Suzy Exposito’s Resonant Rise From High School Mixtapes to Music Journalism

Having developed into one of our generation’s most prominent Latina writers and voices, Suzy Exposito’s career started with a mixtape, a Tumblr, and a very loud daydream she just couldn’t quit. However, it never felt like an out-of-reach fantasy for her, despite the adversity to come. It was always a no-brainer she’d end up in music – somehow. “Words just flowed for me,” she shares, “and my passion for music was always too loud.”

Born in New Jersey and raised between the city meets beach life of Miami and the more bible-belt southern culture of Jacksonville, FL, the trailblazing Tropigoth owes many of her personal and professional achievements to the skills acquired by navigating the environments of her upbringing. Moving between a comfortable social environment — where she blended right into the Cuban culture that permeated Miami — to a more conservative landscape in Jacksonville, where she suddenly stuck out as a bi-cultural minority, she attributes the early lessons in resiliency and self-advocacy as key training when it came to facing similar ostracizing obstacles later in her professional career. Adding another nuanced layer to navigate, coming from a traditional Cuban-Belizean home, her more intimate family dynamics gave her a fervent love for music. 

Exposito’s exemplary career began as president of her high school mixtape club, inevitably leading to her music column recruitment at the age of 15 in her high school newspaper. Beginning to develop a zealous consumption of media critique, her perception of her professional career began to crystallize into a clearer view. But in college, feeling like the journalism program was not particularly friendly to women or minorities, she turned to her own blog as a refuge. She posted an array of music writing, comic illustrations, and BTS of life as a rising touring artist – most notable during her time as a frontwoman for Brooklyn-based punk band Shady Hawkins. 

Her dexterous experience as a music curator, critic, and musician gave her an undoubtable edge and insight at the beginning of her journalism career. Exposito accredits her first-hand understanding of the complete music world as a significant advantage when she ultimately transitioned into a full-time music journalist. Working in newsrooms from MTV to Rolling Stone, it became clear that she had found her calling in supporting artists by sharing their stories with a growing media world. Exposito has held positions that were not often filled or entrusted to Latinas throughout her career. Her byline credits can be found everywhere, from Bitch, Rookie Mag, MTV, Vogue, and more.

At Rolling Stone, she helped develop its Latine music vertical. She also solidified her own legacy by becoming the first Latina to write a cover story, memorialized with the groundbreaking first Latine cover star — Bad Bunny. More recently, she was a columnist at the Los Angeles Times. There, she provided insightful music reporting but also became a critical component in developing the De Los vertical, which helped shine a much-underrepresented light on unsung heroes of Latine culture in L.A. Exposito has also recently checked off a new milestone as she entered the writer’s room for Netflix’s series NEON. As a consultant on the project, Exposito found a new fulfillment in bridging the space and advocating for accurate journalist representation on the screen that spoke to real experiences that all too often get romanticized and not accurately characterized. 

Suzy Exposito has proven to be a journalist who not only covers culture but, through her work, has an imperative and influential voice that can shift it. Amidst the current climate of a rapidly decaying and ever-changing media landscape, Remezcla spoke to the major mujer on her early beginnings, the importance of self-advocacy, and her groundbreaking work and contributions to the field. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What’s one of the biggest hardships you’ve faced as a woman — or even as a Latina — in the music industry?

What do you mean just pick…one? [laughs] It’s been interesting because for much of my experience, I have largely been educated in predominantly white institutions. I have worked in predominantly white institutions, and I think that showing up as a mixed-race Latina in these spaces comes with a lot. I constantly wasted time trying to debunk other people’s assumptions of me and my character. It is a waste of time, period. At the end of the day, what you do and your work are ultimately going to be the things that speak for you the most. I wasted so much time trying to validate myself in the eyes of people who walked into the room already disrespecting me. Whether it was men flirting with me during an interview or saying something nasty to me on the side, those are all things that have happened. Ultimately, I learned that the work I did was going to speak for itself, and it did. And it still does. 

Often, we see people’s highlights as they make “big moves” all over social media. On more rare occasions we are exposed to those less glamorous, introspective moments that may lead a person to consider quitting or transitioning — did you ever have a moment like that?

