In January 1990, Gloria Trevi recalls, she learned that her first single, “Dr. Psiquiatra,” was going to make its radio debut at the inconvenient hour of 3 a.m. So, “I drank a lot of coffee so that I could stay up, listen to my song and request it many times,” she says.
Trevi, 54, no longer needs to lose sleep to hear her music. The pop artist, whose untamed hair, ripped tights and leather vests established her as Latin’s first female rock star — the “Mexican Madonna” as she was dubbed then — went on to establish a 40-year career of hitmaking. Though “Dr. Psiquiatra” quickly grew in popularity in Mexico, it was “El Último Beso,” her cover of white-pompadoured, blue-eyed soul artist Wayne Cochran’s 1961 single, “Last Kiss,” that earned Trevi her first entry on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart later in 1990. Since then, she has released a string of hits — most written or co-written by her — that have become Latin music staples, including 1991’s “Pelo Suelto” and “Con Los Ojos Cerrados” in 1992. Along the way, she scored roles in three ’90s Mexican films: Pelo Suelto, Zapatos Viejos and Una Papa sin Catsup.
But her burgeoning career came to a halt in 1999, when criminal complaints were filed against Trevi and her then-manager, Sergio Andrade, accusing her of the corruption of minors, rape and kidnapping. The following year, Trevi fled to Brazil, where she was captured and arrested, and then spent more than four-and-a-half years in Brazilian and Mexican prisons. In 2004, a Mexican court acquitted Trevi due to a lack of evidence.
“I felt that I lost my career,” Trevi says. “But I kept a positive attitude and believed in myself. You can lose a battle but not the war, and that mindset was very constant in me.”
Trevi put out new music that very same year, releasing Cómo Nace el Universo, an album that addressed her time in prison and featured material written behind bars. The record peaked at No. 2 on the Latin Pop Albums chart and No. 4 on Top Latin Albums; then, in 2011, Gloria became her first No. 1 on the latter chart. “How did I envision my comeback? Well, I’m an Aquarius. I’m a dreamer, and I saw it as something huge,” she says.
There were other accolades, too. In 2009, Trevi won the Billboard Latin Music Award for female pop song of the year with “Cinco Minutos,” received the BMI President’s Award in 2016 and was honored with the 2021 Premio Lo Nuestro Special Trajectory Award. On Billboard’s Latin album charts, she has placed 24 entries, including four No. 1s on both Top Latin Albums and Latin Pop Albums.
In August, Trevi will kick off her Isla Divina tour (produced by Live Nation, Great Talent Entertainment and Latino Live) at San Juan’s Coliseo de Puerto Rico, then play 40-plus U.S. dates to celebrate her 13th studio album of the same name. A biographical series about her life, produced by Carla Estrada, is in preproduction.
How do you describe your almost 40 years in music?
¡Que fuerte! (How strong!) But if I think about it, it’s more than 40 years, because everything started when I took ballet lessons at my mom’s academy in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. My mom always thought she was in Russia — she was very strict as a teacher. She was [involved with] a popular festival in the city, and I remember that the first time I was onstage I felt, at the very young age of 6, that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
How has your songwriting process evolved since your earlier rebellious years?
I am inspired by classical music and poetry — you would never think that a 16-year-old teenager would write songs such as “Mañana.” I began using poetry and metaphors with real-life situations and street life, and it became something special. I like to use magic realism and combine it with colloquial language. I’ve come up with songs such as “Psicofonía,” where I talk about the romance between a ghost and a crazy girl, symbolizing that men are like ghosts who come and go and we women are crazy in love.
Living through heartbreak, living in anguish and being deprived of my liberty taught me another type of language from jail. When I regained my freedom, I became very empathetic with people. From that experience came songs like “Doña Pudor.” I also have songs that help you let off steam, scream and cry like “No Querías Lastimarme” and “Con Los Ojos Cerrados” to songs like “Todos Me Miran” and “Grande,” to the songs on my new album, Isla Divina, which were born from the unity of a pandemic.
What about your music has remained consistent over the years?
I like to learn from the present and I love the future, but I don’t just follow what’s trending. I have to believe in the song, in the beat and in the production. For me to get onstage and defend a song, I have to like it, and I have to transmit that to my fans so that they can like it too. If I have doubts or make music [just] so it’ll go viral, fans will feel it and it won’t connect.
Do you recall a time when you had to defend your art?
A bit before “Dr. Psiquiatra” reached No. 1 [in Mexico], I was invited to perform on [the Mexican musical show] Siempre en Domingo, and at that time, I didn’t want people to forget me, so I threw myself on the floor. I didn’t think my underwear would show because I had on socks, ripped leggings and ballet tights, but [it did]. As you can imagine, because of Mexican [social customs], they told me to brush my hair and stop showing my underwear or I would never be able to perform there again. I refused to brush my hair, and I told them that I could fix the underwear situation by simply taking them off! I was banned from the show until [“Dr. Psiquiatra”] reached the top of the chart in the country. That’s when they invited me back without any conditions.
Is this how your timeless hit “Pelo Suelto” was born?
The main reason I wrote “Pelo Suelto” was that my maternal grandmother, Gloria — who was very religious and was well-known in Monterrey’s conservative society — wrote an open letter to a newspaper where she publicly scolded me. That really bothered me, because she should’ve just called me privately to tell me how she felt. Her reason was that she didn’t want to change me but rather wanted people to know that she didn’t agree with my decisions. I went ahead and wrote an open letter back. Looking back, it was very immature of me, but I don’t regret the girl that I was, because it’s part of my story and shaped the woman I am today.
“Cinco Minutos” marked your first Billboard top 10 and has been your longest-charting track on Hot Latin Songs. Was that a turning point in your career?
I believe “Tu Ángel de la Guarda” opened the doors for me internationally, but the first song that helped me get back on my feet was “Todos Me Miran.” Even if it didn’t chart on the radio, it became one of my biggest hits and connected me in an impressive way with women and the LGBTQ+ community. After that, “Cinco Minutos” was born. The first time I heard that song [written by Erika Ender and Amerika Jimenez], I was preparing my album Una Rosa Blu, and I believed it was strong because of its message. It’s about a relationship that hurt you but you got up, and when your ex came back, you gave him five minutes to get their stuff, to beg you, but there’s no turning back.
After the hardships you went through in the early 2000s, how did you prepare for your comeback?
I was in the darkest hole of my entire life. I felt judged, punished, defamed, and my family was suffering because I was in the middle of a huge scandal. I would receive fan letters that moved me and reminded me that good people still existed. Everything that was said about me [in the press] was horrible, but my fans still defended me. I’m very grateful to those brave and kind fans who encouraged me. It’s because of them, and the family that I had to gain back, that I told myself I had to get back on my feet, to make everyone proud and not ashamed. They say you never know how strong you are until you have to do it, and it’s because of them that I had to do it.
What do you want your legacy to be?
My music. My story. I want my music to be studied and enjoyed for a million years. And that the dark moments that I lived and overcame also contribute to my legacy. I would like my life story to help change and transform people’s lives. I think I’m already achieving that.