Kim Viera on Her New Single 'Como' With Daddy Yankee & Why She Values Her Puerto Rican Roots
Nuyorican singer-songwriter Kim Viera makes her major debut by paying homage to the exquisiteness of Puerto Rico in the face of its restoration following 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria, with the "Como" audiovisual alongside Daddy Yankee. The summery earworm fuses her Caribbean pop with his sensual lyricism, bringing the aesthetic that the starlet dubs her “American Latina" cultural vision to life.
Born into a music-centric household, Viera's throaty lullabies and dulcet vocals echo her mother's, who once sang backup for such Latin icons as Willie Colon and Ruben Bladés. In time, the newcomer's climb from viral-triumphed song covers caught the attention of a few renowned musicians. "When I heard Kim Viera's voice while I was in the recording studio I was shocked. I did not know who it was but... you can make great hits with artists that are just beginning," Daddy Yankee explained of their collaboration in an Instagram post.
The "Como" video by "Despacito" director Carlos Perez beautifully illustrates the charismatic prowess of Viera's musicality and a vibrant, self-reliant island. Billboard connected with Viera to discuss YouTube hits with Kurt Schneider, songwriting credits under Lil Wayne, R&B influences, and why cultural representation matters to her. Check out our conversation below.
You paid dues behind the scenes before inking your Republic Records deal. Do you think the viral success of your YouTube covers alongside Kurt Schneider prepared you for this break?
Absolutely. I think it was preparation for me honing my talent. Also, it aided figuring out where I fit in the mix. That time kind of set up my joy for music, to be honest. Yeah, I was working on me and find my way.
Still, growing up in a music-centric household undoubtedly influenced you too. With your father operating a live production company, and mother backup singing for Willie Colon and Ruben Bladés -- when did you decide which side of the curtain you wanted to be on?
I think I have always known since I was a kid that I wanted to be a performer. I was just a natural. Whoever came to my house did not have a choice but to watch me sing for them. I would automatically interrupt a conversation like, "Oh! Watch me do this," or, "Listen to this song I did." My parents were [supportive], especially my father. My dad would tell me, "Baby, I'd like you to perform for them. I am going to play the piano while you sing your favorite song."
So, I always knew that I wanted to be on this side. I was in my own world as a kid. Music has always been a part of who I was. I would spend hours in my room listening to music. I'd be practicing my own choreography; it was years of pursuing what I love to do [before I got signed]. I was always into entertaining.
Okay, with mention of spending hours listening to music in your bedroom, who do you credit as some of your influences?
Well, I listened to different kinds of music, never one genre. So, I would listen to everything from Brandy, Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Selena, to Beyonce. There were a lot of artists I would hear growing up. Also, La India was a massive influence on me, too. My music preferences were all over the place. I played everything from Top 40, Salsa, Motown and jazz.
Your single "Tribe" for the Pitch Perfect 3 Soundtrack received praise for its vintage soundscapes and high horns. Describe that experience.
That experience was really cool. I remember the A&R from the label said, "Hey! We are doing this soundtrack, and we would love for you to be a part of it." I immediately jumped at the idea of it. The music director from the film came to help me. It was a very fluid experience. I loved the song already. It was entertaining. It gave me old Christina Aguilera vibes. So, I was all about it! We cut the record in about two to three hours. It was in and out. I had an excellent time recording. I felt like I was apart of the cast, and got to attend the premiere.
So, hearing the song play up on the big screen was exciting, too. The song played twice in the film. It was the only song in the movie that played twice. The song was almost like the theme [of the film]. I got to hang out with the cast. Being apart of something that was so big made me feel blessed.
There is great emphasis placed on your Puerto Rican heritage and Caribbean roots on your social media accounts. Why does cultural representation matter to you?
For me, [being] Puerto Rican is a vital part of who I am. Music is a huge part of that, too. It was the center of my household. There was food, music and family. I love my culture [now more than ever], especially with Puerto Rico having gone through the hurricanes. I rep it because it is [in] me in every single way. So, it is important never to forget where you come from.
You were born in NYC and said your music unites cultures as an American Latina. How so?
Well, growing up, I always felt I was kind of Americanized. Some Latinas have experienced their upbringing very differently. So, as I've said, I have always enjoyed many different styles of music. There is salsa, merengue, and various forms of Caribbean music. There are influences of that [in my sound]. I am a new generation Latina. I did not grow up speaking Spanish. Still, I am learning the language, and I understand a lot more [Spanish] now that I am older. I embrace that. Once you break the wall of [thinking], "Oh! You are not Latina enough," my music [is capable of] uniting [listeners].
As far as your songwriting credits, you've assisted artists such as Lil Wayne. What can listeners anticipate with your forthcoming LP?
The record I did with Lil Wayne is called, "Start a Fire," with him and Christina Milian. Well, I actually did it years ago. It was for my project at the time, which has definitely taken a different turn. [Laughs] That came from the time I was trying to find my sound. I was trying to work on myself as a songwriter during "Start a Fire." Christina Milian had come to the studio while I was cutting it. She fell in love with it. I believe it was the same time she was dating Lil Wayne.
So, we let her cut it. "Start a Fire" went from being mine to her song, to their track. I believe they performed it at the VMAs. It was super cool to see that come to life. Now my project is very different. It is a little bit more Caribbean pop and R&B influenced. My forthcoming music is nothing like that. You will hear my growth through my project as well. There is a difference in how I have written, and my overall sound.
Daddy Yankee has longtime been dubbed the King of Reggaetón. How did it feel on the set of the "Como" music video.
Oh, man! Wow, it was kind of a dream come true. I have grown up hearing Daddy Yankee's music. So, to be at the video shoot was not even kind of, it was definitely a dream come true for me! It was surreal. The only way I can describe is, it was magic. He has this energy about him that is super [royal]. He is the king of what he does. You know, I felt really blessed to be able to do a record with him. It came out organically. We just vibed. We had great chemistry. We had fun together. It was really amazing to live out my childhood dream. I got to work with someone I am a fan of. He is super talented. I had so much fun.
Was there a takeaway from him?
Everything was happening so fast; we did not get a chance to [chop it up]. We shot the video in one day. So, he and I did not get a lot of quality time together. We only had interaction when we were on set to film. I think one thing I did walk away with was to never doubt yourself.
Also, you can accomplish the dreams that your imagination brings. As I have grown up, I have experienced a lot of the things that I imagined in my mind. I never thought that they would come to fruition. That is really what I learned. You know, this is really happening now. So, to be alongside music royalty was a dream come true. We are capable of anything we put our minds to.
"Como" is a hell of an introduction. What is to come?
Oh, man! Everything is to come for me. [Laughs] I feel like I am going to have more music and way more performances. You will get to see me grow as an artist. You will get to look at the talents I have to offer. Hopefully, I will in time make it to the big screens, too. I love to act. That is another dream of mine. I like to do voiceover work. So, you will hear more [on that end] from me. But, around October is when you can anticipate a project from me. We will be releasing singles this summer.
What is your message?
My message is to not worry about fitting in and just be yourself. Also, dream big. That is my message because it encompasses who I am.