I was regularly underpaid and overworked and started to do what I had to do. Even at Rolling Stone, I was dog walking to help break even because I wasn’t making enough money to live in New York City. I had to go to the office every day, pay for transportation, and cover rent, as I didn’t have any family who lived in the city anymore, and I also had student debt. The financial challenges of being a journalist were really, really tough. I know freelance life is not easy, but even when I was working a full-time job, I still had trouble breaking even. The financial challenges were the most difficult. People are still fighting the wage gap. It persists across industries in the United States, and it’s not only gendered, it’s racialized. While the racial makeup of Latinos is still so varied, the ethnic makeup of Latinos gets flattened in a lot of ways. I want to acknowledge and clarify that there are Latinas with different experiences depending on their race, but once you get to a white-collar industry like media, a lot of these nuances can get flattened. 

But also, the social challenges of being in offices where the vast majority of my coworkers were white men were very difficult. I felt like I constantly had to explain myself and my culture, and I wasn’t trusted with much of anything. There were women in the office who would also complain about these social disparities, but a lot of them were white women, and there was a dimension of struggle that they couldn’t fathom, that I and other people of color in the office had. That constantly made me feel like doing what I love was an uphill battle and gave me pause.


What helped you cope with those particular struggles, and how did you overcome them?

I would sometimes begin to think about what else I would do. But then I would get off the phone with an artist who’d say, “Wow, I’ve never spoken to someone who understood me as much as you do.” Or I’d get back to the office from an interview with an artist who would say things like, Wow, I felt really safe talking about this with you,” or “Wow, I never thought I’d get a journalist like you for an interview like this.” And that would get me going. 

Also, organizing with my coworkers kept me going. Class was really a massive challenge for me, and there were so many things that weren’t and aren’t taken into account at publications. Once I got over the shame and embarrassment of not being able to afford a career in journalism, talking pretty openly to my coworkers about very practical and very common issues, it really revealed the disparities between journalists. The fact that I was able to get the support of a few coworkers to help me get a raise so that I didn’t have to walk dogs anymore was huge. That helped sustain me, and it helped me stay in the industry. 

Speaking of sustenance in the industry, who were the mentors or other women in the field that inspired or helped you get to where you are now?

In high school, I remember looking for a woman’s name in every byline while reading Rolling Stone, Billboard, SPIN, and what have you? Statistically, not just women but Latinas were so few and far between. I didn’t know of any Latinas writing music journalism in particular until one interviewed me. And I want to shout her out because she’s still so important and an amazing writer who’s still in the game. Her name is Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, and I don’t think I would be where I am if not for her. She wrote about me after my band played a Pussy Riot benefit show in Brooklyn, and I was shocked to meet a Latina writing for SPIN. I had been waiting years at that point to meet anyone like her. Just talking to her motivated me, and I was so lucky to have a mentor in Julianne. She hooked me up with a gig at MTV when they were looking for someone who could write about international music. I started meeting more and more Latinas little by little. Still, I also noticed, especially for editors and managers, that the people who actually made decisions in publications were usually men. 

So, Beverly Bryan is someone else I would also shout out. She was an editor at MTV, and she gave me a chance there—as easy as that. Around that point, I also met Jessica Hopper, whom I knew from writing about Emo—and it turns out she’s also a really badass rock critic.

When was that one moment or turning point in which you felt you were in the right space?

Starting with my job with Rookie Mag, a teen girl magazine started by the writer/actor Tavi Gevinson. I was working as a writer and an illustrator and meeting all these women who were the first to do X in their field. Being part of that kind of project that was very focused on young women and our perspectives felt like a turning point for me. At that point, I also worked with Julianne Escobedo Shepherd. Maybe my “Aha!” moment for being a journalist was just meeting Julianne and realizing, “Oh, here’s a Latina doing this for a living. I could do this, too.”

What’s one of your favorite parts of where you are now in your journey?

Honestly, connecting with people. If I can help someone feel seen and heard, whether an artist or a young writer starting out, I feel most accomplished. I am someone who believes that I’m not doing this for me. I don’t want to be the first, just to be the last. I may have been the first Latina to write a Rolling Stone cover story, but I don’t want to be the last. Being able to connect people and get other people like me that much closer to their goals and making their dreams happen is something that I’m really passionate about.

I don’t want to be the first, just to be the last.

We’re seeing more women artists and music creatives speak out about work going unprotected or how their trust was abused in the industry — Is this something you’ve encountered in your role, and what is your perspective on this? 

It’s difficult because we live in a very litigious country. It’s still very difficult for women to speak about the things that have happened to them and the abuses that they’ve been subjected to. Anytime, I’m always ready to listen. I’m always available to hear these stories. I’ve had artists tell me things off the record that stay in my brain until these people are ready to speak out. And it’s really, really sad how much more risky it is to talk about the abuse than to inflict the abuse on other people. That is the sad reality of our industry. When someone comes to me about something like that, I try to handle it as carefully and compassionately as possible. I do not shy away from asking real ass questions of people. They either answer me or they don’t.

