The album takes the whimsical synth pop and psych influences that defined his three previous projects into new territory, further exploring glimmers of bossa nova, airy piano keys and spiraling, lo-fi interludes. But the biggest shift is in the lyrics, which dig deeper than his bilingual teen-dream anthems have in the past and overflow with profound sorrow in both matters of the heart and healing after his accident. On “Ego Death in Thailand,” he contemplates self-medicating to cope: “Take this and fly away/Till the substance numbs the pain.” Fortunately, Cuco hasn’t lost his penchant for absurdist humor outside of his music: The 21-year-old often posts memes to his self-deprecating Twitter handle, @icryduringsex.
Para Mí marks Cuco’s major-label debut, following an explosive bidding war that came to a head this past spring. Interscope, which is riding a hot streak of breaking such new talent as Billie Eilish, Juice WRLD, Ella Mai and DaBaby, won him over with a seven-figure offer. Cuco will also join a roster of Latinx acts like Kali Uchis and Melii. The joint-venture licensing deal guarantees that Cuco’s music will be available in Latin America, with distribution support from Universal Music Latin Entertainment. It also allows Cuco -- who has raked in 290.6 million streams, according to Nielsen Music -- to maintain much of the freedom he had as an independent artist. He can release his music in various formats -- mixtapes, singles, EPs or proper albums -- so long as he records a certain number of tracks. He also will continue to own all of his masters.
“It was a huge relief to finally have that settled,” says Cuco of ending the ongoing negotiations, citing Interscope’s flexibility as a winning factor. But he’s glad he took his time and recommends that any other indie artist on the fence should do the same. “It helps you see the bigger picture,” he says. “There are definitely some things you can’t do without a label,” but when it comes to signing, “you need to really know what’s happening. Why you’re making these decisions. Essentially, it’s always going to come down to the terms you get.”
Cuco is far removed from his days as a college dropout who would perform with his band in Los Angeles backyards. He can trace his big break back to one show in particular in early 2017. Music manager Doris Muñoz -- an L.A. native who was 23 at the time and had founded a management firm fresh off her college graduation -- had heard whispers of Cuco’s talent from friends and decided to drop by one of the backyard gigs. There, she found herself smack dab in a horde of smitten local teens.
“The connection he had with his audience at that point was unmatched to anything I had ever seen,” says Muñoz. “[There were] Latinx teens singing every single lyric in English and Spanish to his music, which is inspired by our culture; it gave me chills. When the trumpet came out and everyone started screaming, that was the moment I knew Cuco and his fans would shift the culture for our community.” The next day, Muñoz convinced Cuco to join her Mija Management firm.