How Karol G went from a Latin music star to a fashion icon

How Karol G went from a Latin music star to a fashion icon

Editor’s Note: This article was initially printed by The Business of Fashion, an editorial companion of CNN Style.

(CNN) — In the advert marketing campaign for Loewe’s newest “Paula’s Ibiza” assortment, the singer Karol G is seen rising from the ocean in a white slip costume, waves mirrored in sun shades that set off her (then) flame-red hair as she gazes into the horizon. The picture, captured on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, has a legendary high quality that by some means reveals the pensive songwriter behind the high-octane performer. Jonathan Anderson, Loewe’s inventive director, wished it shot within the musician’s house nation, she mentioned, to seize “your complete Karol G vibe.”

It is a vibe that has unfold like wildfire within the final yr. In February, Karol’s fourth studio album, “Mañana Será Bonito” (Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful), grew to become the primary Spanish-language album by a lady to debut at primary on the US Billboard 200 chart. Last month, she received an MTV Video Music Award for her collaboration with Shakira for his or her observe “TQG.” Today, she is the feminine artist with essentially the most Spanish songs on the Billboard Hot 100.

The new queen of reggaeton — a dance-ready fashion of music dominating the airwaves with its mixture of reggae, rap and dembow beats infused with pop — Karol G is a family title throughout a lot of Latin America. But a few of her greatest hits — together with “Provenza” and “Tusa,” a duet with Nicki Minaj — have helped the style strike a chord with audiences all around the world, cementing her newfound standing as a world pop sensation.

And in navigating her approach by means of the notoriously difficult music trade, Karol has managed to domesticate a picture and a sphere of affect which have been seen by forward-thinking manufacturers in an equally difficult trade: fashion.

“Karol G is likely one of the greatest stars in modern Latin music and her daring, eye-catching fashion is a main a part of her persona,” mentioned Charlie Smith, chief advertising and communications officer at Loewe, which was the primary luxurious model to solid her as a marketing campaign mannequin. “She has a large world following thanks to the way in which she brings her personal twist to reggaeton and has introduced the fashion of music to new audiences around the globe.”

Loewe’s determination to faucet the reggaeton star seems to have paid off. On Instagram, the response to Karol’s submit of the marketing campaign clocked up greater than three million likes and $1.2 million in media affect worth (MIV) for the model, in accordance to Launchmetrics, a information analytics agency.

The marketing campaign, which was revealed in April, couldn’t have come at a higher second for the LVMH-owned model: Karol G might have been comparatively unknown to the broader fashion institution however her music profession was about to go into overdrive, fueled by an more and more passionate and devoted fanbase.

After a June televised efficiency for the “Today Show” outdoors New York City’s Rockefeller Center, producers of the present revealed that the crowds for Karol’s look swelled to a measurement bigger than some other in reminiscence, together with these for Latin music legend Ricky Martin’s landmark 1999 efficiency. Two months later, Billboard introduced that Karol made historical past as the feminine with essentially the most entries on its Hot Latin Songs chart, a rating which has been round for greater than three many years. No marvel “Rolling Stone” journal gave her its September cowl.

But if, because the journal’s strapline suggests, Karol does now really feel “fearless and free” within the music trade that hasn’t all the time embraced her, then her emotions for the fashion trade have but to observe.

“I’ve by no means been ‘greatest mates with fashion,’ so to communicate,” confided Karol, expressing as a lot shock as delight that her huge break in fashion would come from a extremely conceptual designer like Anderson, and a luxurious model on the scale of Loewe. “Fashion might be awkward. My fashion simply goes with the stream.”

The pairing isn’t totally apparent. In current years, Loewe has been rejuvenated by Anderson’s surrealist, craft-infused method, pushing annual gross sales inside putting distance of €2 billion ($2.1 billion), in accordance to market sources. But it stays one among Spain’s most iconic heritage manufacturers, having traded on its elite standing and discreetly opulent aesthetic since 1846. Karol G’s picture is much extra exuberant and accessible.

“Before that, I felt like nobody noticed me as a fashion-related determine as a result of I by no means bought clothes from manufacturers, and after we approached them, it didn’t work out,” recalled Karol, explaining that she normally had to purchase what she wished at retailers, as an alternative of getting manufacturers provide to lend the most recent season’s items — a publicity perk that different musicians of her caliber readily loved. “It took me a very long time to expertise that.”

But if Karol nonetheless sees herself as a fashion outsider, her energy as an influencer has change into clear to savvy fashion insiders. A rating of the highest 100 Instagram accounts compiled by SocialBook, a firm connecting creators and types by means of influencer advertising, exhibits that Karol G’s engagement charges are considerably larger than a few of her contemporaries.

