Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Lisa M. Interview (English)

Last year few people noticed what I thought was a mini-trend: After a relative dearth in LGBT representation in the Latino music industry, several performers came out as gay or lesbian between the months of February and April (OK, maybe I was the only person who noticed).

The run-down: 1. First came former Menudo singer Angelo Garcia when he spoke to online site Paragon Men about being gay in February; 2. Then, in mid-March, came up-and-coming performer Rita Indiana who appeared on the red carpet with her partner Noeilla Quintero at the Dominican Republic's most important music awards ceremony;  3. Before the end of that month, Ricky Martin would use his official site to proclaim himself as a "proud homosexual" and, finally, in April, 4. Puerto Rican salsa and reggaeton singer Lisa M. decided to tell her followers on Facebook that she was a lesbian.

Both Angelo Garcia and Rita Indiana say they never really hid their sexual identity from anyone and that it was media who suddenly took an interest on their personal lives.  Ricky Martin and Lisa M., on the other hand, spent years building their successful careers in the Latino pop industry actively shaping a performing persona while assiduously avoiding talking about their personal lives.

Born Lisa Marrero Vázquez, Lisa M. probably had the biggest commercial success of her career as a salsa singer in the late 1990's with huge hits like "Tu Pum Pum" and "Menéalo".  But, artistically, she probably reached the professional high-point of her career with 2007's "Respect", a lavishly produced reggaeton album which also served as her last commercial release and contained the single "Hey Ladies".

On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak to Lisa on the phone from Puerto Rico.  In her first exclusive interview with an English-language venue - or an LGBT-venue for that matter - Lisa addressed her decision to come out on Facebook last year, her relative silence since then and her plans to release a brand new single and album late this year or in early 2012 (for the original Spanish-language version of this interview click here).

