Jasmine Villegas Dishes on New Spanish Music, Connecting With Latinos & Growing Up Like Selena

Courtesy of Young & Reckless Clothing
Jasmine Villegas

Back in her home city of Los Angeles after months of touring, Jasmine Villegas seems excited about putting on a great show as Jake Miller’s opening act at El Rey Theater. “I’m home!” she says from the upstairs room, a few hours before her set.

It’s her first time playing at the famed venue. Several fans who have won the chance to meet her in person are waiting patiently as she conducts a quick lightning round of interviews. Later in the night, flanked by two dancers and her brother Jream by her side as her DJ and hypeman, she gets the crowd pumped. Sometimes they sing along while others they just listen attentively to that big voice emanating from such a petite frame.    

Villegas is no stranger to touring. After starring as the object of Justin Bieber’s puppy love in his 2010 video for “Baby,” she hit the road with him and as a result,  earned a major social media following (over 3 million followers combined on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook), and over 100 million YouTube views.

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Newly signed to Interscope, she released her debut EP That’s Me Right There, featuring the title track with Kendrick Lamar, in November 2014. The move set her up for success in 2015, starting with a spring tour outing with Fifth Harmony that only recently wrapped.

Now Villegas, 21, is looking to connect on a deeper level with her Latino fans beyond just the occasional Instagram comments en español (she has both Mexican and Filipino roots). The feel-good track “Renegades” is the first in a series of Spanish songs she plans to release in the near future, with the eventual goal of launching a full album one day.

And like most artists of her generation, including fellow SoCal-reared mexicana Becky G, music is just the vehicle for much bigger plans. Her current deal with Wet n Wild has her connecting with young girls who share her love for all things makeup.

We caught up with Villegas on Aug. 12, before she hit the stage at El Rey Theater.

Why do you think now, early in your career, is the right time to release music in Spanish? Some people wait to become established first and then do something different.

Well, it was something I've wanted to do for a long time, just be able to sing in Spanish. I feel like I procrastinated on that a little bit and then over time I realized I have a really big Spanish market with a lot of my fans. They were there from day one and they were always like, "When are you going to put out a song in Spanish?" I've always been scared to do it, and then I finally did it and now one of the songs, “Renegades,” is on a Jeep commercial. When that happened, all of my family was like, "Oh my god, it's on TV! We see it!" So I ended up recording three of my own songs in Spanish.

What’s the inspiration behind “Renegades”?

It's just about being free and having fun with your life and not sticking to the status quo or having to fit into a mold and just being able to be yourself. I think that's great.

What has been the response from the fans to the song?

It's been great. I'm all about being able to grow, and I feel like I've grown a lot in the last year. I want to be able to do everything. I sing, I dance, I started off with acting and modeling, but I want to be able to have my hands in all the pots. I think being able to sing in Spanish, perform in Spanish, and start speaking in Spanish will allow my Latino fans to relate to me more.That's what I've been wanting to do for a long time. Everybody's like, "You don't speak Spanish?" I'm like, "No,” and I've always been so sad about it." Now I will be able to say that I can sing in Spanish, and that's actually really big for me because just a couple months ago I couldn't.

What has the process of recording in Spanish been like?

I’ve been in the studio with [Argentine composer, songwriter and producer] Claudia Brant, who actually worked with Fifth Harmony on their Spanish music. I was a little nervous. I went to the studio with her and she just sat down with me and asked me what I wanted to talk about. We talked about concepts, what I was going through in my life, and then she put everything in Spanish. She was like, "You know, you don't have to record the Spanish songs today. What we can do is we can do a little reference and you can take it home, it doesn't have to be perfect.” So I took it home, learned it, and the next time it was easier. I thought I was going to be stressing out like, "Oh my god, am I pronouncing this right?" But it was a lot of fun.

What’s been one country in South America or Central America that you were surprised to see you had fans in?

It would have to probably be in Brazil. My manager's Brazilian, and I’ve been with her for over ten years, so growing up around her, I've always been so intrigued with the culture. I would always tweet stuff in Portuguese so I built a really big fan base out there and a lot of times they tweet me, "When are you coming to Brazil?” And I'm like, "I want to so bad!" I really want to be able to travel and I want to be able to go everywhere.

What can you tell us about the other Spanish songs?

The next two songs [due to be released] are actually love songs, ballads. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I'm just going to give my fans something to relate to.

Who did you listen to growing up of the Latin artists?

I liked Selena a lot and I would always listen to her. I used to watch the movie over and over again when I was a little girl, but recently me and my friend were at my apartment, I was cleaning, and I was like, "I really want to watch the movie." So I sat down and watched her whole story again. I always knew it was inspiring, but when you sit down and you re-watch it and you see what she's gone through, it kind of reminded me of myself, you know. She didn't speak Spanish at all in the beginning and her dad sat down and taught her. Even though my dad didn't sit and teach me. Better late than never, and I was just really inspired by that.

And soon you’ll be performing at the People en Español festival, with some of the biggest names in Latin music.

Oh my god, yes! Pitbull will be there, Gloria Estefan. I’ve always wanted to meet her. That will be my first opportunity to actually really be in an atmosphere with so many inspiring [Latin] artists, and then I’ll be able to say I met them.

What would you say is your biggest dream in music?

A headlining tour. To be able to say I went on tour and everybody in the crowd was there for me. Jake [Miller] says it every night, and it's so inspiring.

Earlier you’ve said you’ve grown a lot over the past year. What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

The biggest lesson would have to be to not give up, even when you feel like your back is up against a wall and you feel like you're out of options, or there's nothing else possible to do. To just have tunnel vision and to be able to stay yourself. I feel like a lot of times people lose themselves because you're around a lot of people who tell you what you need to do or what you need to sing or what you need to wear. You lose yourself in that. I feel like I lost myself in that whole kind of thing. I felt like I needed to fit in to be successful instead of taking risks, and I learned to take risks because you can fail, but that's all a part of the learning process. You're going to fail. You can't succeed in everything. You can't do everything right, you're going to fail but it's going to teach you what not to do in the future. Or even taking that risk and succeeding; that’s great because if you didn't [take the risk] you would never know.

Who are some of the female artists of your generation that you admire?

Fifth Harmony. The fact that they were all separate and they were put into a group together and they fell in love with each other -- I think that's great. I think Becky G's really amazing too. I've known her since she was a little girl. We auditioned for this show and I always knew she was going to be a big star because she was so little but had this big voice, this big personality, and to see where she is now is amazing. She deserves everything.