Karol G on Finding the Strength to Embrace Her Vulnerability in ‘Mañana Será Bonito’

The affirmation in the title of Karol G’s fourth studio album, “Mañana Será Bonito” (“Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful”), is a mantra she had repeated to herself “a few hundred times a week” over the past few years — though most days, she says she didn’t believe it.

On paper, Karol’s career in 2020 was nothing short of exciting. Countless headlines identified her as a Colombian superstar taking over the world and riding high off successful collaborations from peers like J. Balvin and highly successful singles like the Nicki Minaj-featuring “Tusa,” which appeared as part of her Grammy-nominated “KG0516” in 2021.

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She also attracted other headlines — ones that pried into the demise of her very public relationship with her former fiancé, Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA. Mentioning his name feels tedious, but at the time, their status as a power couple was heavily intertwined with their individual images as rapidly rising acts.

“Everyone thought that I was super happy, and why wouldn’t I be?,” she tells Variety, pausing for a few moments to find the right words before continuing. “But inside, I was so far removed from what I really valued in my life…I had to go through some tough times to realize I was getting accustomed to bad habits just to get by. Something needed to change — I didn’t know myself.

“I remember a time where I would just be crying for hours…During press cycles, I would be asked the same invasive questions that I didn’t want to answer,” she continues. “I wasn’t acting right. There was la niña buena y la niña mala [the good girl and the bad girl] — I was calm, but at the same time I was angry.”

Indeed, in her 2021 single “Sejodioto” (an abbreviation of “Se jodió todo,” which translates to “everything’s fucked”), she sings: “I’m tired of relationships, I don’t want any more prisons.”

Much of Karol’s writing at the time reflected how deep in heartbreak she truly was, but she vowed to not release those records based on impulse. Instead, she focused on celebrating her freedom and began the rollout for “Mañana Será Bonito,” which sees her alternating from pop, rock and reggaeton to música Méxicana and electronica — all as a means to exorcise her angst, and conversely, her core belief that good things are infinite.

In April of 2022, the calypso-infused “Provenza” was released as the album’s lead single and peaked at No. 25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 — a notable feat for a female-led all-Spanish-language track. Not only that, the song, which boasted lyrics like “ready to relive old times, haven’t been out in a long time,” had a fun-loving video filmed in the Canary Islands that topped Vevo’s global top ten music videos chart, with a seismic 547 million views worldwide.

She followed up with the blood-pumping “Gatúbela,” featuring Plan B’s Maldy, with which the star revealed her freshly dyed red hair for the first time — a drastic switch from the aquamarine blue that became emblematic of her last album cycle.

The new album opens with the airy “Mientras Me Curo del Cora,” which is made up of a choir of voices and “not a single instrument,” Karol says with a gleaming smile. The song takes inspiration from a trip to the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya, where she fell in love with the concept of all-vocal recordings after watching some of the locals play.

Karol later connected with Linda Goldstein, the producer behind Bobby McFerrin’s a capella 1988 hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and the only woman who has won a Grammy for record of the year as the sole producer for the song. Goldstein crafted the intricate vocal arrangements of “Mientras Me Curo del Cora,” and also added the sample that plays at the start.

“If it hadn’t been for that trip to Kenya I took, which made me think of that idea, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet [Goldstein] and tell her how important it was for me that she be a part of this track that opens the album — it just all fell into perfect alignment,” she says.

Travel is a recurring theme in much of Karol’s music. She famously shut down the pyramids in Egypt to record the visual counterpart to her EDM-infused “Cairo,” and she also traveled to meet with Sean Paul in his Jamaica home to record the flashy “Karmika,” which features Universal Music Latin labelmate Bad Gyal. The rising artist became involved in the project once Karol heard her describe Sean Paul as a dream collaborator.

Karol also shares verses with other buzzing acts on the album, including Jay Quiles and Ángel Dior on “Ojos Ferrari,” and Quevedo, who appears on the hooky “Pero Tú.” After hearing a few of Quevedo’s tracks for the first time, Karol reached out to the Spanish rapper to record the track and not more than two weeks later, he appeared in Argentine producer Bizzarap’s “Vol. 52,” which earned Quevedo his first taste of widespread global recognition.

