with my perspective and my political orientations can still be appealing and interesting musically to people across a wide spectrum of beliefs and orientations.” 

Besides being part of Obama’s annual playlist, the experimental artist has a new song that came out on Aug. 3. “Paloma No Vuelve Amar,” a heartfelt cumbia inspired by a recent breakup, is the first single from her upcoming EP Can’t Eat Clout that’s due Sept. 15. The lyrics narrate a story about someone getting through heartbreak that eventually molds the person’s identity.

Moreover, she’s also performing at Outside Lands in San Francisco next week (Aug. 11), where she will be accompanied by a 10-piece band for the first time. That’s not the only reason it’ll be a special performance; she’s also excited to bring different genres like cumbia, salsa, hip-hop, and a traditional style type of band onto the massive festival’s stage. “I feel incredibly honored that I get to be one of the first artists doing it and [to be] one of the first Latinx artists to do it,” she shared.

Whether first or not, La Doña will always remain authentic on and off stages. Anyone who discovers her through lists like Obama’s should expect that unfiltered talent. “The thing about me is that I’m really not able to divorce my political opinions from my career,” she noted. “…I feel very strongly about a lot of things. And I will represent these opinions and perspectives I grew up with coming out of a feminist and antiracist household. So I can’t divorce those things.”

I feel very strongly about a lot of things. And I will represent these opinions and perspectives.

She continued: “The first things that people started sending me the playlist, and they were like, ‘Damn, I know Obama dropped hella bombs, but he’s dropping that bomb playlist too.’ I was like, oh my God, you guys. People are making so many jokes like that. And I was like, you know me too well.”

Before the conversation was over, she mentioned that regardless of her views, it was a win that she had to celebrate while also remaining critical of at the same time. “You can’t become swayed too much by the clout, right? I mean, that’s the whole premise of my EP that you Can’t Eat Clout,” she told Remezcla. “At the end of the day, you have to feel good about how you lived your life and how you represented your people and your opinions. You can’t really let the clout or the recognition sway you from those opinions. It’s one with the other.”