Bad Gyal’s new mixtape Worldwide Angel sees the Barcelona-based star team up with a variety of underground producers for a slice of dancehall-inspired reggaeton-pop that’s packed with personality. April Clare Welsh delves into a searing international club record that teaches hedonism over self-improvement.
Reggaeton is a global phenomenon that tops charts with hits like ‘Despacito’ while enjoying a vibrant life in the underground. From DJ Python’s deep house reimaginings and New York City’s kunq collective to London’s Bala Club and DISCWOMAN’s Riobamba, there are numerous ways for the genre to take shape. “Reggaeton in Spain is pop culture,” observes Bad Gyal, the Barcelona rapper who has been twisting reggaeton (and other genres from the global south) into new shapes since her 2016 cover of Rihanna’s ‘Work’, sung in Catalan. Last year’s dancehall-inspired ‘Jacaranda’, produced by Palms Out Sound architect Dubbel Dutch, refracted her love of dancehall and reggaeton through a future-facing, subdued rave lens. With her second mixtape Worldwide Angel, she goes on a deeper exploration of her serene club-pop take on the perreo bounce.
Bad Gyal assembled an arsenal of producers for the album that includes Mixpak’s British-Colombian ‘reggaeton romantic’ Florentino, Kelela beatmaker Jam City and Paul Marmota of Mexican DJ collective N.A.A.F.I. The result is an international sound that revels in the elasticity of the dembow riddim, while holding a mirror up to underground club music in 2018. On ‘Blink’, the tape’s sugary, quicksilver first single, Bad Gyal tempers grimy explosions of bass with a classical flutter and slick Auto-Tuning. Over self-described “reggaeton romantic” Florentino’s production, the collaboration has a chemistry that transcends language, and the smart heater offers a more interesting alternative to current pop.
FakeGuido, who produced Bad Gyal’s 2016 slow-wind dispatch ‘Mercadona’, returns to work his understated magic on ‘Yo sigo iual’ (“I’m still the same”), alongside experimentalist El Guincho, who pit subdued marimba derivations against twitches of synth and the faint thump of bass. It’s one of the softer-sounding songs on the album and taps into the “sad dancehall” Bad Gyal has proclaimed in the past. R&B-centered ‘Tu Moto’ is a steamy love letter delivered with aching melancholy and driven by gently pulsing rhythms courtesy of Wedidit collective member D33J.
Bad Gyal’s raw, soul-baring emoting is nothing we haven’t heard in pop music before, but instead of placing the onus on shiny self-improvement, Bad Gyal teaches that it’s OK to self-medicate and to be upfront about your coping mechanisms. On ‘Realize’, she sings about smoking a blunt at the party wearing Luis Vuitton, while on ‘Trust’ , her heart pines for her “baby” and his sadness is “the worst thing in the world”. Farelo’s music favors the individual spirit over #squads, and her approach is refreshingly honest. But it’s the full spectrum of moods explored on Worldwide Angel, from introspection and melancholy to euphoria and hedonism, which encourages the listener to invest more heavily in what Bad Gyal has to say. ‘Internationally’ is a chart-friendly trop-pop rap boast on which she beams with pride at her newfound stardom (“I live in hotels”, “I’m being heard internationally”) while on future-reggaeton roller ‘Candela’ she raps unashamedly about the joys of partying and sparking up over a backdrop of lush fluoro synths.
However, the hints of dancehall that waft in and out of the record reminds that Bad Gyal has a complicated relationship with the genre. In the past, she considered the racial implications of her act to the extent that she was willing to change her name, but ultimately didn’t take the plunge. Her schtick is a decisively non-political one, and this neutrality extends to the Catalonia crisis: throughout Worldwide Angel, Bad Gyal’s flow pointedly flits from silky-smooth to brassy and moves from Spanish, English and Catalan with ease.
Similarly to an artist like Kelela, Bad Gyal is an agent for her production team, not just a mouthpiece; she holds it all together with the command of a truly independent artist. There may be many producers steering the beats on Worldwide Angel, but Bad Gyal affects unity with her singular vocals, ensuring every track sings to the same hymn sheet. The conversation never feels stunted, but consistently fluid. Treading the sonic path of any decent underground club DJ, despite shimmying between low-key bangers and slow-jams and nailing modern club music’s cross-cultural inclinations, Worldwide Angel is seamless and blended. Bad Gyal had already carved out a niche for herself with 2016’s excellent Slow Wine mixtape, on which she created a globalized sound that brought dancehall and reggaeton in line with US commercial chart fare and avant-garde club. On her second full-length, she consolidates that mix and hones her identity with pop star-level confidence.
April Clare Welsh is a news writer at FACT. Find her on Twitter.