Blabbeando: It’s been a little more than a year since you decided to tell your followers on Facebook that you are a lesbian.  What made you decide to do it and did you feel scared at all when you finally came out?
Lisa M.: Well, look, when I actually did it, I was in Spain and, before that, I had already been thinking of coming out in public.  I wanted to come out, not because I had any specific purpose, but because that was the purpose… to come out.
At that moment, all the stuff about Ricky Martin had already surfaced.   Obviously, when Ricky takes something as delicate as his private life and decides to share it with his fans, with his family and with the rest of the world, it was something quite beautiful. And it’s not that I came out because he did it but, basically, it was a ‘wow’ moment for me.
As a fellow artist, I saw it as an incredibly beautiful moment and I felt it was the perfect moment to offer my support not only to him but also myself and other artists who truly want to live their lives freely. So I made the decision and I said ‘Look, I’ll write ‘I’m gay!’” And that’s what I did on my Facebook page.
I’ll be very honest. I posted it without knowing or thinking about any consequences or truly expecting it to get the reaction it got.  In other words, first I wrote “I’m gay!” - saying it like ‘Wow!’ - but I later I reaffirmed it by writing “I’m gay” – no exclamation point. That’s when…
Blabbeando: Yes, because the first time you posted it I imagine your followers didn’t know what to think about it, whether it was a joke or something else. But the second time you posted it - that’s when people reacted…
Lisa M.: Exactly, yes, the second time, when I reaffirmed it, well, everybody did react, writing stuff like “WHAT!? WHAT DID SHE SAY!? HOW!?”.  It was such a tremendous reaction that it made it to People en Español, it went all through the internet, all throughout media… All of Puerto Rico basically just fainted [laughs].
Yes, it was such a huge reaction that… I’ll be honest, the reaction to Ricky was ‘Damn, Ricky, we sorta knew it or imagined it already’, but he did have a reaction… but with me, being a woman and being Latina - and I’ll put this out in the open - well, it probably turned off some people, but the overall reaction was positive.  Thank God almighty it wasn’t something where I lacked people’s support.  On the contrary, the reaction was very positive and I received a lot of positive feedback.
People, a lot of people – and I’m saying this because it happened a lot during those first days, weeks and months – sent me messages. I received a lot of e-mail messages from women congratulating me, married women, who would say “Look, I am gay but I am married” and so, for me, it was a ‘Wow’ moment to realize so many people had taken umbrage in what I had said.
And I learned to take it more seriously each day and to give it more respect. Respect towards me, as a person, and towards the public… and so much respect towards the gay community, which has also given me so much support.
Blabbeando: The reaction was immediate but you were in Europe when it happened and pretty much unreachable for comment…
Lisa M.: Yes.  That’s the way I wanted it.  I wanted to feel a bit more prepared before being able to give a more public response to the media.  When I took the decision and saw the consequences, I told myself ‘This has reached another level, now it’s serious, it’s slipped from my hands and I will have to treat it respectfully and carefully.’
So I held media at bay a little bit but, yes, I can tell you that what took place with all the media was impressive.  From the start, when I gave an exclusive to an important radio show in Puerto Rico via telephone, and, of course, now that I have returned to Puerto Rico from Spain and have begun to address all media.  And, thank God, I have always enjoyed great respect from the press, now and at that moment, for which I am thankful.  They treated me very well and understood my point of view and my way of loving someone and they accepted it.
And let me tell you that today I feel it is so normal to talk about it and to watch Ricky and his boyfriend, his partner, at the award ceremonies, to see him be free and be able to express himself, his feelings, you know? It’s a beautiful thing.  And that is the same way I feel.
Blabbeando: I know you received some homophobic messages back in January but you seem to be saying it’s been the exception to the rule…
Lisa M.:. Yes…
Blabbeando: I also know you have worked with other reggaeton singers such as Tego Calderón.  It was also interesting for me to see that there didn’t seem to be any homophobic reactions from your peers.
Lisa M.: Yes, thank God, I’ve also had my peers come to me… and everyone has remained in their place, everybody has treated me with respect, everybody has accepted it well.
Look, Andrés, we are living during an era in the business where it really doesn’t matter who you are, you know? It’s all about what you can give. It’s as if people want a different life, a different way to share things, they want something more positive, they don’t want to tear an artist down or hurt them.
It’s my understanding that in the industry, right as of now, it is not a taboo, it’s not a barrier, it’s not an illness, it is not something that will hurt your fans.
Blabbeando: At the same time, there are female artists such as La India and Ivy Queen who have faced false rumors about their sexual identity and, in Ivy Queen’s case, even questions about her gender, just for presenting themselves as strong women. What do you think about those stereotypes?
Lisa M.: What has happens is that, obviously, we are stronger women thanks to what we have done as artists, based on our personality and the way we have handled our careers, you know? [We are] women with a stronger character… fighters. And being fighters makes us stronger, it makes us brave, and so we create that character, a warrior’s armor, from having to be up front as women. And then that strength is reflected in our songs, they way we interpret a song, the way we talk, how we dress, how we express ourselves, and that’s what people see.
