Image: Warner Music Latina

After Ariana Grande dropped her breakup anthem “thank u, next,” Ximena Sariñana followed up with a song in the same vein—“Si Tu Te Vas,” co-written by the guys behind “Despacito.” “Si tú me dejas bailando sola/Ya encontraré lo que me enamora/La vida es corta para llorar” translates to, “If you leave me dancing alone/I’ll find what makes me fall in love/Life’s too short to cry.”

This, the second single released ahead of her sophomore album due in spring 2019, echoes the same zero-carajos-given attitude and foundation she established with the popular “Que Tiene.” Sariñana, who at 23 was nominated for three Latin Grammys and a Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for 2008's Mediocre, has come into her own on the new project. Whereas that first album was more timid and old school, this one is confident, with a slight pivot to more electro-pop R&B rhythms.

I met Sariñana and her family at the tail-end of their lunch on a recent visit to New York and spoke to her about motherhood (her six-month old baby Franca was keeping an eye on her throughout), her new music, and what else she has brewing for 2019.


JEZEBEL: I can hear how you’ve evolved in your sound and as an artist through the singles you’ve released for this new project, which I’m sure you were really involved in. Do you write your own lyrics?

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XIMENA SARIÑANA: Yes, lyrics and music.

How would you describe how you’ve changed as an artist and person since Mediocre landed 10 years ago?

I know more now. When I released Mediocre, it was my first album so you know... you’re learning as you go. You’re always learning, but now I feel the most confident I’ve ever felt because I’ve worked with so many amazing artists and producers, and I’ve proved myself that I can also produce and write and perform and do all these things that I’ve dreamt of doing, so now it’s just about having fun. It’s the best.

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That’s a good place to be.

Yeah, I’ve had so much fun doing this album and getting out of my comfort zone and doing some stuff that’s a little bit more irreverent. It’s kind of like I don’t really care so it’s fun.

I definitely hear that echoed in your music, in “Que Tiene” for sure, the idea of coming into your own. How did you get to that place and why did you decide to reflect that in your music?

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Well, especially in this industry, you’re always having to prove yourself to yourself and to other people because everybody’s always criticizing what you do or what you don’t do, especially in your own country. So I’ve sort of been through everything already. I’ve been criticized, I’ve had a really successful album. I’ve had not very successful music as well.

Sariñana at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2008.
Image: Getty

It’s part of life. You succeed and you fail and that’s what it is. Once you sort of learn that, it’s just a really comfortable place to be in because anything goes. If it goes well, it’s amazing. If it doesn’t go well, you know that you’re gonna be able to bounce back and do something else. So then it really just becomes about the process and about really being in the present and enjoying every single step of the way.

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Speaking of process, how long did this one take to come together?

It was a really quick album. It just took a lot of time for it to come out because I stopped in the middle of it because I became a mom. But yeah, it was really fast to make. Everything flowed really well. I met with a couple of producers and had six songs, and so the rest was very natural.

How has it been balancing taking care of a newborn and birthing a new album as well?

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Very little sleep. [Laughs] To be honest, she’s a great baby. In Mexico, they say that babies sort of adapt to your lifestyle and to who you are, and she’s adapted really well to our lifestyle—which is different, not bad, not good, just different from others. But it’s great; it’s been fun to rediscover this process being a different person, with her. It’s a different logistical situation, but it’s super, super fun.

June Diane from Grace and Frankie tweeted something the other day that stood out to me. She said something along the lines of “I reject the term working mom because all moms work and we never hear the term working dad.” What do you think about that?

I didn’t grow up with the idea that there was something other than a working mom because my mom always worked. Not only was it OK, it was something that I was very proud of, and I think thanks to the fact that she was her own self, she wasn’t just my mom, she was her, as a woman with her aspirations and dreams and pursuits. I always felt that oh, that’s just the way it is. So in that sense, I never considered myself a “working mother.” Being a mom is something that happens along the way if you want it. I’m me with a daughter... I’m a mom. I think that’s amazing about women nowadays, we have that freedom to choose what we want that definition to be. This album has a lot of that in a way, because I sort of reconnected since I was in the process of becoming a mom. I was pregnant for half of the album, so I sort of reconnected with my definition of what being a woman is to me and my femininity and coming to terms with that definition. And I came to this beautiful conclusion that what feminine means to me is having the freedom to be whatever you want. It’s not the cliche of what feminine is; it’s just your definition.

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Sometimes I listen to “Que Tiene” for a gentle reminder that it’s completely fine to not fit into the paradigms of the perception of what a Latina woman or XYZ person should be—whether it’s not dancing a certain way or whatever it may be that makes you different. Is that a theme that’s echoed throughout? 

Totally. I’m really proud of the whole theme, because I think it comes together really well. I really like Greek Mythology, and I was really into the idea of the nymph visually, and also what they meant. How they were these sort of characters that would entice warriors in their travelers and have an amazing time and then suddenly poof they would disappear. So the album has that sort of mythology. It’s an album that you’re meant to hear throughout the entire course of the evening. It has the beginning with songs like “Que Tiene” y “Si Tu Te Vas” that you’re meant to share with friends. In my case, I really meant it for my girlfriends. And then you have the more introspective part of the album, which is more like what happens in the wee hours of the morning where you reflect on things that are going on in your life. The whole album, lyrically, it’s a very direct album, so it has songs like “Que Tiene” and then it has really direct love songs. I didn’t want to be mysterious in my messages. I wanted it to be clear, and in that way, also very Latina because in Latin America we have a lot of saying that are very... clear?

