Mexico has long been a treasure trove of Latin American pop stars, and as the media becomes increasingly saturated with eager ingénues and social media personalities, established artists have learned that evolution is the best way to remain relevant in today’s popular culture. Ximena Sariñana is the perfect example of a pop chameleon, beginning her career as a child actor on telenovelas like Gotita de Amor and Luz Clarita, the latter of which cast her as the series’ antagonist and tapped her to perform its now classic theme song. Her repeated involvement with the musical end of her various acting projects fanned the flames of curiosity, putting Sariñana on the path to study the craft and launching her as a beloved singer-songwriter.
Since the beginning, Ximena Sariñana’s musical identity has been about maturity and constant experimentation. Her 2008 debut album Mediocre made her a household name in Mexico, thanks to the heartbreaking melodrama of her songwriting. As her hunger for new sounds and forms of storytelling grew, Sariñana began spending more time in the U.S., specifically Los Angeles, which resulted in her 2011 self-titled follow-up, written and performed almost entirely in English. Critical acclaim found Sariñana again in 2014, this time with the release of No Todo Lo Puedes Dar, an album that harkened back to her dramatic roots, but also placed her in the driver’s seat, since she handled much of the album’s instrumentation and production.
Today, Ximena Sariñana is releasing her fourth studio album, ¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas?, another unexpected chapter in a career that has kept fans on their toes. The album finds the soft-spoken singer-songwriter more emotionally centered than ever before, embracing strong themes of femininity and independence. Sariñana enlisted hit makers Icon Music, Juan Pablo Vega, and songwriting duo André Torres and Mauricio Rengifo – the team behind “Despacito”– for an urbano-tinged album meant to surprise, delight, and encourage fans to cut loose. Familiar voices also pop up throughout, with Girl Ultra’s breathless coos on “Que Tiene” and Francisca Valenzuela’s liberating chorus on “Pueblo Abandonado” producing some of the album’s joyful highlights.
Speaking with Remezcla from her Mexico City home, we sat down with Ximena Sariñana to discuss her journey from acting to music, the meaning behind her new album’s cheeky title, and why pitting women in pop music against each other feeds into reductive cycles of competition.
¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas? is a very bright album even though many of the songs seem to deal with heartbreak. Where were you emotionally when you began working on this record?
It’s a record where I felt really content with who I was at the moment I began making it. I had become very comfortable with myself, with my womanhood and my musical identity. My last record [No Todo Lo Puedes Dar] was about discovering what Ximena Sariñana can sound like when she has total control. So once that process was done, I began asking myself what was next. It was very intuitive. I wanted to experiment and try music that was more rhythmic. I wanted to explore more of my [Latinidad] and work with people I feel encompass more [traditionally] Latino sounds, from writing to production and performance styles. In the end, it was very refreshing to hear myself in a new context, stepping away from the super sad songs my fans tend to associate me with.
As you mentioned, No Todo Lo Puedes Dar was largely a personal undertaking. How did you feel about opening yourself up to so many collaborations on this new record?
There’s a saying that the best relationship you can have is with yourself. So, once you’re in that great place and meet other great people, things get even better. Since I no longer felt the need to prove anything to myself or anyone else, the creative process was very free and in service of the music. Collaborating then becomes a super fun experience, where you’re open to trying new things, but also feel comfortable saying “no” when you don’t like something.
My favorite song on the album is “Pueblo Abandonado,” which features Francisca Valenzuela. What was it like working together?
Fran and I are very good friends. A few years ago, we co-headlined a tour across Mexico for about a month, which was amazing. That’s where we really got to know each other, and we’ve maintained a close relationship. We would often get together to vent about musician life and eventually we asked why we had never written anything together. I’ve written with many of my friends, like Daniela Spalla, Loli Molina, and Alex Ferreira, but Fran and I had never joined forces. And I loved it! From the moment we started writing I said, “Wow, you have to sing on this too.”
The title of ¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas? makes pretty clear references to Maná and Molotov, but how does it encapsulate the album’s greater themes?
It was always a working title, kind of as an inside joke, but as the album progressed, it began to make sense within the narrative. Our starting point was thinking about everything that could happen in one night, with an A-side of songs you might hear at a party and the B-side loaded with mysterious and more introspective cuts. This album has a very strong feminine identity and includes all these amazing women on guest features, which prompted visuals of dancing nymphs, who are closely associated with parties and nighttime. We had created a soundtrack to the party where those nymphs, those niñas, were dancing, but we still wondered where that place might be. We tied those questions to this worldwide push for women’s empowerment and, in Mexico, the current matter of violence and disappearances. In a way, the album is meant as a call for spaces where these niñas can dance and exist safely.
“In a way, the album is meant as a call for spaces where these niñas can dance and exist safely.”
You are an accomplished musician, but you were once known for your acting work. How did this career transition occur?
I come from a family of filmmakers and grew up in that world. I worked on many novelas and movies, and was always involved with the soundtrack – singing the theme song or helping with the music selection. When I was younger, I thought of music and acting as the same thing, because I was performing onstage. When I turned 15, I fell for a boy who was the guitarist and singer in a cover band that played Radiohead, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. I bought their albums so I could connect more and was blown away.
Around that time, I knew I wanted to begin studying beyond just high school and debated going deeper into acting or music. While in school one day, I was in detention recycling paper and found a booklet for the Fermatta Music Academy, so I inquired and was told I could start university-level courses in the afternoons, after school. Suddenly my world became music, and that’s where I met Natalia Lafourcade, Juan Manuel Torreblanca, and many more amazing people.
It’s an exciting time to be a pop star since the world seems more open to artistic versatility, yet there is also this need to compare everyone and their work.
Yes! It happens a lot, especially with women. And you have to wonder, “Why?” Mon Laferte and her background have nothing to do with Natalia Lafourcade, who has nothing to do with Silvana Estrada, Carla Morrison or myself, but we’re always being compared. It’s like trying to compare Maná, Café Tacvuba, Zoé, and Fobia. Nada que ver! What do they even share? And honestly, I don’t care. I know and love all these women. We all know what [each of us] brings to the table, and in this day and age, competition as a concept is superfluous. There are so many opportunities for people. We just become closer as women, as friends who are in this together and who’ve accomplished so much. We add to each other’s work. We never [take away from it].
Ximena Sariñana’s new album is out now. Catch her at SXSW on March 13.