With 66 million followers on the platform, Karol G ranks seventieth by way of follower depend however sixth when it comes to engagement charges. In early October, her 60-day engagement fee was larger than that of Ok-pop boy band BTS, whose members have quite a few luxurious model ambassadorships, and Hollywood star Zendaya.

To put this into context, Kim Kardashian has greater than 5 occasions the followers as Karol G, however Karol’s 5.8 % engagement fee dwarfs Kardashian’s 0.4 % fee over the identical interval.

“ or spectacular engagement fee is something shut to or above 5 %,” mentioned Julian Martinez, inventive director at SocialBook.

“A excessive engagement fee means you’re doing one thing proper together with your viewers and fascinating their feelings a technique or one other,” Martinez added. “There are many elements and variables current (so) it’s exhausting to isolate the precise trigger. However, no matter (Karol G) is doing together with her posts and content material, she’s doing a nice job.”

Celebrity advertising will pay dividends in model consciousness and affinity, however it might probably additionally straight drive gross sales of particular gadgets when followers are compelled to imitate their idol’s fashion. “Karol G Closet” is only one of many social media accounts that chronicles Karol’s wardrobe like a buying information, full with product photographs and costs for the Balenciaga footwear, Miaou corsets and Miu Miu skirts she has been noticed carrying.

At final yr’s Coachella, for instance, the place she wore a Roberto Cavalli costume to sing a medley of classics by Latin music artists, a wave of colour emerged from the group as throngs of followers paid tribute to the singer’s “blue period” hair by carrying wigs of the identical color. “That was a shock,” she mentioned.

Brands nearly by no means launch figures to show that a marketing campaign mannequin was a good return on funding, and barely use that kind of language after they do remark. Loewe isn’t any totally different. But the label’s enthusiasm for its Karol G marketing campaign a half-year after its launch is telling, nonetheless. “The collaboration was extraordinarily profitable,” mentioned Loewe’s Smith, citing the 45 million impressions her marketing campaign submit yielded on social media and the industrial success of the sun shades she wore within the marketing campaign.

Predictably, the Loewe partnership introduced Karol to the eye of different manufacturers. “Working with Loewe opened the door to every part else taking place now. After that, we bought invites from many different designers, fashion magazines and runway exhibits,” she mentioned.

In June, Karol was invited by Jacquemus to sit entrance row on the French model’s Palace of Versailles present carrying an off-the shoulder robe. “That made a lot of noise,” she recalled. At the Los Angeles “Barbie” premiere — the film’s soundtrack contains her observe “Watati” — a month later, Emilio Pucci dressed her in a halter-neck crop-top and maxi skirt for the pink carpet.

“You know, I by no means thought that being devoted to who I used to be — not following what’s in or out of fashion and never having to change myself to get there — would carry me such a platform,” mentioned Karol, noting that the majority of her current fashion trade encounters have helped her keep true to her fashion, however achieve this in a approach that makes it look “extra elevated.”

Her fashion has undoubtedly undergone an evolution over the previous seven years she’s been within the public eye. Streetwear wardrobe staples like joggers, trainers and caps nonetheless make an occasional look however now they’re coordinated with embellished tops, lingerie-inspired loungewear or sultry frocks. Vetements and Rick Owens are among the many labels that pique her curiosity nowadays, however she received’t lock herself into any look that’s reliant on particular manufacturers simply but. “I would like to maintain experimenting,” she mentioned.

That doesn’t imply she’s not aware of the necessity to paint her picture with a diploma of consistency. To that finish, she’s made colourful hair a trademark, typically alternating between pastels and jewel tones. She retains returning to a few fashion themes too, a tactic that makes it clear she is the one carrying the model — not the model carrying her.

Karol has described her rising signature look as a “mermaid (who’s) a tomboy at coronary heart.” That duality looms giant within the outfits she wore for “Tusa,” for instance. The video for that track framed her carrying an ethereal floor-length robe subsequent to legendary creatures like a Pegasus; her efficiency of the track on the Latin Grammys noticed her command the stage in bejeweled off-road motorbike racing trousers.

But irrespective of which route the winds of fashion could also be blowing, she mentioned, some gadgets are sacred — like hoop earrings, which she insists she is going to by no means abandon as a result of they symbolize her roots in Colombia’s city road tradition. “I received’t cease doing one thing that actually represents me,” she mentioned. “I’m very cautious about that.”

Perhaps it’s down to the truth that she continues to be in awe of her personal successes, however Karol is inclined to a little bit of gushing, albeit in a tone that sounds extra humble than sycophantic. It is smart that she’s “massively grateful” to Anderson for the Loewe gig. Being related to the elite, high-concept luxurious model might assist set her aside from different feminine reggaeton stars within the eyes of the fashion trade.

Why then did it take excessive fashion so lengthy to discover her?

