As kids, most of us are raised on the music our parents listened to, or whatever track was playing on MTV after school. But for 21-year-old Alba Farelo, known better as Bad Gyal, her upbringing in a sleepy town on the outskirts of Barcelona exposed her to two genres of music few European kids would usually indulge in: dancehall and reggaeton. At eight-years-old she saw an advert for Sean Paul’s The Trinity and asked her parents if they could buy it for her. If that isn’t great early on-set music taste, then god knows what is.
Nowadays, she’s turned that early exposure to Jamaican and Puerto Rican pop into a career as one of the most exciting artists in the game. She’d been trying her hand at making music for a while, but Bad Gyal’s breakout arrived with her remix of Rihanna’s "Work" back in summer 2016, turning the ubiquitous track into an Autotune-heavy bragfest about getting paid. It put her on the path to creating two killer mixtapes, including her most recent and most accomplished effort, Worldwide Angel.
She’s an enigma: a doe-eyed musical dominator whose swagger often leads magazines to falsely label her a rapper. Sure, the no-fucks-given attitude is there, but her music feels like it captures the sound of our generation: part frivolous flexing, some "Despacito" vibes (though Bad Gyal preceded that trend), and more Autotune than Yung Lean could shake a stick at. You might not have seen her name everywhere, but trust me: she’s going to make the quintessential Gen Z musical time capsule.
She calls me on Skype from somewhere in North America. Earlier last week, she played to a sold-out crowd in New York City; shortly after that, she performed a showcase at SXSW to a crowd of industry bigwigs that could cement her international stardom. It’s all systems go for Bad Gyal right now, but she found time to talk to Highsnobiety about how she’s switching up Spain’s music scene, the song everybody should be listening to right now, and her next big performance under the Northern Lights.
For anybody who doesn’t follow it closely, can you explain what the Spanish music scene feels and sounds like right now?
Around five or six years ago, we had this really overdone urban scene that wasn’t really representing the new generation. We had some reggaeton artists, but they were all tied down in contracts and [were focussed on] radio airplay, but I don’t think the genre has a big tie to business; the scene started out of home studios and in the streets. At that moment, it felt like it was pretty quiet and nothing big was happening, but for the past four years, urban music has taken over again. Now we have real people making [traditional] rap, and there’s some “good boys” making happy trap music, too!
You’re sort of an anomaly in your country’s music industry. What do you think you’re bringing to it that others aren’t?
I get called a trap queen or a Catalan rap queen [by the press], but I don’t think that represents me. I think I’ve got a new sound that isn’t really in its pop scene. As my music got bigger, more people seemed to be interested in dancehall - what it is and where it came from. There wasn't somebody doing that before in a serious way here.
So what is it that you love about reggaeton and dancehall?
I love the natural flow of the music; the feeling of it makes me dance. And the lyrics! A lot of the time, we get confused about [the intentions of] reggaeton lyrics. They’re actually really positive about women – empowering. The woman of reggaeton is powerful, can get whatever she wants, and does with whatever she wants with her body, too.
You're playing at Sonar in Iceland very shortly! Tell me what you know about the country.
Not much! I just know about the beautiful Northern Lights – that I won’t get to see...
That sucks! Are you excited about playing Sónar though? It has a really strong connection to Barcelona, where you’re from…
I’m curious about what it will be like, because the Sónar image for me is all about Barcelona. I played there last year and it felt like home, so I’m looking forward to see what kind of setting they’ve built. People are writing to me saying they’re excited to see me – in Iceland!
Did you think you’d be in this position five years ago?
No, no! I’m meeting people in the music industry that I’ve been listening to and admiring for so long. But if somebody told me five years ago that I would have met these people or sold out a gig in New York, I would definitely have said no way!
Just out of interest, what cartoon character would Bad Gyal be?
I would say some Disney princess, because they were my favorites when I was a kid, but now I have a different feeling about all of that.
Yeah they’re quite old-fashioned now. Who was your favorite Disney princess as a kid?
Jasmine from Aladdin. I’d have to change a lot of things about her [if she was my choice]. Poor Jasmine, she’s shut away waiting for a man to rescue her. I’d make her free!
What one song are you listening to on repeat right now that everybody should hear?
"Dozen + 10" by Govana.
And what song have you released that feels like it represents you the best?
One from my new mixtape, called "Yo Sigo Iual".
Do you feel like your attitude changes when you perform live?
Sometimes. I do gigs pretty much every day of the week. Each one might not be the best gig of my life, but everything that I feel on stage is true. I know that. It’s always me talking to the crowd – I can’t be another person. Maybe sometimes I’m not feeling the most excited about a concert but I need to do it good, because there are people there who came to see me.
And that must be an exciting thing, no? You’ve been doing this for three years, it must be cool to see your fanbase grow so organically.
I’m just like ‘What the fuck?!’. I have my fanbase in Spain, [but] I can be in America; South America; Europe – there are always people there! I’m here in the USA and people know the lyrics to songs from my mixtape that I released a week ago! I can’t believe it – it’s crazy to me!
Bad Gyal plays Sónar Reykjavik on Friday 16th March.
For more of our interview features, watch our video chat with Nick Cannon right here.