With time, I have learned that it’s really important to ask even what you’re afraid of. I think it’s really important to remember that as journalists, yes, we definitely want to uplift communities that don’t have as many resources or as much institutional support. But I also think it’s our job to hold people accountable and, at the very least, get them thinking about why they do what they do, what drives them, and what motivates them. If it’s something that might be sinister, we dig into that. We unpack that. I think we should. 

What can be done to make the music industry feel more safe and collective for women?  

More solidarity, for a start, especially between women and non-binary people. We need it. Men have a lot of solidarity with each other in this industry. Don’t get it twisted. I want to point out that if you look at the numbers, you see that men have plenty of solidarity in the music industry, especially in the Latin music industry. And we could take a page from them, maybe not so much in how they systematically exclude people and work to mitigate the influence of women or how they work to humiliate women – that I never want to replicate. But I do think we need to have better solidarity with each other.

You always hear about pop stars who have beef with each other. Sure, things will happen where women rip off each other. They might throw in a little dig in their songs. Yes, call it out. Protect your work. That happens, and that’s entertainment, baby. But at the end of the day, we also have to keep in mind how we talk about other women. How many women in music are making space for each other? It doesn’t mean we have to be besties. It doesn’t mean we’re all sisters. But when it comes to the enduring adversity that women face in the music industry, it’s in our best interests to be mindful of how we engage with each other, talk about each other, and share space.

If I walk into a room, I’m going to hold the door open for the person behind me because that’s manners. That’s what my mama taught me, and that’s what her mama taught her.

But it’s not just men, women can also affect each other’s journey or success. Can you explain why a crabs in a barrel or scarcity mentality that tends to pit us against each other to make us feel like there can “only be one” is harmful to women? 

I’ve experienced this. No matter what publication I’ve worked for, where it’s like we’re fighting the same enemy. But really, it is just like we’re facing the same adversity, the same lack of resources. I’ve had some great mentors and experienced a lot of supportBut l’ve also had people, especially in an industry as cutthroat as media where we’re facing constant layoffs, try to sabotage me along the way. And yes, women have tried — I can’t say they’ve succeeded. I think Latinas, and especially women of color, are fighting an uphill battle. At the end of the day, the odds are already against us. If this industry is fighting us both, why are you fighting me?

And sometimes there will be women, or there will be people of color, in power at publications and still actively working against you and engineering an institution to make you believe that resources are scarce and that there can only be one person because they want to extract as much labor out of you as they can. They’ll orchestrate entire industries to make it out that only one person from this group can succeed. That is the biggest lie I have ever come across in this industry. If I walk into a room, I’m going to hold the door open for the person behind me because that’s manners. That’s what my mama taught me, and that’s what her mama taught her. And that’s how I got ahead. That mentality got me to where I am today as one of the most prominent Latina journalists. One day, someone out there will remember that you held the door open for them, and hopefully, depending on their character, they’ll do the same down the line. 

What do you hope to personally change about the music industry, especially for the next generation of women in this space?

We have got to talk about finances, ladies. The economics of music troubles me a lot. I know Latin music is not a genre in itself, but it is the most lucrative kind of music there is at this very moment. Latinos are generating so much money for the music industry — now we have to do some accounting. We have to start with streaming numbers. When you see numbers in the millions, that is so impressive, but what happens when you only make a fraction of a penny on each stream? While streaming has been so helpful and essential to the careers of Latine artists, especially, the way these businesses sustain themselves economically is not to the artist’s advantage. Where is the money going? Is it going to the Latine community, or is it lining the pockets of CEOs of white male CEOs? 

Also, these record deals look flashy on paper, but what happens when they may not pay you enough to sustain a career? Artists who are popular around the world can sell out tours across the U.S., Latin America, and Europe but still need money or get scammed out of their own income. I am just begging people to exercise more scrutiny regarding your finances. And think about how much more goes into a woman sustaining herself in the music industry and the expenses that come with that. The level of image management and things like that. These standards that we hold for women that we don’t hold for men – and these things cost money. If we want women to excel in the music industry, we have to start thinking critically about the economics of the music industry. In 2024, it’s time to start exercising more scrutiny when it comes to money because we’re all definitely feeling it. I think that’s the most sound advice to give people right now. It’s the most tangible and realistic for people to create actual impact and change in the industry. Follow the money.