Paloma Mami on Working With Diplo and Making Anthems For 'Girls In The Club'

Paloma Mami
Noli Provoste

Paloma Mami

From: Santiago, Chile
Age: 19
Label: Sony Music Latin

Born Paloma Rocío Castillo in New York, Paloma Mami got her inspiration from soulful female artists like Christina AguileraAmy WinehouseElla Fitzgerald and Rihanna. The singer -- who moved to Santiago, Chile with her family three years ago -- got her start as a contestant on the country's competition show Rojo when she was 18. "I ended up being a contestant because the auditions were online, so I thought it was perfect," she explains. "I was so scared to sing in front of people." Dissatisfied with the show’s emphasis on reality TV drama over artistry, she left voluntarily after two weeks. Still, she was hesitant to pursue music full time due to her inexperience. "I thought that you needed to know about the music industry to do well and that you needed to have contacts," she says. "My fear was that people weren't going to like me."

But after witnessing Bad Bunny stun at the Santiago stop on his tour in 2018, inspiration struck. "There were parents without their kids, little babies, grandparents -- just everybody of all ages was at that concert singing every word," Mami recalls. "I've never seen anything like that before in my life. I thought, 'Wow, this is insane. I want to do this and be like him.'" The next day, she hit up local producer Lesz, and he invited her to the studio. A month later, last June, she independently released the viral bilingual hit “Not Steady,” which has raked in 6.5 million U.S. on-demand streams, according to Nielsen Music. The singer describes her music as "femme fatale vibes," saying "If there was a sequel to Basic Instinct, my music could be the perfect soundtrack for that."

In July 2018, Sony Music Latin manager Adrian Garcia heard “Not Steady” when Spanish rapper C. Tangana played it for him while Garcia was driving in New York City. By October, Garcia had signed Paloma Mami, making her the first Chilean artist of her generation on the label. “Paloma’s energy is so captivating that you immediately know you are in the presence of a star,” says Garcia. “She was a perfect fit” for a roster that boasts Maluma, Becky G and Ozuna. The singer also notes being fluent in English and Spanish as an advangtage that will help her smoothly ease into the U.S. market when the time comes: "There's a lot of bilingual artists out now. And I think that a lot of people like that because it's different and cool."

Paloma Mami's songs are strung together with confidence, as seen with "Not Steady" and last December's “No Te Enamores." In the latter, she proudly sings "Mi cuerpo es un arte/ Nadie lo toca, soy como la Mona Lisa." ("My body is art/ No one touches it, I'm like the Mona Lisa.") “Being secure with yourself is the message that I always want to give to my fans,” she says of the self-assured lyrics. "There are teenage girls literally going through those stages in their lives where they don't love their bodies, and I've been through that phase too."

The artist officially cemented her rising-star status with the March single “Fingías” (“You Pretend”), which has since garnered 4.2 million U.S. on-demand streams. The R&B-tinged ballad about getting over heartbreak is her most vulnerable to date. "All my songs are about empoderamiento hacia las mujeres (empowerment towards women), so I was scared that my fans were going to say, 'Oh now she's crying!'" she explains. "But [“Fingías”] is about empoderamiento tambien (empowerment as well) because I’m getting over somebody and I don’t need them. I’m always still giving that message subliminally." The singer plans to continue giving a voice for ladies in a genre that is often skewed towards men. "Anthems for women are super important, and finally, there’s a bunch of [female artists] getting to make them for the girls in the club.”

After she ruled March's Lollapalooza Chile stage for the first time, Paloma Mami is now focused on releasing several new singles. And the credits are stacked with all-star producers: Tainy (who executive-produced Bad Bunny’s X100PRE), Sky Rompiendo (J Balvin's right hand) and Diplo. “He has chickens in his house! [laughs] They're in his basement, like a weirdo,” she says of her “lit” experience with the latter. But as her popularity grows, she wants to keep a tight relationship with her day-one fans through social media. (She has 2.4 million Instagram followers.) “In this generation, artists can be more than just something you can’t touch.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 11 issue of Billboard.