Mon Laferte

Artist to Watch: Mon Laferte Brings Her Twist on Latin Pop to the U.S.

"It’s easy for me to fall in love with everything. I’m very enamoradita,” says Chilean singer Mon Laferte. “It’s dangerous.” Speaking in Spanish on the phone from her home in Mexico City, she is exuberant, whether talking about how she recently danced with senior citizens at the 80-year-old Salón de los Ángeles or about her desire to write an entire album of traditional Chilean cueca. She even swoons over her morning coffee. “I go to bed at night and I think, ‘Now I want to wake up so I can put on the coffeemaker and make coffee.’ ¡Que rico! You know?” says Laferte, as if confiding in a best friend. “Because I delight in life.”

Lately, all that love has been flowing back to Laferte. At the 2017 Latin Grammy Awards, she was nominated for five trophies, winning best alternative song for her slinky, cumbia-esque track “Amárrame,” featuring Colombian superstar Juanes. On the day we spoke, she was preparing to fly to Ecuador, where she would kick off a series of concerts in South America before joining Juanes for his tour of the United States. “I’m going to be playing in bigger venues, with a massive public, in cities I don’t know, where I’ve never played, and it excites me a ton,” says Laferte. “I feel anxiousness -- but the good kind.”

At a time when the Latin charts are dominated by upbeat, danceable tracks in the growing reggaetón and trap subgenres, Laferte is a rising star in an entirely different solar system. While she has a knack for composing catchy melodies, her use of classic Latin rhythms, brass and vocal styles brings a layered, nostalgic quality to her music, as on her eclectic 2017 album, La Trenza, which hit No. 13 on Billboard’s Latin Pop Albums chart last May. Her soaring voice, which in its more dramatic moments can call to mind Björk’s, has more in common with bolero singers than with today’s pop stars. Even her look is distinctive, a blend of vintage glamour and rocker cool reflecting a strain of millennial Mexican street style.

Though she has lived in Mexico City for the past 11 years, Laferte, who is 34, grew up in Viña del Mar, Chile. Since first performing at a music festival at age 9, the experience of being onstage enraptured her, and by high school she was playing professionally at parties, bars and eventually on TV. In concert, she has the easy confidence -- and theatricality -- of a veteran performer, strumming her electric guitar, smiling broadly and batting her eyelashes, breaking down in tears during certain ballads, all while wearing her signature vintage frocks and plume of red roses pinned in her hair.

Daniella Benedetti
Mon Laferte photographed on April 9, 2018 at Armando Records in Bogotá, Colombia.

“In the end, what do clothes do for you? They send a message,” says Laferte. “I feel a little bit like a character on the stage, and a colorful dress helps me project that.” Her ability to connect with audiences reached legendary status in Latin America in 2017, when she delivered a bring-the-house-down performance at the celebrated Festival Internacional de la Canción in her hometown, where el monstruo, the festival’s notoriously critical crowd, stopped Laferte mid-set twice, first to demand she receive a gaviota de plato, then a gaviota de oro, two of the festival’s highest honors. In October, she sold out three back-to-back shows at the 10,000-seat Auditorio Nacional, a venue that could be considered Mexico City’s equivalent to Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Laferte first met Juanes at his home in Miami, where she visited him “to see if we’d get along,” and the two immediately hit it off. “We played, we sang, we even smoked something,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t know if he’d like me saying that, but yes.” Though he has been recording solo for nearly 20 years, Juanes only recently began singing in English, and Laferte hasn't quite mastered the language yet. “I believe the future is a mystery, really,” she muses. “So, at this moment, I don’t even know how to speak English. I’ve tried, but something is blocked. Today, I feel I want to sing in a language I understand well. But I’d love to be able to sing in English -- there’s so much art I don’t fully understand without the translation, and I’m depriving myself.”

For now, her relentless touring schedule leaves little time for such an undertaking, no less for the quiet, late-night creative sessions during which she composes. Still, Laferte is already at work on a new project, something she says is very different for her. “Anything can be a trigger for a song. My cat walked over the keyboard, and the most beautiful melody was produced by his walking!” she says. “I often feel the songs are out there in the air, and I grab them. And that’s how the most beautiful songs come out.”

Lowdown on a Rising Star

Age: 34
From: Viña del Mar, one of Chile’s largest cities, on the country’s coast.
Sounds like: Indie-pop meets retro-rock riffs and folkloric Latin flavor.
Screen star: The colorfully surreal video for her duet with Juanes, “Amárrame,” has racked up over 211 million YouTube views.

This article originally appeared in the April 21 issue of Billboard.