“They Don’t Want Us to Rise, But This Is Our Time”: Songwriter Cris Chil on Women’s Rise in Urbano

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

You may not know who Cris Chil is or have even realized that she’s a woman, but you’ve definitely sung her songs.

The powerhouse producer is the first female writer and artist for Neon16, an artist incubator led by Latin Grammy-winning producer Tainy and music executive Lex Borrero.

Chil has written songs like “I Can’t Get Enough” featuring Selena Gomez, Benny Blanco, Tainy and J Balvin, “Contra La Pared” with Sean Paul and Balvi and Gente de Zona’s “Mejor Sin Ti.” In the pipeline, she has a project with Anitta and DJ Snake. She’s cut her teeth in the industry and started performing 15 years ago in her native Ecuador, then Canada, and eventually made her way to the states. She started from the bottom saying she didn’t know any producers or writers. “Eventually,” she says, “I started connecting with them, but it’s definitely a difficult industry to get into.”

She initially began her career as a singer but found success in writing music. Her biggest pride has been fitting into the music industry, where people have come to respect her. But it’s still been difficult being a woman in the industry.

“Being a female artist is great, but there isn’t the same validation for female songwriters” Chil, who is also planning to relaunch herself as an artist, says. “Especially for a male reggaeton artist to say, ‘Oh, my lyrics were written by a woman’ is an ego thing. It’s been a process for them to be cool with it.”

Photo by Alfonso Duran for Remezcla
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For her, being a woman is a weapon. Despite urbano being dominated by men, Chil knows what women want to hear. And with many of today’s lyrics revolving around seduction, sexuality and relationships, Chil spends a significant time helping male artists understand how women will interpret their lyrics or music.

“Sometimes in reggaeton, there’s a tendency of being too sexual but not sexy,” she adds. “I get to be upfront, and I’ll tell them, ‘If you say that to me in a bar I’m going to tell you to go fuck yourself, there’s no way women want to hear that. I’m a woman, and it’s disrespectful.’ My job is to find who artists are and develop them. It’s interesting to respect their character and gracefully deliver the music.”

Chil’s work is guided by energy and las vibras. She first asks artists to share their stories or inspiration for songs – she reassures them that their innermost thoughts are 100% safe with her. Before these sessions, she’s already thinking about the artists’ vocal range, the vocabulary they use, what they like, what they think about and their brand.

“You have to make them listen and not see.”

“I like to sit down with them first and have a conversation,” Cris says. “I kind of dig into their life and ask them, ‘What are you going through? Are you in love? Are you going through a breakup? Are you upset because somebody did something to you? Are you free and you don’t want to get into a relationship?’ Those little tips help me understand the mood at the moment, so when I’m writing the song, their reaction is always, ‘That’s what I wanted to say! That’s how I feel; how did you know?’ That’s my side of the job and being receptive to their energy and knowing what they need.”

While she now has a place in the industry, it’s taken a lot for her to get here. And she hopes other women can do the same. Unfortunately, women are often pigeonholed in the music industry, judged on things other than their talent. And she just hopes women have the opportunity to show up as themselves, to know that who they are is enough. It’s not the easiest process, but for Cris, it’s worked because she’s been able to prove her worth.

“You have to make them listen and not see,” she says. “I want them to listen to me not to look at me. I want them to hear what I have to say. I’m not here to display myself. I’m not selling that. It’s great when you look amazing and it goes with your message, but we’re selling music here.”

Chil’s artist name has also been an advantage. Born María Cristina Chiliza, she goes by Cris Chil as a way to neutralize the way the industry may see her.

“You don’t know how many sessions I’ve walked into and they think I’m a guy,” she says. “And I show up and say, ‘I’m a girl, and this session is happening right now.’ It used to happen a lot that I would show up, and people thought I was there to hang out in the studio. Sometimes people may not know who I am or who I’ve worked with before, but attitude is everything. If you know who you are and you own your talent and worth as soon as you walk into the place, you dominate it. I don’t walk into a studio and start chitchatting. I walk in and get to work; I ask to play the music and start throwing some ideas. If I ever feel that weird vibe from people, I just go in and get straight to work and I immediately prove why I’m there.”

Photo courtesy NEON16
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Unfortunately, the industry is still dominated by men, so everyone has preconceived notions of what a producer and songwriter should look like. She understands why even some of her female peers are surprised when she shows up for a session.

“There’s a bit of hesitation,” Chil says. “If it’s not with a guy, they make that immediate assumption, where they question if a girl can get the job done. I can understand because men have always been the standard.”

But, according to Chil, things are slowly changing. She has yet to work with other female writers in Miami, but she has in Los Angeles. And every day, she sees more opportunities created for when she began. This makes it an exciting time for her to be in the industry and to continue developing her talents.

“The most important message I want to give on behalf of women is that we’re not here to be quiet anymore or be shut down anymore,” she says. “I’m not here to be quiet anymore. It’s time for our voices to be heard, and it’s time for us to be in control of our own lives.

“With my music, I’ll be speaking to the very powerful woman, but she has a cloud that follows her around. I feel like as women we all have inside of us a very powerful woman, but we’re being put down by a man, or if we’re at work it’s because of a man. Whatever it is, I’m going a little bit against the guys. I love guys, but I feel like we’ve had to suffer a lot. I want to be very motivating for the women who are not confident and who may feel like they are not enough and feel like, ‘It’s my turn now.’ I’ve experienced it myself in this industry and life and to see how much guys can influence us when they’re around when they talk about us when they look at us. I want other women to think,’ Holy sh*t, she’s right. I am f*cking awesome. I don’t need their validation.’ They don’t want us to rise, but this is our time.”