The title of Karol G’s third album, “KG0516,” references neither a birthdate or a catalog number, but the combination of digits and letters does hold significance for the 30-year-old artist.
“My parents signed a contract on my behalf on May 16th, 2006 and that was the first time that my name as Karol G was written” in a professional capacity, says Karol G, born Carolina Giraldo Navarro in Medellin, Colombia. The fifth month of the year coupled with the 16th day yielded the 16 tracks that make up “KG0516,” which was released last week and has registered 596 million song streams to date, according to Alpha Media, good for a top 50 debut on the Rolling Stone chart. It also marks the culmination of that 15-year journey, and, by Karol G’s own admission, her most personal project yet.
“This album takes people on a trip, and maybe some songs will make you feel turbulence, perhaps others won’t,” she says. “’KG0516′ is the story of what my life has been as Karol G.”
Currently the top female Latin urban music star worldwide, Karol G has been known for her reggaeton and Latin trap sound, but expanded her scope on her new effort to include such genres as bossa nova, bachata and regional. She’s also taken a co-producer credit in addition to songwriter.
To hear her tell it, Karol G nearly gave up music before her career started in earnest. “I got to the point where I felt overwhelmed and didn’t like how I felt as a person,” she says. “I was frustrated, undervalued, stepped on, so I said to my dad, ‘Dad, I feel like it’s time to stop this. I want to experience and try new things.’ And I told him I wanted to study graphic design or if not then international business.”
Her father’s response? “‘No,'” she recalls. “’Don’t count on me. I know you have what it takes. How are we going to lose so many years of hard work?’ It turned into a family conflict, so I decided I’d leave the country, and went to live with an aunt in New York.”
During her time abroad in the late 2000s, Karol G experienced what she describes as “coincidental moments” that led her back to music.
“I had to take three buses and a train, because I lived in Long Island, and every day I would see an ad for a two-week music conference that would be taking place in Boston,” she says. “I ended up doing the two-week music conference, and while being there, I felt that I belonged in a music setting.”
Starting out in 2010 in Colombia, Karol G performed as back-up singer for a local artist and eventually broke out on her own by playing at small events within Medellin.
“In Colombia when you started singing, first you had to perform in schools and then in festivals,” she says. “In fact, I met J Balvin at a birthday party we were both performing at.”
She signed with Universal Music Latin in 2016 and in 2017, released her first studio album, “Unstoppable.” In May 2019 her second album, “Ocean,” followed and featured collaborations with the likes of Maluma, Damian Marley, Yandel, J Balvin, Nicky Jam, as well as a remix of the lead track, “Ocean,” with Jessie Reyez.
Though she was already racking up millions of streams — especially among Latin music listeners — Karol G’s explosion into the mainstream, and what she describes as “the next level of her career,” came in November 2019 when she released “Tusa” featuring rapper Nicki Minaj, who delivers a few impressively-pronounced verses in Spanish. “Tusa” became the second most popular song of 2020, hitting No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. It’s also included on “KG0516.”
Says Karol G: “After ‘Tusa,’ everyone said, ‘What are you going to do to top that? Or is this the most Karol G can do?’”
With the success of “Tusa,” Karol G felt ready to embark on her first tour. “First it was nightclubs, then bigger events, then amphitheaters, and then last year for the first time, I was going to start my tour of coliseums and arenas,” she says, adding that she performed just one concert before the tour was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That was a very difficult moment for me,” she says. “I kept thinking, how is it that in the best year of my career I can’t enjoy it to the max? But I have to thank life for letting me live it at least once.”
In 2020 she continued releasing singles bound for “KG0516,” such as “Ay, DiOs Mio!,” while leaving smash hit “Bichota” for later in the year when she’d begin teasing the release of her third album. Helping amplify the buzz is another impressive lineup of collaborations including Ozuna, Wisin y Yandel, Ivy Queen, Zion, Nicky Jam, J Balvin and Ludacris, as well as current global sensation Camilo.
A week after the release of “KG0516,” Karol G is looking ahead to the Latin American Music Awards, where she has nine nominations — tying J Balvin.
As for whether she’s finally be able to relish in her success, Karol G demures: “I do feel like I need to work on pausing and celebrating. Because I’m always so busy thinking about what’s coming next that I forget to live in the moment.”