Aesthetic: Bad Gyal
The sounds of Lotto Boyzz and Abra Cadabra pump out across the studio as Bad Gyal flexes into position. She poses like a pro in slinky FILA tracksuit bottoms and gold chains, before slipping into an oversized mint fur. Diamond hoops frame her face, and she appears unconcerned by the flashbulbs. “Let’s do more on the lips, no? More gloss, like, a lot!”
Alba Farelo, aka Bad Gyal, is the Barcelona rap rebel and dancehall Queen blazing her own path. The blonde badass might be only 20-years-old, but her explosive confidence commands attention. It only takes one look or sly wink to be reminded of her irresistible appeal.
After breaking through last year with Pai – an adaptation of Rihanna’s Work sung in Catalan – Bad Gyal pounced on the escalating hype with her Slow Wine mixtape. Her delicious track Jacaranda, produced by Popcaan affiliate Dubbel Dutch, has since racked up three million hits on YouTube. Her lyrics switch between Catalan, Spanish and English with a self-assuredness matched by her attitude and style. A quick swipe through Bad Gyal’s Instagram cuts a clear snapshot of her signature look: smoking a spliff through glittery lips, DIY tattoos, diamond-studded teeth, 90s Versace. This vision permeates her string of lo-fi music videos, whether she’s chilling at the fairground in chain mail or grinding in assless chaps.
Bad Gyal’s music – deep, dancehall-indebted grooves smothered with saccharine autotune – transcends genre as well as language barriers. It’s easy to see why critics love her, even when they don’t know how to approach her. “They tried to put me in the trap box because they didn’t know where else to put me,” she explains. “I’m not on the Afrobeat wave from London, I’m not from Jamaica. I’m from Spain and I’m rapping in three different languages! I’m using the same ingredients of reggaeton, tropical and dancehall sounds, but cooked a different way, with a totally different flavour. I understand not everyone will get what to do with that.”
Bad Gyal splices sounds and influences with a carefree outlook. Much has been written about cultural appropriation in her chosen genres, specifically when pop artists cherry pick elements of dancehall for mainstream success. Unlike some of her pop peers who have jumped on dancehall’s booming trajectory, Bad Gyal is quick to pay her dues to scene legends like Ivy Queen and Lorna D, and the Puerto Rican and dembow artists that paved the way long before she was even born. “Dancehall didn’t come in my life from fucking Justin Bieber, I was listening to it from when I was 12 years old,” she remembers. “All my friends wanted to go to techno clubs but I was the girl begging them to come to dancehall parties with me. It didn’t come to me. I had to find it, and discover it for myself. When I did, I couldn’t lose it! Wisin & Yandel, Farruko, Busy Signal, Spice, Vybz Kartel, those songs meant everything to me.”
Her passion is infectious. Tapping on her iPhone with long, candy floss coloured nails, she flashes me some lyrics she had written in the studio the day before. Bad Gyal may be known for her multi-lingual lyrical chops, but, she says, she always lets the beat and the melody speak first. “For me, it’s the feeling.”
The feeling may be overwhelmingly one of confidence, a musician ready to take on a traditionally male-dominated scene, negotiating conversations about appropriation, glorying in the attention focused on her next move. All the same, I ask if she’s ever nervous. “Always, before I go on stage,” she admits, “but once I’m out there, I’m in the moment. I’m not thinking about how I’m moving, what I’m singing. It’s an experience for my body. I’m connecting with the audience, doing what I was born to do.”
Photography: Jackson Bowley
Styling: Luci Ellis
Hair & Makeup: Chloe Botting