That wouldn’t be the last time Bizzarap would beat Karol to the punch.

Though she had long envisioned working with Shakira, Karol had always implied that she was waiting for “the right song.” And while Karol was putting the finishing touches to “Mañana” last summer, the obverse happened: Shakira’s team reached out for a collaboration.

They agreed their joint track would be a part of Karol’s new album — which at the time was due for an October release date — but Shakira had one request: hers and Bizarrap’s “Vol. 53,” already slated for a January debut, had to come out first.

“Her entire process became clear to me the second I heard ’53’,” she says of the chart-topping track, which both names and takes aim at Shakira’s ex-partner and the younger woman he allegedly cheated on her with. “She told me: ‘This is my way of sharing what I’ve lived through. I don’t talk about it in interviews — art is how I express myself as a woman.’ I was like, ‘Let me roll up my sleeves, and we’ll go at it together.’”

“TQG” is about getting over a lurking ex while getting “más buena, más dura, más level” (hotter, stronger, lighter), and was written by Karol over a year ago in the same recording sessions for hers and Becky G’s Latin Grammy-nominated hit “Mamiii.” “TQG” was too lyrically similar to “Mamiii,” and so, like many of the breakup songs Karol wrote at the time, she locked it away.

“Knowing Shakira’s situation, I thought this might be the song she would resonate with. And she’s so intentional — she’s in an album process every day,” Karol says. “Last I heard she was going to put out her album [last] November but she’s always evolving, changing things.”

On “Tus Gafitas” Karol was also able to cross off yet another bucket list collaboration with Finneas, Billie Eilish’s brother and producer, on what she calls her “most naive song yet.”

“I realize I come off as though I’m a little girl in love for the first time but that was the only way I could allow myself the freedom to write a song like that,” she emphasizes. The bouncy pop-rockera flair of “Tus Gafitas” falls sonically out of line with Karol’s usual reggaeton drum beats as she sings about yearning to see a romantic interest that’s revitalized her belief in love.

She also revisits Mexican music in the song “Gucci Los Paños,” a follow-up to the corrido-style “200 Copas” from “KG0516.”

“The genre gives you the ability to sing songs straight from the soul, from the bottom of your heart, unlike any other style of music,” she says. “I had a mariachi play for my 15th birthday — I grew up with the music, so I hope no one takes it the wrong way; I get worried that because I am not Mexican, people will think I’m appropriating the culture, but I listen to it all the time and I feel so represented by this song.”

Throughout the interview, Karol pulls out her phone to display video clips and photos of some of her most memorable moments throughout the album’s recording process. In fact, that archive is four years deep — “I record everything,” she says. Documentary deals from Netflix, Apple and Amazon have flooded her inbox in the past two years, “but I don’t feel that I’m in a moment where I can say I’m ready for that,” she says. “Someday, I hope, I’ll get to the point where that can happen.”

For now, the globe trotter is cozied up on a lounge chair in the sunlit basement of an empty Laurel Canyon Airbnb. Her makeup isn’t done, and she’s in a baggy outfit. She makes a note that the day has been moving slowly. “This is me most of the time,” she says.

Looking ahead, she continues, “At some point, I see myself not so directly involved in music as a singer, but rather producing and writing for other artists.” She’s also got one foot in the fashion industry, and several other investments she prefers to keep private. While in college, Karol had always envisioned herself as a fully-rounded “business girl,” and now more than ever, she’s focused on making that dream a reality.

With this record, Karol learned to lay down her own vocals and has production credits on nearly half of its songs, alongside her go-to producer Ovy On The Drums, who she often turned to “when I got stuck.” Being a student also allowed her “to take a pause in the midst of a crazy time in my career,” she says, referring to the end of her 2022 $trip Love Tour, her first arena trek and the highest-grossing Latina-led U.S. tour in history.

On the tail of that monumental success, Karol’s team had begun plotting another tour of the states for this year that would start as soon as March with a set of stadium dates she’s already scheduled to play in Puerto Rico, “but I spoke with my team and I said: ‘Seriously. I need to stop.’

“Pauses allow me to learn more — as a producer, and in general. I want to travel, make music and meet people,” she concludes. “It’s time for me to evolve.”

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