It’s true that her current ascent has been steeper than most however, by 2022, Karol G had already secured her third consecutive yr because the most-streamed Latin American feminine worldwide on Spotify. She has been large within the area — the place most huge luxurious manufacturers have shops in no less than a few main markets — for years. And past the US and Spain, the place she’s been well-known for a whereas, her music has been streamed within the thousands and thousands in international locations like France, Italy, Germany and Canada, in accordance to Maykol Sanchez, Spotify’s head of artists and label partnerships for the Latin America and US Latin markets.

One cause for the lag in recognition is that, till the 2020s, huge manufacturers have been largely targeted on male musicians who historically dominated the reggaeton style. Daddy Yankee’s partnership with Reebok and Don Omar’s with Umbro set an early precedent. By the time Karol G entered the scene in a huge approach, fashion, luxurious and sportswear giants have been nonetheless warming up to her male counterparts. In current years, Maluma teamed up with Dolce & Gabbana and Balmain, J Balvin with Nike and Guess, Bad Bunny with Jacquemus and Adidas, and Nicky Jam with Hublot.

Ivy Queen, typically credited as the unique reggaeton queen, was a notable exception in these early male-dominated years of the style, capturing consideration together with her feminine empowerment anthems. But it wasn’t till after the male wave of partnerships that ladies started touchdown world fashion and wonder contracts. Trailblazers within the broader Latin music scene like Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — who final yr fronted a vacation marketing campaign for Burberry — had laid the groundwork for them.

Anitta, Brazil’s funk carioca pop star who dabbles in reggaeton in each Portuguese and Spanish, has starred in campaigns for Levi’s and Dolce & Gabbana, amongst others. Barcelona native Rosalía, whose musical versatility has made a few of her hits reggaeton chart toppers, grew to become the face of Acne Studios final yr, whereas genre-defying Mexican-American artist Becky G — who recorded the hit “Mamiii” with Karol — has collaborated with Pretty Little Thing. Karol herself scored a couple collaborations with manufacturers earlier than Loewe, notably Kappa and Crocs. But even these early movers have been a bit late to the reggaeton social gathering.

The origins of reggaeton might be traced again to Panama within the Nineteen Eighties as a type of reggae in Spanish, the place the style drew musical inspiration from Jamaica earlier than evolving in Puerto Rico. It blossomed within the Nineties and early 2000s, because it blended with American hip-hop, Dominican dembow and different Caribbean musical genres rooted within the African diaspora. Many of its early artists took fashion cues from US rappers of the time, albeit with a distinctive Latin streetwear edge.

In the 2010s, reggaeton discovered resonance in Karol G’s hometown of Medellín, Colombia, and the town quickly grew to become a inventive capital for the scene. In 2017, her debut album, “Unstoppable,” co-produced with longtime buddy and collaborator Ovy, emerged as a sensation. One observe, “Ahora Me Llama” (Now He Calls Me), which featured the then-rising Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, catapulted her to stardom throughout Latin America and in communities within the US, the place practically one-in-five individuals are of Latin American heritage, in accordance to the Pew Research Center.

As some artists distanced themselves from reggaeton’s heavier rap origins and industrial clanks, a extra industrial and melodic sound began gaining traction in cities like Miami, Mexico City and at the same time as far afield as Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile, the place native musicians put their very own spin on it. The once-underground style had gone mainstream and so too had Karol G.

“Karol was booming after the pandemic hit. Her music was all around the radio stations right here in Mexico. She had already taken off in our world, however [we knew] she was about to explode globally… so we wished her,” says Karla Martínez, head of content material for Vogue Mexico and Latin America, which featured her on the quilt of the journal early final yr.

Today, reggaeton’s attain goes a lot additional than its strongholds in Latin America, North America and Europe. Not solely have document labels in Dubai opened Latin music divisions for reggaeton artists to faucet Middle Eastern markets however nightclubs in Asian cities like Singapore now promote reggaeton dance nights and new musical hybrids fusing native genres with reggaeton might be heard on radio stations around the globe, together with African cities like Nairobi.

But the more and more world attraction of artists like Karol G is not only a product of reggaeton. It is down to the rise of Spanish-language music extra broadly. According to information from Spotify, Latin music streams have surged by practically 170 % worldwide over the previous 5 years, with the class’s presence within the Spotify Global Top 50 witnessing a exceptional 90 % development.

“There’s been an explosion of Latin music all around the globe, led by reggaeton, however it’s all totally different genres,” mentioned Colombia-born Leila Cobo, Billboard’s chief content material officer for Latin and Español, including that it has been bolstered by music streaming companies reshaping a market the place “there aren’t as many gatekeepers as earlier than.”

