You could measure the success of Karol G’s first North American headlining tour last year by the numbers: 24 shows, 128,000 tickets sold, a gross of $10.9 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Or you could measure it in wigs: Countless fans, from the floor seats to the rafters, donning aqua-blue hair for the night to mimic the pop star’s own technicolor tresses. The first time she noticed it, “I was very shocked,” the 31-year-old says. “But after the tour, I realized Karol G and ‘Bichota’ ” — slang for bad b–ch, and the title of one of her hit singles — “are a movement.”
With her relatable lyrics, empowering expressions of female sexuality and adventurous sound — incorporating elements of R&B, pop, reggae and more — Billboard’s 2022 Women in Music recipient of the Rule Breaker award has become a singular force in the male-dominated world of reggaetón. Last year, Karol G was the first solo Latin female artist to sell out a major North American tour since her fellow Colombian Shakira a few years prior. (In Latin America, Karol G headlines festivals and stadium shows.) And thanks to her third studio album, KG0516, which spawned global anthems like the Nicki Minaj collaboration “Tusa,” she was also the top Latin female artist of 2021, according to MRC Data.
“When I started, I tried to please others,” says Karol G (real name: Carolina Giraldo). “Now, I’m me. I talk about what I want in my songs, I dress how I want to dress, and I believe that when I decided to show myself as I am, people really connected with me.”
Do you consider yourself a rule breaker?
Breaking the rules has long been the foundation of my project. If we’re going to work with a brand, for instance, what are we going to do that’s completely different? That’s why getting this award fills me with so much love and pride — that’s always the starting point, even in my lyrics. I reached a point where I got tired of being careful about what I said and started writing songs as I speak, without a filter, so that it flows organically and naturally. And that broke a bit from [the norm of] femininity that comes with being a woman.
Are the rules changing for women? And if so, for better or worse?
For better! Although I still read headlines that say, “Karol G spread her legs, and we almost saw her bichota!” Seriously, I’m selling out stadiums and this is the only thing you can come up with? Women are still very sexualized. I also feel women tend to get down on themselves in panel discussions: “Women don’t…” “Women can’t…” I don’t like that line of communication because it centers on the problem. It’s very important for me to tell women that it is possible, there are opportunities, people do buy tickets.
What female artists did you admire growing up?
The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera — they were all artists we followed and admired, but we never felt we could get as far because they sang in English. But Selena, watching that movie [1997’s Selena starring Jennifer Lopez] was a before-and-after for me. That’s when I said, “I want to be a singer, and this is my role model.”
You spoke in your 2021 Billboard cover story about wanting to build a brand outside of music, and now you’ll have a substantial role alongside Sofía Vergara in the upcoming Netflix series about Colombian drug dealer Griselda Blanco. What has your foray into acting been like?
I play Carla, one of Griselda’s “mules” who transports drugs to the U.S. It’s a great role because there’s real character development. I’m in acting and body-movement classes, and it totally opened my eyes to a different perspective. When you’re not an actor, your goal is to do things well so they’re credible. But in acting, you really get inside a character and forget about what people want. It has helped my career as an artist and my development on stage.