From singing and playing her guitar on the streets and in the subway stations of Madrid to Grammy-winning success, Natalia Jiménez has been living the dream.
"It was pretty cool when you're 15 and you've got nothing to lose," laughs Jiménez as she recalls her teenage metro days. "I would just go out, take my guitar and little tamborsitos, and play like a hippie. People would throw money at me. I would walk away with like $150 in coins. It was a good deal, you know?"
Sure, la cantante "met a lot of weird people" during that time, but her exposure to such diverse crowds was a glimpse of what her future would be as an international music icon, both with Spanish pop rock crew la 5ª Estación and now as a solo artist.
Jiménez will be performing her latest hit single "Creo En Mi" this Thursday at the American Airlines Arena for Telemundo's Premios Tu Mundo.
"I'm excited about singing my song again!" she says. "I wanna sing it every day.
"I never thought it would get so far," she claims. "There are songs about loving other people, but not yourself. It's important to love yourself first, because you can't love anybody else or let anybody love you if you don't love yourself."
Though "Creo En Mi" is blowing up Billboard charts right now, Jiménez's fame has long been established, thanks to her success with la 5ª Estación throughout the 2000s.
"I met them when they were in Ritmo y Compás, a studio in Madrid. One of my friends told me they needed a singer or they were gonna split. She asked me if I wanted to try out, so I did.
"I got there and they were sitting supersad in the rehearsal room. A lot of singers had already tried out. They told me they didn't have any guitars or anything for me to use, so I told them I would sing a cappella. I sang Janis Joplin's 'Mercedes-Benz' and afterwards that were like, 'OK, we have a new singer.'"
The band may have formed in Spain, but la 5ª saw instant success in Mexico thanks to "¿Dónde Irán?" off its debut album Primera Toma, which was used as the theme song for Clase 406, one of Televisa's most popular soap operas of 2002.
"It was funny because we didn't know about telenovelas, and when we got there [to Mexico], we found out there's teenage novelas. We were like, 'What is this?' It was just funny."
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Shortly after, the band released a second record, one of its most successful works to date, Flores de Alquiler, for which Jiménez and the rest of the crew incorporated Mexican sounds and themes into their music, from mariachi trumpets to lyrics paying tribute to la gente del pueblo. The next two albums, 2006's El Mundo Se Equivoca and 2009's Sin Frenos, saw equal success.
All in all, la 5ª ended up becoming a platinum- and gold-selling group in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Spain, and even won a collection of Grammy and Latin Grammy awards.
"The first chance we had in music in this world was in Mexico," la Madrileña says. "It was the first serious approach. We owe them everything -- all I know about music in my career and who I am today."
Like all great things, la 5ª came to an end about a year after the release of Sin Frenos. Jiménez broke the news to fans on the day after the 2010 Latin Grammy awards.
"We were together for such a long time and were like, 'What's next?'," she explains. "It's easy to stay and do something that's safe. That works, but then you're always surrounded by the same people and not doing anything new. I decided to step out and start doing other things on my own."
Like releasing her 2011 self-titled debut album produced by Emilio Estefan, which was nominated for a 2012 Billboard Latin Music Award.
"I learned a lot. I met a lot of new amazing people that walked me through my album. I didn't do it alone. I did it with Emilio Estefan. He's like a legend. What do you want me to tell you?," she laughs.
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Prior to releasing her solo album, Jiménez worked with Ricky Martin on "Lo Mejor De Mi Vida Eres Tú."
"It was great working with Ricky. I mean he's an icon and he's superhot," she laughs. "Besides that, the best thing I got out of it is that people started seeing me as someone who could be sexier, fresher, and cooler than la 5ª Estación. From there, I said, if I did this with Ricky, I can do other things, like what I'm doing now with Daddy Yankee and Wisin."
That, and her follow-up solo album, set to be released later this year.
"We've been working on it for like two-and-a-half years. It's more contemporary and has more of an electronic sound. I didn't wanna do typical pop-rock ballads anymore. I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna do something totally different.' That's the good thing about being solo.
"[My new stuff] still has the same meaning and message, but the music is more intense and fresh."
Music aside, Jiménez's journey has been an inspiration for other mujeres trying to break into the biz.
"One of the biggest challenges women face are themselves," she says. "Just for the fact of being a woman, you think you can't achieve certain things. I think we have to change that mindset. In the end, that's what makes us feel behind.
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"We have to focus on our lives and ourselves and keep pushing. One thing I see in men is that they keep pushing. We have to do that ourselves. If women keep pushing, believe me, we're gonna push more than men."
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Premios Tu Mundo 2014. With Juanes, Alexis & Fido, Yandel, el General Gadiel, Olga Tañon, Elvis Crespo, David Bisbal, Gabriel Coronel, la Ley, Lucero, Gerardo Ortiz, Natalia Jiménez, los Tucanes de Tijuana, and others. Thursday, August 21. American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $26 to $30 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Call 786-777-1000, or visit aaarena.com.