Is Karol G the Shakira of Her Generation?

Karol G
Karol G Universal Music Group
When Mix Live returns to American Airlines Arena June 8, Miami will host top talent such as Ozuna, Anuel AA, and Zion & Lennox. But be sure to keep an eye on Karol G. Already a prominent female voice in the male-dominated reggaeton scene, she’s one of several women pushing the boundaries of urbano music, including artists such as Becky G and Natti Natasha (the latter, who released her first studio album earlier this year, will also perform at Mix Live). With the release of her second album, Ocean, in early May, Karol G is poised to become an even bigger star. Ocean shows new facets of her talent, expanding her range beyond reggaeton and demonstrating a versatility that could bring her even wider reach.

In multiple interviews, the 28-year-old has named Shakira as an inspiration for her ability to reach an international audience, and it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two Colombian-born musicians, both of whom write most of their own music. Shakira, too, has explored a variety of styles and influences in her work over the years, from her early days as a singer-songwriter strumming alternative-rock ballads on the guitar, to infectious danceable pop hits, to collaborations with reggaeton artists such as Maluma. However, unlike Shakira, Karol G entered the playing field at a time when, thanks to streaming, reggaeton (and Latin urbano music in general) was becoming hugely popular globally — these days, Spanish-language tracks frequently top the charts without being translated or remixed. Karol G is helping contribute to Latin music’s growing international popularity while pushing her own boundaries.

Born Carolina Giraldo Navarro in Medellín, Colombia, Karol G got her start appearing on Colombia’s version of The X Factor and made some successful singles, which led to collaborations with Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, and other artists. When her first album, Unstoppable, dropped in 2017, she was applauded for bringing the female perspective to reggaeton, which traditionally treated women as objects of male desire. Songs such as “A Ella,” in which she warns her ex’s new woman that he’ll repeat the same patterns, established her as an artist with a clear voice — one that had been missing from the genre.

Karol G's music draws influences from reggaeton, Latin trap, pop, and hip-hop. On Ocean, she takes her stylistic experimentation even further by giving the album a greater sense of intimacy and confession, letting listeners get to know her better. The album opens with the sound of soothing waves, seagulls crying faintly in the distance, and bright piano chords — a love song with the mood of a sunny beach day. From there, she segues into “Punto G,” a celebration of female desire and sexuality in which she tells her partner exactly what she wants.
Ocean also includes collaborations such as the reggae-infused “Love With a Quality” with Damian Marley; “La Vida Continuó,” with sisters Simone & Simaria, who sing in música sertaneja, a style that originated in the Brazilian countryside; and tracks featuring Maluma, J Balvin, and Nicky Jam. The closing track is a duet with Cuban rapper and singer Danay Suárez — a version of Suárez’s 2011 song “Yo Aprendí.” And there are two tracks with Karol G’s boyfriend, Anuel AA (their single “Secreto,” which came out earlier this year, is still among her biggest hits to date, and fans take an active interest in their relationship on social media). Some of the love songs reveal a softer side of her (and of Anuel AA as well) and an honesty about relationships, love, and the challenges that come with them. Others revel in an unapologetic focus on female sexuality and empowerment.

Despite the variety, the album is remarkably cohesive — shots of ocean waves and Caribbean coasts even make their way into many of the music videos — and has all the ingredients to evoke a day at the beach, including catchy beats and a breezy vibe (qualities that make the album perfect for a Miami summer). Some songs will make you want to dance in the sand; others might prompt you to gaze pensively at the sea while pondering life and love.

It feels poetic and reflective to end the album with “Yo Aprendí,” a song about lessons learned, and one that also draws on ocean imagery. “El amor no basta cuando el respeto no alcanza/Es como arar en el mar,” Karol G and Suárez sing (“Love is not enough when there's not enough respect/It’s like plowing the sea”). The choice suggests Karol G’s desire to continue growing, evolving, and learning beyond the album’s end while also paying homage to songs and artists that came before her — women like Suárez in particular. Karol G has spoken about female solidarity and the need for more women in Latin music, and with work like this, she’s well on her way to contributing to that effort.

One thing’s for sure: We’ve seen only the beginnings of what Karol G can do.

Mix Live. With Karol G, Ozuna, Anuel AA, and others. 7 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; Tickets cost $49 to $149 via
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Suzannah Friscia is a freelance arts and culture journalist based in Miami. She has contributed to the Wall Street Journal, Dance Magazine, Pointe, and other publications and earned a master's degree from the Columbia School of Journalism.
Contact: Suzannah Friscia