As she stepped onto the Latin Grammys red carpet on Nov. 18, Juliana Velásquez was calm, cool and collected. After all, she thought, “I was already a winner. I know that sounds super cliché,” she confesses. “But I was in Las Vegas meeting my favorite artists, representing Colombia in the best new artist category. What else could I ask for?”
But moments later, she’d go from feeling calm to feeling like she could faint. “I’m walking the red carpet and next thing I know, I hear my name as they announce the winner for best new artist. It was beautiful because at that very moment, I felt like a little girl opening a Christmas gift she was not expecting,” she says over the phone from her native Colombia days after her “life-changing” win.
With 10 nominees in the hard-to-predict category, including Paloma Mami, Bizarrap, Boza and María Becerra, the 23-year-old Colombian songstress was crowned by the Latin Recording Academy as this year’s best new artist on the heels of the release of her self-titled debut album earlier this year, which is packed with songs on self-help, mental health and self-awareness.
After hearing her name, she knelt down and thanked God. As she made her way to the stage to give her speech, she spotted Bad Bunny, Camilo and Juan Luis Guerra sitting front row. “I was so nervous and shaking already, but when I saw them I thought, ‘OK, now I really won’t be able to sing onstage.'” But she took a deep breath and sang a verse from her song “Joaquín,” which is about a local fisherman who never returned home.
— The Latin Recording Academy / Latin GRAMMYs (@LatinGRAMMYs) November 19, 2021
“I wanted to honor those who work our land and to serve us to make our lives better,” she says. In the press room, just moments after stepping off the stage, she told Billboard that she thought she had won the category because she made music that spoke to young people. “I think us artists have an obligation to share messages that contribute to society and to help with those issues that get lost in the a society imbued with immediacy.”
Fresh off her Latin Grammy win, Billboard caught up with Velásquez to talk about being named best new artist, the early days of her career and more.
How were you feeling that day leading up to the ceremony? Were you nervous or anxious?
I’m going to be completely honest with you. I already felt like such a big winner. I know that sounds super cliché but I was in Las Vegas meeting my favorite artists, representing Colombia in the best new artist category. What else could I ask for? I never felt nervous. I seriously went to Vegas to have fun and enjoy what was happening in my career. Two seconds later, I’m winning this award and honestly, I thought I was going to faint. It was beautiful because at that very moment, I felt like a little girl opening a Christmas gift she was not expecting.
What went through your mind when you heard your name?
First thing is ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ And secondly, ‘Thank you, God.’ I’m very aware that this was a tough category and the one you can only be nominated in once in your life. There are so many new artists in Colombia who are super talented and doing incredible things so for me to be representing and now not only representing but to be the winner, it’s crazy. At that moment, I was also thinking about all the indie artists like myself that have amazing projects but feel like giving up sometimes. What happened to me was a miracle but also know that my team and I have worked hard for this.
Before giving a speech, you sang “Joaquín.” Was that something you planned on doing or was it spontaneous?
I was supposed to sing at the premiere ceremony but I wasn’t able to and I felt so sad because I wanted to sing “Joaquín.” I wasn’t thinking I’d win but the night before the awards show I thought of what I would say just in case I won. I figured because it was a such a special song, I’d go up there and sing a few seconds of it. Those types of stories don’t get enough recognition. Not only would I go up there to accept an award, but I’d also sing this song to honor those who work our land and to serve us to make our lives better.
When I was walking to the stage, I was so nervous and shaking already but when I saw Bad Bunny, Camilo and Juan Luis Guerra sitting front row, I thought, ‘ok now I really won’t be able to sing onstage.’ But then when I got there, I took a deep breathe and said this is for my country. For Colombia.
You’re an actress and a singer. Let’s go back to your early days when you discovered your passion for music. Do you remember?
My acting and singing career began when I was very little. I was four years old when I entered a theater academy in Colombia because I was a very annoying kid and my parents couldn’t take it anymore. But instead of yelling at me, they’d say ‘ok you have so much energy, go sing and dance.’ And I thank them for that. That academy became my home. Officially, I began singing and acting when I was seven years old and since then I haven’t stopped. I learned to write songs because when we were practicing for our musicals, I heard the lyrics and thought it was magical that you could tell stories via music. So, I’d go home after rehearsals and write my own version of the songs we had rehearsed.
In 2016, you released your first-ever single “Enséñame.” But then you didn’t release anything until 2020. Why did you take that break?
It was a beautiful process because I released my first single with a lot of hope, like most artists do. But then nothing of what I had imagined happened. I decided to quit music for a bit and focused on my acting career isntead. But you never stop loving what you love to do. So I started writing music just for myself and for me to listen to it. In 2020 was when I pursued music again in a more serious way and release songs I had written and that are now part of my EP, Dos y Ventidós, and my album, Juliana. Those four years in between really helped me mature and understand what I really wanted to communicate through my music. I think to know what you want to say, you first have to live. Everything in life happens for a reason. And if at first try it didn’t work, well it wasn’t the right time then.
What’s the inspiration behind your songs?
As artists, we can draw inspiration from our own lives, experiences but we also have that responsibility to take other people’s stories, those that don’t have the platform. It’s simply offering a different point of view in life, love, death and even sex like in reggaetón. I don’t think one style is better than the other because all points of views are important.
For example, Juliana was an introspective project because most are very personal stories, that was at the core of the album. I have a song on there about eating disorders, which is something I struggled with for a very long time. Another song is based on an unwanted pregnancy, that isn’t something I experienced but it was inspired on a character I played that got pregnant at age 15 and made me questions many things. There’s also a song about suicide inspired by a special person who took their own life. And it’s a song about empathy and not judging anyone for their decisions.
What are you working on now?
A lot of new music coming. I’m working on my new album that is called 222 and it’s a very special one. The first single titled “Mujer Desastre” comes out tomorrow and it’s a very intimate, pretty song about feeling like you don’t fit in but at the end of the day understanding that we’ve all felt that way at one point of our lives. It’s the first song from the album and the rest will drop next year.
What type of impact do you think this Latin Grammy Award will have on your career?
I’ve already felt the impact. Three of my songs just went viral in Colombia reaching top 50 positions. Three songs that would have never been in the top 50 but now they are. “Joaquín” is one of them. It’s a really long song about a fisherman and another one is about depression. The fact that these stories now have a space and reach as many people possible so my songs can become some sort of refuge for them, that’s how I measure impact.