Uplifting tradition — in fashion and track

“The music itself is extra skilled and higher produced now too,” Cobo added. “Audiences react to the rhythm, even when they don’t communicate the language. People aren’t as fixated on that anymore.”

Indeed, it’s the shift in attitudes towards language that seems to have helped Karol G safe the Loewe deal. “Jonathan (Anderson) advised me that, although he didn’t perceive what my lyrics have been saying, that the music had a high quality that simply made him really feel good,” Karol mentioned.

Born Carolina Giraldo Navarro, Karol auditioned for Colombia’s “X Factor” as a 14-year-old however didn’t get far. During her teenagers, she sang at quinceañera coming-of-age events alongside J Balvin earlier than both made it huge. She spent years gigging earlier than signing with a Puerto Rican label that introduced few successes. At a low level, she relocated to New York and practically deserted her music profession aspirations.

“Karol labored exhausting,” mentioned Cobo, noting that now, at age 32, she’s mature and has constructed her success from the bottom up. “She has remained grounded all through her profession, brazenly discussing her struggles. I feel that ladies see her and say, ‘There is a celebrity who’s like me.’”

“Besides, Karol’s not simply a reggaeton artist anymore. She’s change into a pop artist,” she added.

Being an envoy of Latin American music and tradition doesn’t come with out stress. Although Karol has known as herself a “bichota” — a gendered riff on the Puerto Rican slang for a “huge shot” that she reinterpreted as a daring, empowered “berraca” (badass) lady in her track of the identical title — she readily confesses her insecurities.

“It scares me to assume tomorrow I might make a mistake, and every part might flip in opposition to me,” she mentioned, earlier than hastening to add, “however I can’t let that dominate my focus.”

Karol defined that for the reason that album “Mañana Sera Bonito,” she’s been extra clear about her life, together with intimate subjects like sexuality and household.

“I imagine that a huge a part of the connection I’ve with my viewers has been realness, like displaying my life with out filters,” she mentioned. “I’ve been open and uncovered. I haven’t tried to cover it in any approach. I’m searching for methods to, I don’t know, internalize all of it and say, ‘that is my second, that is how I’m, take a look at me.’”

It’s true that Karol admits the type of issues that others in her place may attempt to cover, even comparatively trivial episodes like how daunting she finds it to navigate the fashion trade’s glamorous occasions. “I really feel a bit out of my consolation zone there. When I see celebrities and artists (in these conditions),” she defined. “There’s a sure etiquette. I don’t know the way to stand, what to say, how to communicate, however on the finish of the day, I attempt to calm down and benefit from the expertise.”

But it’s exactly this uncooked, unpretentious appeal that appears to make her alluring to followers and collaborators alike.

“She’s an artist who has change into a function mannequin for thousands and thousands and never been afraid to present her vulnerabilities by means of her music,” mentioned Nina García, editor-in-chief of the American version of Elle, explaining that the choice to characteristic her on the journal’s cowl was a “no-brainer.”

“Her message of a higher day and a lovely tomorrow has change into essential in our fragmented, typically strained world,” García noticed. “And her success speaks for itself.”

The industrial pay-off for the journal “exceeded expectations,” García mentioned. “We thought this cowl could be common, however its attain blew us away, particularly on social media. Her followers confirmed their assist (and) it was fairly wonderful.”

As her profile grows, Karol is more and more conscious that her means to appeal to top-tier fashion companions from Europe and the US is what helps give her the platform to assist designers from Latin America and the diaspora.

“Colombia has globally acknowledged designers and I’ve had the possibility to see the unimaginable expertise there first-hand at Colombiamoda,” Karol mentioned of Colombia’s fashion week.   “But what may shock you is that most of the issues we put on are from small, impartial designers that don’t have that a lot recognition,” says Karol.

“For occasion, once I’m on stage, I work with the identical folks from Medellín who make my footwear (and) it’s been beautiful to introduce the work of those Colombian artisans to stylists like Brett Alan Nelson and to join them,” Karol mentioned. “But I’ve been fascinated by it these days and I feel I can (do extra) to assist take their work to the subsequent stage.”

Her entry to Colombia’s dynamic textile and garment manufacturing trade leads to one other query: what about future enterprise alternatives past modeling-based partnerships? Does she harbor any ambition to emulate different pop stars turned fashion entrepreneurs by co-designing a capsule assortment or launching her personal model?

“I’m exploring how to develop my model now, really. I would like to be sure that even when I retire from music sometime, my title stays related and alive in different areas,” she mentioned.

“But any model that’s related to Karol G has to offer one thing that I can provide to my folks that’s genuinely good, constructive, and useful,” she mentioned. “Then I’d be keen to share it with everybody.”

This article was initially printed by The Business of Fashion, an editorial companion of CNN Style. Read extra tales from The Business of Fashion right here.

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