A number of Latin artists have come out in recent years via heartfelt posts on social media or emotional YouTube videos, but Chilean singer-songwriter Javiera Mena has “never actually come out of the closet,” she says. When someone asked her if she had a boyfriend, she simply responded, “‘No, I have a girlfriend.’ That was my coming out.”
Throughout her two-decade career, the pop star has embraced her queerness and championed women on and off the stage. Her most recent EP, I. Entusiasmo, inspired by guilt-free enjoyment, is no exception. “It’s important to connect with your true self from the beginning,” the producer and activist adds. “I think that even though there may be situations when you feel like you have to be desirable to everyone, the most important thing is authenticity.”
In celebration of Pride Month, Mena opens up about the importance of authenticity, Tracy Chapman as her LGBTQ+ idol and her admiration for fellow queer artists.
How did the decision to come out impact your art?
I never actually came out of the closet, only when they asked me whether I had a boyfriend, and I said, “No, I have a girlfriend.” That was my coming out. My entire family has known since I was 15 years old, and I’ve always received a lot of love and support from them, so it was great for me to be able to speak up and be who I am without any shame or fear. I think other artists might feel under pressure coming from their family or the people around them. I think my art has obviously been impacted by the times we live in, because, unfortunately, if I say I’m dating a girl, people expect me to be an activist or to represent something. The only reason I say unfortunately is because I’d like to live in a world where this isn’t a problem, but it is and I think it will continue to be for some time.
Being transparent about it is still considered revolutionary, so I think that my art will always go hand in hand with politics, whether it’s talking about love between women or featuring a woman in my video as the object of desire instead of a man. All these things give you a political voice, especially in Latin America. I think my art became political the minute I decided I would always move forward and tell the truth, which is that I dated women.
Did you have an LGBTQ+ idol growing up?
Tracy Chapman has always been my LGBTQ+ idol. Despite the fact that no one told me she was a lesbian, it was obvious to me since she had a very queer attitude. It was a girl who appeared androgynous; I would listen to her CD, and her voice sounded androgynous to me as well. And that, to me, was a reference to someone queer and different, someone who wrote wonderful songs and had an impact on the entire world. She expressed herself as an artist. So yes, Tracy Chapman was definitely my LGBTQ+ role model.
Would you say the industry is more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community compared to when you first started your career?
Yes! Well, now it’s considered trendy and fashionable. Capitalism has sort of taken over the rainbow, and the music industry wants to increase their numbers, so it’s even considered cool. Despite the fact that Latin America has a very sexist culture, or maybe they want to make fun of it or look at it as something to laugh about, I think that right now is a good time because the industry has realized that this is a great reason to take action. When I started as an artist, this didn’t really exist and nobody spoke up. Today you see airports dressed in rainbow colors to celebrate pride as if it were Christmas, so that definitely tells you something.
What would you say to new artists who are unsure about coming out?
My advice would be to always move forward, and to not worry about being put into a niche market. They have to be true to themselves and be authentic because in the long run, an authentic artist is valued much more than an artist who is contrite, or has to lie, or has to talk to a him or a her when they prefer the opposite. This is why it’s important to connect with your true self from the beginning. I think that even though there may be situations when you feel like you have to be desirable to everyone, the most important thing is authenticity. There are many musicians out there, but authenticity is what makes a real artist.
Any up-and-coming LGBTQ+ artist you’re excited about?
Yes, I admire all those who dare to be who they are, especially since the beginning. I admire those who are brave and speak up in a world in which pop culture, and especially Latin pop culture, tells you that love is meant for a man and a woman. I hosted a radio show in which I interviewed many queer artists such as Pabllo Vittar, Sailorfag and Kany Garcia, and they all had a very truthful and beautiful speech. Kany Garcia surprised me with her political activism in her home country, it made me super emotional. I believe bravery is to dare to be who you are no matter what happens, and to represent others who might have problems due to their sexual orientation or just the way they live their lives.