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Frank.

Exactly, very frank. Franca... [laughs]. It’s inclusive and girly.

There’s sometimes this notion that women can’t be “girly” because sometimes that’s perceived as not strong or powerful and in turn on the same playing field as men. What’s your opinion on that?

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Terrible. I am my girliest when I’m working. There’s nothing more girly right now than me being the own director of my career and being a mom, and working with all women. That’s the best part—you can be whatever you want to be. If you feel “girly” wearing trousers, and if that’s what makes you connect with being a woman, that’s amazing. I think that that’s what has to change in people’s perception. One does not have to be completely opposed to the other. Being girly can be whatever it is that works for you. It can be wearing makeup or not wearing makeup. Being a leader or not. Being a mom or not.

What’s great about the conversation around feminism nowadays is that it’s just opened up all these possibilities and a real sense that girls are growing up with a reality of what freedom really means. One thing is the conception, that maybe you or I grew up with, that being free was—in the Latin world especially—yeah, you’re free but you’re still a woman and you still have to deal with all these certain issues and there’s still machismo... and it’s amazing because nowadays, my daughter won’t even think about the need of having to conform. She really will be able to be free. That’s actually what her name means; it means freedom.

Tell me about some of the other songs that you’re most excited about us hearing.

Well, there are really beautiful love songs that are very direct. There’s one that I love called “Que Seas Tu.” In its way and its writing, I thought of it as a typical folk Latin song. We rearranged it, and it sounds nothing like a Latin folk song, but the structure of it and the words are almost naive. It has a naivety to it that I really like. Then there’s this other song I really love called “Lo Bailado.” The translation is “The amount of dance.” It comes from this saying in Mexico that is basically if you fucked up something, at least lo bailado nadie me lo quita. Basically, the experience that I had, no one can take that away from me. It doesn’t matter if you fucked it up, or had a terrible breakup or whatever, you have the experience and nobody can take that away from you.

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When you think of your audience, do you create music with Latin American young women in mind? Or do you think more globally?

Well, I think this is the first time—and maybe it’s because I have a daughter—but it’s the first time that I did an album thinking very much of who I imagined listening to that album. I imagined a younger version of myself with my friends. When I was growing up, that album for us—that I would know every word to—was Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. Later, it was When the Pawn by Fiona. I wanted my album to be that experience for other girls. That’s why I really wanted to make it more contemporary. I really wanted my sound to attract a younger audience, but I also really cared, in that sense, about the messages that I wanted to write in the songs. I took special notice and care on that because I had that audience very much in mind.

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But it’s not to say that you’re making a complete shift in that direction.

No. Because my essence is still what it is. It’s funny because people will sometimes say about artists, Oh she completely lost herself in this genre or in this album, or whatever, and I never really related to that because I can’t imagine how, being so involved in the process, how it could not sound like you. I’m there every step of the way, and every step of the way, it has to be something that I identify with so that I can sing it and back it up and promote it and whatever, so there’s no way that it’s not gonna sound like me.

And in terms of the team whose working on this album with you—producing, writing, etcetera, are they all women?

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Well, my PR team is. In my producing team, I worked with a bunch of guys. Young guys. I was the oldest by far. By like 10 years. [Giggles]

Well, that’s important if you want to attract a young audience, right?

Yeah, and it’s amazing because you’re learning all the time. But all of the features on my album—I have three—they’re all girls. And that’s something that I did do on purpose.

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Oh, nice. Who are they?

Hmm... no, I can’t say yet. But they’re amazing, and they’re all super cool women that I admire and that I’ve worked with. I wrote a lot of music with women for this album.

I also liked your album in English, titled after your name. Do you see yourself making more music in English again?

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Yeah, definitely. Actually, there’s a song in half-Portuguese on this album. that’s because one of the artists I did a feature with is Brazilian and I wrote the song with her. But yeah, I definitely would like to write in English again. For me, languages are like colors to use in music. My [word choice] in English is not the same as what I’d use if I’m writing in Spanish. it’s really interesting to pursue that personality, or that persona. It takes a minute to really form itself. I definitely want to pursue English more. I have a small project that I want to do in which the songs will have the same theme and they’re all in English. I just need to find the right time to finish it and to put it out.

“Si Tu Te Vas,” the video—who worked with you on that?

Two directors who have been friends of mine since high school. I wanted to work with them for a long time. First they were musicians, and then they started directing music videos and they actually produced a song on my first album. It’s called “La Tina.” And now they go by the directing name that I invented for them. I used to call them the “broducers” because they’re brothers, and now that’s their directing name! And the DP that we worked with is a young girl from Mexico who’s up-and-coming. I did a small web series called Un Mal Date, and she did all the DP work for that, and I really wanted to work with her in a music video, and she did an amazing job. For “Lo Bailado” we also worked with a girl from Medellin who was a great female director.

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I’m excited for that one. The theme feels evergreen yet timely.

Yeah, I can’t believe that there’s not a saying like that in English.

Agreed. I hate it when there’s something I want to say and can’t express in English. It feels like Spanish is more expressive in a way.

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Yeah, and for this one—it’s a way to say “the experience that counts. The process that counts.”

But that’s so formal!

Exactly, this is like, “You had fun. You danced it away.” That’s it.


Correction: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of the artist’s last name. We regret the error.