"You always have to remember that you are the most important person in your life, not somebody else," Ximena Sariñana says, as she bounces her infant daughter in her arms and gazes out the window of her beachside hotel room in Los Angeles. "That's part of why I decided to make all my own decisions with this album. It was me following my intuition and not listening to anybody else."
Sariñana is a bilingual indie-pop artist with a United States Grammy nomination, three Latin Grammy nominations, and four albums that have been praised by Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and Billboard. On March 1st, she released ¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas?, her first album in five years—and her first album since giving birth to her daughter. It's already the eighth-most popular Latin American album on iTunes of all time, and Sariñana has just begun a major tour across North and South America.
But despite Sariñana's undeniable success as an artist, non-Latinx media has been treating her as a newcomer for years. An LA Weekly profile described her as a "star in Mexico [but] anonymous in L.A.," adding that she "isn't the Hollywood paradigm of beauty." A few months ago, Jezebel mistakenly referred to ¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas? as Sariñana's "sophomore album" (it's not) then proceeded to question whether Sariñana wrote her own lyrics (she does).
Even as Sariñana racks up accolades (and millions of fans worldwide), she says it's proven difficult to ditch her American reputation as a mere rising star.
"When I came to the States to record my second album, I had an opportunity to make an album in the English language and tour with all these triple-A market artists," Sariñana says, referring to her U.S. crossover tours with Fitz and the Tantrums and Sara Bareilles. "And that actually left me feeling like an outcast because, in the States at least, I'm not white. I was just a girl from Mexico who spoke really good English, but it wasn't my first language. People couldn't even pronounce my name correctly most of the time. It was very hard to feel a part of something here [in the U.S.]."
Not that breaking into the Mexican music scene had been without discomfort for Sariñana either. A child actor from a young age, Sariñana entered the public eye starring in popular telenovelas such as Luz Clarita and María Isabel long before she took an interest in composing music. And in 2008, when she released her first album, Mediocre, Mexico's indie-pop scene scrutinized and promptly dismissed her.
"People were really skeptical of me," she recalls. "A lot of alternative music folks would say I didn't belong to their 'crew' because I was an actor. People were like, 'Oh God, this child actress wants to sing now.'"
"Also, at the time I started making music, Mexico was very polarizing for female artists," Sariñana says. "You were either a huge pop star that wore miniskirts and didn't write your own music, or you were in a band playing at super-intense rock festivals, and I didn't really fit into any of these categories. There were very few people navigating the world in between pop and alternative."
Now, years after her entry into the music industry, Sariñana still chafes against the gender expectations for her and her fellow Latina artists, such as Natalia Lafourcade and Rosalía.
"People constantly put us all into one container just because we are women," Sariñana says. "People are always saying, 'You all sound the same,' or, 'One of you is already playing in the festival so there can't be another one.' But we have nothing to do with each other."
"It's just always been more complicated for women because there's [fewer] women in the industry," Sariñana says. "You're constantly the only woman in the room, or the band, or the tour, or the meeting. It's not healthy for us to not acknowledge that that happens."
As one of the few Mexican artists whose careers are gaining traction in the U.S., Sariñana feels a special obligation to make music that pushes against dismissive representations of Latina women.
"It's so important to start transforming this narrative," Sariñana says. "A president like [Donald] Trump has polarized everything, to the point where you are forced to take a stance on what you believe in. It's difficult not to voice [my beliefs] in response—it's part of my art and who I am."
Sariñana says that ¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas? was the first album where she felt fully free to express her femininity during the recording and production process.
"I started to accept this other part of my life," Sariñana says. "When you're constantly surrounded by men, we as women have to enhance certain characteristics of our personality. And we can't always accept our entire female selves. This album is about embracing this part of myself, and coming to terms with this other feminine side of me."
Whereas her previous record, No Todo Lo Puedes Dar, was a "heartbreak album"—written, she says, as "a reminder not to sacrifice your dreams for something or somebody else," Sariñana insists that her newest LP is "all about nurturing female relationships and having fun."
If No Todo Lo Puedes Dar was Sariñana's bittersweet goodbye to a heartbroken version of herself, ¿Dónde Bailarán Las Niñas? represents her joyous rebirth.
"This album is for all of the women in my life that I have important relationships with—my friends, girls I admire, my daughter, my mom," she declares. "It's about sharing experiences with women, and experiencing a night out in a safe space with other women."
"Even though men can be very friendly or open in the music industry, there's always this underlying sense of not feeling 100 percent comfortable as a woman because you're a minority," Sariñana says. "I want to [make music] that is all about celebrating us as women."
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