Girl Ultra has never been confined by the concept of genre.
The Mexico City–based singer-songwriter (born Mariana "Nan" de Miguel) recently released El Sur, an EP of seven sonically luscious tracks full of '80s house beats and playful pop-punk melodies. The project is a sonic departure for the 27-year-old, who has been a leading voice in R&B en Español (Spanish-language R&B) since her 2017 debut, Boys. She's best known for sultry covers of smooth classics like Daniel Caesar's "Get You" and collaborations with fellow trailblazing Latinx musicians such as Cuco. But with El Sur, she's returning to her roots as a dance music DJ—and reminding us that singing in Spanish shouldn't be a limiting factor when it comes to the kind of music an artist can make.
BAZAAR.com catches up with Girl Ultra over Zoom to talk about her new EP, her upcoming U.S. summer tour, and navigating the music industry as a creatively limitless Latina.
I wanted to go back to my roots. I come from a house music DJ background—I started with Girl Ultra deejaying in Mexico City. I also grew up with a rock dad, so that music has always been very present with me. I was just waiting for the musical maturity to make these specific genres a part of my work.
I really loved the opportunity to blend the rock era with club music. Most of my favorite albums, for example, like, Madonna's Ray of Light, are pop-centric and radio friendly, but also club music with rock textures. There are many albums from the late '90s and 2000s that mix and match those two things. It felt very natural to me to make it part of my narrative.
El Sur is a result of a year and a half, two years of investigation and experimenting with sounds. My producer, Keith, who is in another band from Monterey—he came to live in my house for a year and a half. We were basically thinking, eating, having dinner, thinking about this album. We felt vulnerable and scared. But I really crave that kind of human connection to make music.
There are many stories within it, but everything is about that concept of the first time: that first love, that first sexual relationship. It's that feeling when you're young, and it always feels like you're doing something bad—but it's fun.
A very important part of my project has been developing the language throughout my music. When I started out making R&B in Spanish, it was hard to find artists that were in that same lane. I had to find my way in through my own language. When I started making music, I was composing in English, because it's a language that I studied and that I practiced a lot. Spanish has been a challenge. It's such a beautiful language. I find influences from boleros from the '90s or even the '70s. I would like to do an English song when the circumstances are the correct ones, but for now, I really want to stick to singing in Spanish.
Sometimes it feels like we're still in the '90s, because people still objectify the Latino woman. They want you to dance this way, look this way, and when we feel like we're finally far from that, it can all just take a step back. There are a lot of fellow Latino artists that are really owning their shit right now, and it's so empowering to see that.
In Mexico, I'm not gonna lie, R&B en Español has been carried by women. There are a lot of men doing that, but the girls are at the front and center of the movement—not only R&B, but also electronic music and everything else too. When you really look back, artistic movements over the last 30 years have really been led by women, and it's crazy to see how it's truly always been that way.
It shapeshifts a lot, but for this era, I wanted to incorporate some nostalgic elements, and I've been enjoying a lot of steampunk aesthetics—kind of like a pirate vibe! [Laughs.] I really enjoy that. I feel it's part of my character right now—the flowy skirts and crazy platforms. It just, like, adds something to my performance and the way that I move on and outside of the stage. I have a very close relationship with fashion— it's always been part of the character for me. I cannot detach one from the other.
I love how random it can get! Sometimes we're in cities, like say Asheville [North Carolina]—I never even registered in my head that Asheville existed, and it's become one of my favorite cities. I really like to, like, observe and take little pieces from everywhere I go. And sometimes it's a conversation with a stranger or a fan that leaves you marked for life. Sometimes it's just a great stop at Waffle House.
It's very nice to just be able to tour with your friends and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Being on the road for such a long time, it just heals stuff and you're always in a limbo of emotions. You basically pause your life, and you're living in another space and time from other people. It's very introspective, and I appreciate times like those—it can get hard, but it gives you more than what it takes.
I try to find little pieces of home that I can take with me. Also, doing things like finding a place to meditate in a Motel 6. Just trying to find little rituals within the craziness and the hecticness of it all. Small things like having my morning coffee or FaceTime-ing my brother … I don't know. It just, like, respecting everybody's space as well. It's important to try and find your space and protect it as much as you can before you go back home.
I am definitely not a long-term goals person—it gives me so much anxiety to think about the future. But I've definitely planned my next step. I've been working on a studio album, and I wanna open up the spectrum for Girl Ultra and continue to experiment with many more genres. That's my true only goal—just to make the most honest music I can and allowing that to take me wherever it has to be.
You can catch Girl Ultra on the road this summer, buy tickets here.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.