Alice Gee | 29/12/2023
It's peaceful in the writer's room of The Short Stories Hotel in LA. As I sit opposite the legendary Becky G post-cover shoot, we take a moment to breathe from the creative whirlwind we've been in the past couple of hours. I adore the excitement working with those I admire, with that warm fuzzy feeling not going to miss with Becky. Having spent the day with Becky, my first impressions centre around her warmth, intelligence, and strong sense of self. She is a creative force whose talent is strikingly apparent to me. I apologise as I fidget to get comfortable, with the jetlag playing its part, and my body clock still very much set to London. Still in glam, Becky smiles as I let myself gush a little about the excitement of interviewing her. It's not lost on me being invited into her world for a short while with the trust and vulnerability she extends in telling me her story.
As cliché as it seems, I want to start at the very beginning with her entrance into the pop industry. It's a move that happened before she can even remember, with it having always been around her, not because her parents were musicians but because her family and the people around her were simply fans. She tells of how music was a big part of growing up, with sound always playing in the background in every genre. To Becky, it was clear that music was her one true love, putting on talent shows for cousins and making up songs as a child. Young Becky's world revolved around music. Of course, she took part in sports, as I question the focus on sport in US schooling, but she tells me it was always music that was a form of therapy, even when she started working in the industry at around nine years old. "I had a strong enough sense of self, knowing this is what I want to do. It wasn't something that my parents were like, oh, you know, she's pretty good, so we should make her do this. They had other things to worry about. At the time, we had just lost our home and were living in my Grandparent's converted garage. I was the oldest of four kids, so there were three other kids to care for. I think they thought we needed some help with this little girl. She's got a lot of ideas and a lot of energy, and she needs somewhere to put it. It just started growing on its own. It's all been driven by me and a natural magnetic pool music."
A fan of Taylor Swift, Becky taught herself how to play the guitar at 11 years old. "It's not something many people in the neighbourhood I grew up in pursued. So to do castings, and to be pulled out of school early to go to a callback or to go to a studio session, everyone was like, is she ok, what's going on?" Her grades never slipped, she tells me, but quite frankly, Becky always seemed to have a firm intuition that she could use her time much more efficiently. Remembering how the other kids at school would boast about playing on the soccer team or being on the cheer team, Becky, on the other hand, would sing and act. "Often it was like 'you're weird.'" It's interesting because it was an outlet for me, similar to what other things were for other kids. It was my world. There were a lot of feelings of being misunderstood." As someone who only feels like they're coming into their own as I move towards my thirties, I tell Becky of the unrealistic pressure I felt to figure everything out by the time I was in my early twenties. In agreement, Becky nods, informing me of a concept she was introduced to and loves. "By the time we turn 21, we're adults, right? But in reality, when you turn 21, you're like a one-year-old adult. So by 26, you're like a six-year-old adult. So I'm like a six-year-old adult like I'm in kindergarten or first grade. It's funny how that transition from adolescence to adulthood happens so quickly in society, but we don't give ourselves enough grace. We don't have to have it all figured out, and I genuinely thought I had it all figured out by the time I was 13. I thought I knew my life calling, my business plan, and that I would take over the world. Now I'm 26, I see what she sees; it's just a little bit more complex than that." Oh, how my 20s have been humbling, I joke. But when it comes to taking over the world, I'm curious how Becky feels about the inclusivity her fans feel being a genre-bending artist and not being put in a box.
"I feel it twofold, to be honest, because being a genre-bending artist, when I started in the industry, I was so young, and I think at the time, the industry was still a little behind on not putting people in a box." Becky being in a box feels bizarre with her ability to rap, sing, and speak multiple languages. "When you're young, you're very easily influenced, although you like to think you're in the driver's seat. There's still so much to learn about what your voice means. And I'm thankful for the way that my career played out because in those early years, I got to experience what artistic development is, versus like today, you know, getting signed after one viral TikTok and then they get thrown on these massive stages." In comparison, Becky tells of how being experimental, learning to play, and failing became a big part of her professional journey. "I can value what success felt like. Success wasn't always this is a number one song, that my favourite song is finally coming out, or even I wrote alongside all these other amazing songwriters. There was a time in my life when I didn't even think I would be able to release an album, if I'm being honest. So all of those moments leading up to my last album feel very aligned with who I've always been, but it took me time to get there. I think that with purpose, even if I didn't understand it when I was younger, I think it all happened the way it needed to for a reason. It's the most I've ever felt. So, to hear fans say they feel and can hear you in a style of music that embraces my heritage and the parts of our traditions that we appreciate the most is sweet. It's 200 per cent myself."
Growing up in LA, Becky is immensely proud to be of Mexican descent. It wasn't just this or that side of the street that raised her; it was her world and, even more so, a part of her identity. "That's why we named it Esquinas (her album)", she tells me as we come full circle on her musical journey, "It's literally what I identify as." Genre-bending has always been part of who Becky is; it's part of her DNA. To Becky, the fact that she got signed as a rapper,14, makes her feel a little crazy to look back at a whole decade of as she’s collaborated with a rich culture of talent, from K-pop, Spanish to English artists with language at the very heart of her creative process. "The sky's the limit", she tells me, "I think I've always believed that music is a universal language. So, genre-bending isn't new to me, but I think we're in a time in the industry now where we can thrive in just creating."
