Kany García is a pop artist, but at heart, she’s a soulful singer-songwriter — and she's finally letting that side shine on Soy Yo, her fifth studio album, out May 18 on Sony.
“She’s a Puerto Rican woman, a singer-songwriter, saying what no one says," explains Afo Verde, Sony’s Chairman/CEO of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. "For the label, it’s a cultural responsibility to make her music known.” And Verde knows how to spot talent: As a guitarist and Grammy-winning producer, he’s worked with some of the great Spanish-language singer-songwriters, including Joaquín Sabina, Joan Manuel Serrat, and Fito Paez.
Last year, Verde began working on García’s new project, Soy Yo, alongside her longtime musical director, Marcos Sanchez, and found himself blown away by her art. “I couldn't believe that a woman today would have the balls to say, 'I was married to a guy, but now I’m in love with a woman,’” Verde says, referencing García’s official coming-out in 2016. “I’ve been struck by her songs since her first album, by the fact that she can compose, sing, and talk about all kinds of subjects.”
García has never held back in her songs. She’s spoken about everything from sex toys (“Mi Amigo en el Baño) to domestic violence, but mostly, her songs are full of relatable nuggets on life and love. Soy Yo ["I Am Me"], out May 18, continues to explore those themes with intimate lyrics and even more intimate sound due in part to Verde’s input.
“He was involved in everything,” García says. “He told me not to repeat myself, to talk about the simple things. To take care of the sound of the album. In the cantautor tradition, the voice has to really be above the instruments. The mix couldn’t be the same as a pop album. He took care of every detail and every demo. Really, there’s a before and after from working with him.”
In an exclusive interview, García tells Billboard about the making of Soy Yo, writing a song for Puerto Rico, and why she isn't talking about coming out in her new music.
This is a very romantic and loving album. Where are you as a person right now?
I feel I’m living a very full moment. And credibility comes from that honesty. Having credibility gives me a lot of liberty to write about what I want, and that’s why I’ve dared to touch upon topics I might not have touched before. A song like “Que Viva la Gente,” where I talk about my country, my Puerto Rico, I might not have done at another time. Or a song like “Bailemos un Blues,” which addresses the fact that a couple can be [a] same-sex [couple] or from different races. Or the song I did with René, which speaks about equality.
Your voice is prominent in the mix in a way fans have never heard before.
It’s the first time I hear an album of mine and think it’s really tailor-made. It’s the first time I made an album thinking not about the hits or sales, but about Kany García the singer songwriter. The focus was totally different. Anyone who listens to this album knows there’s a songwriter behind it.
We're living in an era of reggaeton. Did you ever consider incorporating that sound into the album?
Never. I like to dance to reggaeton, but not record reggaeton. To each his own. We were very clear that everything had to be organic. I recorded “Banana-Papaya” with René [Residente], but I have a long relationship with him, and we’ve been trying to record together for years. To me, René goes beyond urban music, and I hope people see it that way.
You also have a very beautiful song, “Confieso,” dedicated to your dad, who died last year. What was your relationship with him like?
Amazing. He was the closest person to me. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, I wrote him a song called “Demasiado Bueno” ["Too Good"], and I was with him until his last breath. I was lucky enough that he heard 90 percent of the songs on this album.
Was that the only song written with someone specific in mind?
Yes. But I don’t say it’s for my dad. I was very careful about not [referring to specific] genres on the album, not singing to a man or a woman. Songs take on amazing life of their own when people interpret them their own way.
Last year, you spoke at length about coming out. I can’t think of another major Latina artist who has. Was it hard to do so?
In the world we live in, anyone who says it wasn’t scary to talk about the subject is lying. We live in a world that’s very lopsided when it comes to women and sexual orientation. I had terrible fears. But I also felt a huge need to go to all those red carpets — where you see your colleagues with their companions — with someone [I cared about]. The fact that I couldn’t became far more important than the fear of coming out.
You don't directly address LGBT issues or your own sexuality on the new album, though. Why?
I think I’ve said it all. And I feel that with my expressions of solidarity, it’s more than enough. I have a daily commitment with the community and a three-minute song wouldn’t be enough.
Do you remember exactly when you came out publicly?
February 12, 2016. You don’t forget those dates. I asked a friend to take care of my social media that day because I didn’t want to read anything. And she told me that absolutely every comment that came in was pure love, beginning with the 100,000 people who became fans that day.