Blabbeando: Now, throughout your career you have launched seven albums.  The last one, “Respect” (2007) was actually pretty great.  But I know you have been spending time in Europe and Spain and focusing more on a career as a club DJ under the name of DJ Miss M. Now, after spending these years in Spain, you’ve returned to the recording studio. Tell me a little bit about the latest stage in your professional life.
Lisa M.: Well, basically the “Respect” and “Respect (Deluxe)” record was my last album.  After that I embraced life as a DJ.  It’s been six years or so since I began to DJ but the last three years have seen my DJ career get stronger and my reputation as a DJ climb to higher levels. And being in Europe and living in Spain, well, I have positioned myself as one of the top female DJ’s in Barcelona and Ibiza.  There, I got tons of work and I’ll be back later this month to close the 2011 Space Ibiza season on September 24.
And, what can I tell you? Yes, it has been a really beautiful part of my life in which I have experienced the nightlife, being a dedicated DJ, without obviously abandoning who I am: A singer and an artist.  What I have done is that now, in the new stage, I am mixing up both things.  I am recording my new album. I am doing it in Puerto Rico and I am doing it in New York City and other places.  I want to do an album that reflects everything that is happening in my life, which is the nightlife, life at the dance clubs and lounges, the music ‘life-style’ as I call it.  It’s an album that reflects that vibe, now that I’m working as a DJ, that touches on electronic music – tech-house, techno, house, hip-hop – my new album fits somewhere along those lines.
As a DJ and producer – because obviously that determines a lot of the things that have gone into the album – that’s where I’m at.  And I am truly enjoying it a lot. I’m not getting much sleep, Andrés, but I know the end results are going to be very positive.
Blabbeando: So it’ll be a new sound, integrating old sounds but from a dance-club perspective…
Lisa M.: Exactly. That’s it. That’s it. And, as I’m telling you, using little things, old sounds but modern arrangements.  With really, really amazing… how should I say… now that I’m a DJ, which is the music genre in which I’m surrounding myself and considering the industry is changing so much…  perhaps in the way that Madonna has done since “Confessions on a Dance Floor”, or, later, when Black Eyed Peas came up with that electronic sound and mixed it up with hip-hop and R’n’B, and what’s happening right now and blasting off the radio like Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull… well, that’s the same vibe that is ruling the airwaves right now and that’s the same track I’ll be on pretty soon.
Blabbeando: Do you have a date for the launch of the new material?
Lisa M.: I’d say that before the year is over I’ll come out with a new single, at the very least.  I am pushing myself, working really hard to have it come out by year’s end as well as a video.
I’m not certain yet about a record label because I am truly working independently.  For the moment, I am producing the record myself and I do not have a recording label.  But I am so happy and working so well that I didn’t miss it during the recording process.
Nowadays the recording industry has changed so much that you can go and find an investor, do a video, tape a single, pace it, put it out there, kick it up there on YouTube, push it on Twitter, post it on Facebook, and forget about it! You do a couple of interviews and get some cameras to shoot the video and that has some impact.  And so, there you go [laughs]…
Yes. I know record companies are very good for other things.  Moneywise, as an artist, I cannot penetrate the market in the same way record companies do their promotion and handle the ‘business’ side. They go deeper. So we’ll see what happens. For now, production is running really well and, as I told you, we hope to have something out there before the end of the year.  Andrés, the record is coming out really great. I think it’ll be a totally different sound that doesn’t lose the essence of who I am.
Blabbeando: It sounds like you are in a stage of your life in which you are at great ease with yourself and happy…
Lisa M.: Yes, I am happy.  I have my partner, who is a beautiful girl who respects and admires me a lot and that also helps me to focus and commit myself and to have sufficient strength to say let’s go forward, let’s go.  And when you have someone who is so positive next to you it does help a lot, and that’s what’s been going on in my case.
And, yes, I am traveling a lot.  But once I get back to Puerto Rico on the 28th, look out! I’ll be immersed in what will become the new single.  There are several tracks ready, I imagine I’ll get some people together and let them listen, including the single.  And, yes, it’s a process, but at the same time I am enjoying it greatly.  Maybe sometimes I do feel exhausted but it is a stage in my life in which I feel much calmer and feel much more at ease with myself.
Blabbeando: Lastly, is there something I didn’t ask that you’d like to tell readers of Blabbeando?
Lisa M.: Well, let me thank you for the interview.  What I’m really wishing for is for the public and media to offer their support for my new project and I know that will be the case. I know I have earned the place where I am, thanks to God.  Whoever grants me their support, I know I am a pioneer in what I do and, thank God, the public has chosen to support me throughout my career.
I do hope I’ll have additional support when the new album comes out because the fans I have now are fans from before and after and they are still there.  But those of now, who don’t really know about me… their parents, unless and cousins do, but the new generation, those of now, I am truly hoping for the support of the new generations.  And I know I will because, musically, I am working with groups of professional musicians and producers who are at the level of the new generations. So we are doing good.
Blabbeando: Well, Lisa, that bring the interview to an end, I thank you so much.
Lisa M.: Sure thing, Andrés.  Thank you so much for the opportunity and for thinking about me.  What I’ll do is that when I get the single ready I’ll send it over so you can give me your feedback and we’ll keep in touch.
Blabbeando: Great. Hugs and thanks.

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