Not wanting to be pigeonholed, Becky knows who she is and the development of her character, but I wonder how others perceive what they know of Becky and the box she tells me she can unfairly be put in at times. "I think it's (labelling) still happening. For someone like myself, who's been around since I was young because you're growing up in front of people, they think they know exactly who you are." Social media only fuels this idea of knowledge in how we consume culture. Becky explains an example: If she posted seven years ago that her favourite ice cream would have been chocolate, often her preferences are assumed to be the same, "when instead I'm more of a frozen yoghurt girl today. We're still in a transitional time where it's hard to leave space for people to shift and change."
In terms of her musical progression, Becky feels at times, she still has to defend her roots when it comes to her critics online, "When I pivoted into singing Spanish music, people were like, oh she's just doing this because Spanish music is popular. When in reality, I've always sung in Spanish." But the challenge isn't something that has a lasting effect, with Becky prouder of her music, releases and their authenticity than ever before.
In terms of how she views it, it is first and foremost about the sonic experience. Directing the conversation back to Esquinas, Becky has intentionally worked with collaborators who, over the years, are family. "Edgar Barrera, the executive producer of the entire album, has taught me so much. Even in the first writing camp, we had so many years ago, when we were making English music, he gave me this freedom. It was special for him to have his own experience of what it was like growing up in a town like the one I grew up in and to create things that sound so raw, from the instrumentation aspect to the vocal production to the melodies and the lyrics." The vocal performance Becky delivered on the album is one of her favourites and most vulnerable. Dedicating Esquinas to her grandfather, whom she calls her angel in heaven, she tells me he is one of her greatest inspirations. "It was such a healing, cathartic experience to record that. So I hope my fans, or anybody who comes across my music, maybe not even a fan, feels that emotion and what it's like to feel it."
Revisiting our conversation about the community and the importance of people feeling accepted, needed, and connected, I can only imagine how being named Billboard’s Women in Music Impact Award winner of 2023 fuels a feeling of pride when representing her community. But at the same time, I ask about the pressures of setting an example online 24/7.
“It's funny because it's light but it can be pretty heavy. It's a responsibility that I'm familiar with, being the eldest of four kids. I take my online presence with a pinch of salt, but I remind people I'm not the mother of your children. I think I can be an example of what it means to put yourself first, do what makes you happy, what feels suitable for you, pursue your dreams, not take no for an answer, and just know that when one door closes, another one opens, that it's not rejection, it's redirection! It was interesting when I got the Impact Award because you look at the word: impact. If you look at the words, it's when something collides with something else, boom, impact. So, knowing that you're disrupting something somehow is essential. I think people from communities like mine can sometimes feel like we don't belong somewhere and that we're disrupting the system in some negative way. That can weigh on me. I was so lucky that I found out the day before my 26th birthday. Receiving this award in my hometown of Inglewood, across the street from where my grandfather was laid to rest, there was just so much energy for me. Having grown up in this industry, it hasn't been easy; it's been pretty brutal behind closed doors, and not to say, poor me, woe is me, but many people struggle and still have to show up as their best selves. So, for me, it's an honour that I don't take lightly. I try to lead by example, by putting myself first, especially my mental health; it's something I'm super big on."
Speaking of pressure, I understand the importance of Becky speaking out to her fans honestly. I admire the honesty when encouraging fans to talk about mental health and finding a form of equilibrium.
"It's a constant dance around the fire. But I think now more than ever. Everyone thinks fame fixes all your problems, but we're not exempt from traumas, pain, hurt, dysfunction or pressures. Because of that, I'm very vocal, but discernment is one of my biggest lessons. Not everybody needs to know everything. I need to be more secretive with my energy in looking after myself. Maybe only some people need access to me, and I encourage that for everyone. Whether it's toxic family members, friendships, or relationships that don't align with where you are in your life anymore. Having people meet you where you are and knowing how to best advocate for yourself is super important. If you don't know how to do that, it's so easy to fall into the pressure of talking the way people want you to talk or dressing the way people want you to dress, showing up in a way that pleases others before it does what it should be doing for you."
What's helped you prioritise yourself and create boundaries? "It's been therapy that has helped me through different shedding phases; I guess the layers that no longer serve me to get closest to who I've always truly been deep down inside. That's what I like to think about when thinking about the concept of my inner child. It's so beautiful to know oh, there she is, she's always been there. It's not that I was a bad person before, but there is actually no such thing as good or bad. I am who I am. I was who I was then. And I can be who I'm going to be. I'm leaving room for all of that. Grace is so important. I think these are things I probably would have been going through regardless of what I do as a profession or not, because they relate to so many of my cousins, my friends who were shedding the skin that they've had to build to survive so many years of these transitions and to living our lives on these profiles. I think we need to remember that there is a person behind the profile. I think that is a really great start."
Knowing what Becky's music means to others, it only feels right to ask what it means to her. For Becky, it's freedom. It's home and something that she is still trying to decipher. But being honest and leading by example with growth has become more of a healthy escapism. It's something that allowed her to breathe and continues to be something she can fully immerse in.
Words Alice Gee
Creative Alice Gee
Photography Phillip Chester
Photography Sara Byrne
Stylist Tabitha Sanchez
MUA Gilbert Estrada
Hair Stylist Tony Ibarra