Over the year since she broke on the international scene, Bad Gyal has racked up fans across the world, even as she has struggled to explain her connection to the genre from which she’s drawn inspiration. One answer lies in a track off of her new mixtape Worldwide Angel, which was co-produced by U.S. beatmaker Dubbel Dutch. “Tra” features a protagonist who is in the middle of a lover’s feud and is in need of dance floor relief. “¿Porque me siento mal?/Lo que necesito es perrear/Es lo único que me hace olvidar,” she sings in her trademark, ice-cold drawl. “Las niñas quieren tra,” goes the chorus, a fact made self-evident.
Any questions? Certainly, Alba Farelo had a few when Remezcla interviewed her last year about her thoughts on cultural appropriation. “They’ve said to me, ‘You’re Catalan,’” she recalled. “What do you want me to do — sardanas?” As entertaining as it would be to see the young singer link hands with her collaborators and prance folklorically in public squares, she has a point. (She does in fact rap in Catalan on a few tracks, like her first single “Pai,” a Rihanna cover — if one needs proof of her regional pride).
Farelo says she grew up listening to reggaeton, which should come as no surprise, given the genre’s proliferation in the Spanish-speaking world following its commercial explosion in the mid-2000s. Speaking with Remezcla, she name checked Wisin y Yandel, Zion y Lennox, Plan B, Ñengo Flow, and Arcángel as examples of some of her longtime favorite artists. As for dancehall, she says has been repping for the genre since back before it was popular in Spain (a country that nonetheless, has its own limited history of local, Jamaican-inspired artists like La Opepe, Swan Fyahbwoy, Shabu One Shant, and Hermano Ele). “If I love this music and I’ve been listening to it for many years, how is it not supposed to have an influence on what I do?” Lately, she has taken a moment to reflect on the complexities of her rise to fame in a traditionally black Caribbean genre as a white, blonde European woman. Her Instagram says she recently spent time in Jamaica and in an interview with The FADER in December Bad Gyal explained, “Initially, I didn’t know what ‘appropriation’ meant.’”
One thing’s for sure: there is no dispute over Bad Gyal’s current status as a beloved underground club vocalist. The 20-year-old’s lyric charisma, heavy-lidded delivery, and casually sensual live appearances have made her a heroine for a new generation of dancehall fans and have proven popular among a host of producers. Many of the latter are part of the movement of Latin American, U.S., and European club denizens who have built innovate, complex sounds off of twisting reggaeton and dancehall into stunning 4 a.m. mutations (and who have not had to deal with the same hardline interview questions as Bad Gyal, by the way).
Such was the range of sound of the producers set on working with her, Bad Gyal says she had to keep an open mind. “It’s like with [Paul] Marmota,” she commented. “He sent me the beat and I was like, ‘I love it; it’s what you do. But let’s see if I can work with it, because I have never tried to sing with music like that.’ And it worked.” Worldwide Angel also features a follow-up track to “Nicest Cocky” by Marmota, 2016’s “Mercadona” creator FakeGuido, Florentino of Swing Ting, LA’s D33J, and UK Kelela beatmaker Jam City.
The result of this all-star team is an EP that, like Bad Gyal mentioned, is far from 100 percent dancehall. “Tra” is as minimal of a beat as you are likely to find. Reggaeton informs most of the songs — notably, lead-off single “Blink,” an addictive and characteristically metallic creation of Florentino whose video was shot in the flower aisles of Mexico City’s beautiful Mercado de Jamaica by Bad Gyal’s visual assist, Catalan production studio and label CANADA. “Internationally,” a triumphant Jam City-Dubbel Dutch collab that also serves as mission statement, has been plugged with auto-tune moments much more along the lines of early SOPHIE pop euphoria than anything that Vybz Kartel has ever put out. This affinity for genre rebellion shows dancehall and reggaeton have long escaped the hyperlocal spaces they once operated in, especially as the genres reach new pop heights, far from their black roots.
But Bad Gyal’s cool demeanor — on full display in the at-times monotone “Yo Sigo Iual” — carries throughout the tracklist with few breaks. She’s on her rookie world tour, she’s too busy for heartbreak, she’s rolling the weed, and don’t worry, she’s buying the botellón. For all the big names on her tracklist, the result feels like a singer stepping into her own, constructing her own narrative in a world that thought they had her figured out.
Bad Gyal’s Worldwide Angel mixtape is out now on CANADA.