Papi Kunno is sashaying down the streets of Tel Aviv, clad in a flowing orange print pantsuit, his long, long green nails glittering in the sunlight. Every few minutes, he gets stopped for photographs, by fans who recognize him, and by passersby who are struck by his carefully curated look.
The 22-year-old Mexican influencer has amassed over 26 million followers on TikTok and nearly 6 million on Instagram, thanks to his flamboyant and accessible persona — and a plethora of reels where he shows off dance moves that change with his makeup, hair and outfits, and where he advocates for self-love and acceptance.
Kunno (real name Kunno Olivo) is in Israel as part of his Pride Month itinerary, where he’s been invited by Latin-Israeli group Fuente Latina to participate in the Tel Aviv parade. In June 25, he’ll also be part of Mexico City’s Pride parade, even as he readies new music, including a new single with Trixy Star. The pair plan to film the video in Cuba, not known as a particular haven for the LGBQT community — a move that’s part of Kunno’s quest to “open doors and minds” with his unabashed self-expression.
“Through my music, and my fashion, and by being in places and events where people like me weren’t seen before, I push others to take the plunge and eliminate labels from their lives,” he says, displaying impressive insight for someone his age.
Don’t be fooled by the batted eyelashes or the plunging necklines: Kunno is very much aware of the impact of his words and his looks. In celebration of Pride Month, he tells Billboard how his nails have become a transforming super power.
How have you helped create tolerance in your genre?
I’ve always found a way to demonstrate to people that with full love you can live as happily as possible. My mom always loved me and made me feel comfortable with who I am. So, that’s what I show in my social media and my daily job: I’m myself, and that way I can find opportunities to live my life as I want to. Also, a lot of children and parents from my community approach me because they want advice regarding their children and how to defend their families without conflict in our society.
Can you give me an example?
I’m a child of divorced parents. And many moms, like mine, whose children [are queer] tell me that in school, teachers don’t support [their children] or want to change them. My point is, don’t allow that. Don’t allow your child to think there’s something wrong [with them]. He was born this way and all he wants is love. This is not an illness or a hair color you can just change. This is something we carry in our hearts. Defend your child. Defend him.
My mom literally was always between a rock and a hard place — and even though thousands of people told us I was a broken child and and she wasn’t enough and I needed a strong father figure, that’s not the case. That’s how I’ve fostered tolerance among thousands of families and moms.
As a queer artist, how have you helped reshape your genre?
The most important thing I’ve done to date is dare to 100% eliminate labels, not just from clothing and makeup, but also from my attitude and my music. When we buy clothes, we cut off the tags. I feel we should do the same with absolutely everything. Through my music, and my fashion, and by being in places and events where people like me weren’t seen before, I push others to take the plunge and eliminate labels from their lives.
I also made this part of my music from day one. I can sing to a man, or to a woman, or I can simply express my sexuality. I also open doors and minds with the outfits I wear to red carpets and events and videos. Here I am, 100% representing my community, my country, my colors.
How did accepting your queer identity affect your craft?
It was very hard, because I came from a very close-minded society. But my mom always told me: “I know who you are. Dare to show who you are.” One day, I took the plunge. I wanted long nails. I started to use more extravagant makeup, because I wanted to, but it’d been afraid to be judged or criticized. But I feel that when I accepted myself, people accepted me too. I know there are positive and negative comments [about me], but in terms of both work and love, being myself has helped me achieve happiness and love. I love to wear makeup, and dresses and skirts, but I also love to wear jeans and a really well-cut gentleman’s suit.
Does that impact your music?
Absolutely. My nails and my outfits are my superpower. They give me the strength. It’s like Wonder Woman’s armor and lasso. I go to the studio and video sets, and I have my nails and I feel I can do anything. Sometimes I even record with the outfit I’ll wear in the video, so I can really get into the song. I like that many artists who maybe didn’t have this mindset before, see me and invite me to their videos and open the doors to their fans and their music.
What’s your all-time favorite Pride anthem and why?
Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” and Britney Spears’ “I Wanna Go” and “Hold It Against Me.” All three empower me. They’re the ones I listen to in the shower so I can go face the world with a smile.