Thalía on Embracing Girl Power, Turning the Tables in Latin Pop

For the vast majority of her time on Earth, Thalía has navigated the public gaze with ease and grace. The former child prodigy first garnered global fame in the Eighties as a vocalist in Timbiriche, a teen pop supergroup that also produced internationally acclaimed stars like Paulina Rubio. In the following decade, Thalía solidified her rep as the Queen of Telenovelas for her wildly successful lead roles in timeless Mexican soap operas like Marimar, María la del Barrio, and María Mercedes. Meanwhile, her singing career skyrocketed, and songs like 1995’s “Piel Morena” and 1997’s “Amor a la Mexicana” became all-time Latin pop anthems. In 2018 she added another jewel to her crown with her fourteenth studio album, Valiente, which means “brave” in Spanish.

“For me, Valiente is the opportunity to share life’s stories and give [them] a new, alternate universe,” Thalía tells Rolling Stone — “and to make you feel happy,” she adds. Valiente, which debuted at Number One on the Billboard Latin Albums Sales chart, sees the Mexican pop icon embrace female empowerment in a variety of danceable mediums. It is also loaded with star-studded collaborations: Notable features include Dominican urban vixen Natti Natasha in the boozy party hit “No Me Acuerdo,” which made our Best Latin Singles of 2018 list; Cuban reggaetoneros Gente De Zona in the balmy single, “Lento”; and Lali Espósito, the Argentine telenovela actress-turned-pop singer, who made a dazzling appearance alongside Thalía in their latest release, “Lindo Pero Bruto.” Translated to “Cute But Dumb” in English, the women made waves across Spanish-language media for poking fun at the male inverse of the bimbo archetype — one that many women are upending in Latin pop today.
“Years ago, women believed in the myth of female-to-female competition,” Lali explains. “Male-and-female or male-and-male collaborations were always the norm. Now we understand that power is made from [women] uniting.”
Rolling Stone spoke with Thalía and Lali at Sony headquarters, where the two are surrounded by a myriad of cupcakes and balloons in celebration of the video for “Lindo Pero Bruto.” Thalía calls the pairing an act of “musical mischief”: “I’ve always admired idols like Marlene Dietrich, María Félix and Madonna,” the Mexican star muses. “For me, they were always strong and intense women, like: ‘Here’s the line and you respect me this way.’ Today, I feel this line is clearer for women.”

In your latest album Valiente, the theme of feminine empowerment is very present. What was the motive behind it?

Honesty. I want to send a message of empowerment about being yourself, and respecting your happiness. That starts within you, which then creates a positive atmosphere for everybody — your family, your workplace. For me, Valiente is the opportunity to share life’s stories and give [them] a new, alternative universe. And to make you feel happy.

Last month you released the video for “Lindo Pero Bruto,” featuring Lali. Talk to me about this collaboration!

It’s musical mischief, and [a collaboration] that our fans have embraced. But also, [an introduction] for the people who may not know Lali, or also, for those who don’t know who Thalía is. These are people who are reacting to the visual, the music, and the lyrics. That’s the beauty of music, that there’s always a time for reinvention — to reinvent the steps already taken and start from scratch.

You’ve done a graceful job maneuvering Latin pop’s evolution since your emergence. Is joining forces with rising talent a key to maintaining staying power?

It’s like a déjà vu. At the beginning of my career, some big actors handed their mic to me throughout certain stages. For me, doing this is kind of like following the steps of the big names. Yet, I’ve always been about the idea of sharing your music with other artists, like I have in the past with so many others: Prince Royce, Romeo Santos, Maluma, Fat Joe, Tony Bennett and Elvis Presley [posthumuously]. I have always loved that.

I see this a lot with my children, who adore music, that all that we hear today are collaborations, whether they’re two or three artists. It’s rarer when it’s just one singer, and that’s normal. I think [collaborations are] dynamic and fun, it keeps things spicy. For the first time in my career, I’ve been doing that with girls, and that’s so cool. I love that because it’s a very important moment for women historically, especially for us as Latinas. In a world dominated by men, as urban music is, which is resonating everywhere, the tables are now turning.

Do you see yourself as a mentor?

I’ve always admired women like Marlene Dietrich, María Félix and Madonna — they always said it like it is, and they put a stop to the machista thing. For me, they were always idols of strong and intense women, like “here’s the line and you respect me this way.” Today, I feel this line is clearer for women. They have a faster platform to communicate a social message, an environmentally conscious message, a women’s rights message, a political message. Let’s raise our voices! It’s like an awakening of a new generation that wants to see more practical solutions.

You’ve been in the spotlight from a very young age — and got a taste of fame when you first joined Timbiriche.

It was before that! I started when I was 7 years old. I was doing TV shows, and then I was a part of another group, and before that, another one. It was such a big thing, and totally another world. My little kids don’t understand that there was a world without this! [Points at her iPhone] They have no idea that there was a world without YouTube. It’s crazy!

Do you think your career would have been different if there had been internet back then?

There certainly would have been a global impact. My journey then cost me more work, traveling to the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, the U.S., and back to Mexico [to promote my work]. It was a physical world, IRL. Now you can just upload a video and you are everywhere within seconds.

Social media also allows you to take control of your own narrative. Yet before the web, the media often wrote about the Thalía and Paulina Rubio rivalry, even up to this day. If you had Twitter or Instagram back then, would you have interjected your perspectives?

I never got hooked on what the media had to say in that regard. I have always followed the lead of a very intelligent and important woman, whom at her time was fighting an empire run by men. That person is my mother. She went through it as a businesswoman, and as a brain to break those stereotype for her daughter to become somebody. My brain is always into the positive, the creative… never about, “Oh, they’re saying this,” or “Oh, they’re saying that to get me.” I never, ever got hooked in any of that.

Would you ever go back to being the Queen of Soap Operas?

I love acting. [Lali and I] were talking about how much that’s our second passion. Acting is fantastic because it allows you to be another being, and that’s incredible. I am willing to go back in a perfect role, a role that I feel comfortable, productive and happy in. [I want to] leave some piece of art that is meaningful to people.

Bringing it back to “Lindo Pero Bruto,” it was important for both [Lali and I] to do some small acting in there, and to tell a story. Viewers understand that they [we, the protagonists] are two female thinkers who are in a laboratory creating a futuristic machine to build a male prototype — in other words, the perfect man. But they’re the ones who become dolls! It’s incredible because it allowed us to once again to incorporate one of our other passions in the hands of music.

You presented the award for Best Album of the Year at the 2018 Latin Grammys, and the winner, Luis Miguel, didn’t show. What was going through your mind at that moment?

All I could think of was my dress. It was flying everywhere. Like, ‘Oh my god, my leg is totally out!’