As 2018 winds down, Billboard is asking some of the artists who helped define the year in music to look back on their accomplishments, favorite memories and pop-culture obsessions from the past 12 months. Now joining St. Vincent and Anne-Marie: Kali Uchis.
One of the best debut albums of 2018, Kali Uchis’ Isolation is an intoxicating, genre-hopping brew that displays the Colombian-American singer’s beguiling attitude and effortless knack for durable melodies. With a successful tour and one of the most acclaimed albums of the year under her belt (it’s No. 16 on our list of the Best Albums of 2018), Uchis hopped on the phone with Billboard to talk about how she’s feeling as 2018 comes to a close.
From the biggest lessons she learned this year (trust fewer people) to her hopes for 2019 (more romantic songs from trap artists), this is what the candid, thoughtful Kali Uchis had to say.
What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2018?
I’m really proud to have had such a successful tour. I never had any experience performing and didn’t know anybody in the industry when I started. I started literally in my room looping samples. So for me, getting the start in touring was a whole different world I didn’t know about. You really have to know what you’re doing to put the right type of team together. The right band, the right tour manager, and even when it comes to sound — your team has to be the right people around you. I’m proud I finally found a team of people who understand me and who I can work really well with. We all complement each other. When you have that, you can focus on the show. Now I feel I can really grow as a performer. And even just having the opportunity to create and put out an album is big for me. I never thought I’d have a vinyl or CD or anything like that.
If you could rewind 11 months, what advice would you give to yourself in January about 2018?
Oh my God. I mean, if I could give myself advice when I was younger, I would tell myself… I wouldn’t say I was gullible or naïve, but when you’re just starting and you don’t know anybody, you don’t know who the right people to put around you are. I would tell myself to keep completely to myself until I’m 100 percent sure about people’s intentions around me.
What was the best concert you saw this year?
I barely ever go out, and when I do go out, it’s usually because I’m going to come out for my friends. I love SZA’s performances. I saw her perform in Europe when we had some festivals together. I thought it was really raw, and I loved the conversations she was having with the audience. I loved it.
What’s a song you couldn’t get out of your head this year?
I think we all got brainwashed by “thank u, next.” You know a song is catchy when you wake up and it’s in your head and you’re like, “Bitch, what the fuck?! I didn’t even listen to this last night, why did I wake up and it’s in my head?” That’s how you know it’s catchy.
Is there a trend in music you’d like to see go away in 2019?
Hmmm. I would like to hear more trap songs about love. I think it’s really refreshing when [it’s from] male artists who are rappers. It’s different when it’s an R&B singer, because a lot of times people are geared toward love and being vulnerable in R&B music. I’d like to see more rappers being vulnerable with their lyricism. I feel like it’s a lot of “I’m that guy, I got money, I got bitches.” It’s really nice when I hear a rapper talking about somebody who broke his heart or eating pussy. I want to think about that. I want to think about you eating pussy, I don’t want to imagine you getting your dick sucked. [Laughs] Let’s be vulnerable.
What was your most memorable fan interaction?
That’s hard. [Laughs] The first thing that came to mind is a girl in Miami who came to my meet-and-greet, and she was really doing it. She was 6 feet tall in these big stiletto boots that had inches on them. She was in a dominatrix outfit. She had white contacts in and a long weave, and she was like, “My name is Creature.” And I was like, “Okay, Creature!” Can never forget her, she was special. She was in it. I love full fantasy, I love people that actually go for it. If you’re going to go for it, go for it.
What do you regret, big or small, in 2018?
I guess I wish in 2018… I think I learned from a lot of mistakes. But one of the most important mistakes I learned from was — it’s sad to say but — giving people chances. After this year, I’m giving a lot of people less chances. I’m realizing the more chances you give people to waste your time or screw you over, [the more] they’re going to keep doing it. They’re not going to take you seriously enough.
Who’s another artist you would invite over for a holiday dinner with your family?
Jorja [Smith]’s my friend in the world of singers more than anybody, so I’m bringing her. I’m building my first house in Colombia right now, so I invited her and her parents to come stay with us. It’s going to be cute.
Whom did you text the most this year?
My assistant and my makeup artist; they’re my best friends. We talk so much shit. Lots of GIFs.
What was your most memorable Lyft or Uber ride?
I went into a Lyft — I don’t use Uber anymore — and the driver was already playing [my song] “After the Storm.” He was halfway through the song. I don’t think he saw the video or knew who I was, which was really cool. I love when people like my music and don’t have any idea what I look like. It’s nice. They weren’t interested in the aesthetic or the look of it — the music caught them first.
What was your favorite city you visited this year?
I love Texas in general — I have so much fun when I’m in Texas. They have really good food, it’s a lot of Latinos, and they go off in Dallas and Houston. And New York City, I love New York, too.