Lorely Rodriguez is jetlagged and her new tattoo itches. The musician, who goes by the name Empress Of, has come off a long, tiring flight from Los Angeles to London for her first UK tour since the release of her critically acclaimed debut album, Me. The 2015 alt-pop record earned her praise from Pitchfork as an “avant-R&B auteur with pop star potential,” but Rodriguez took her time with her follow-up LP—not least because the talent on the record, Us, expanded to include a cast of collaborators including LA production duo DJDS and Dev Hynes of Blood Orange fame.
Her new tattoo—the face of a Latina woman with long, coiled hair—is still a little raw on the back of Rodriguez’s hand. “It’s from a feminist magazine from the 80s called Essays on La Mujer. This was the cover,” she explains.
Reviewers have noted Rodriguez’s ability to nimbly weave between Spanish and English pop in her songs, and the musician wears her Honduran-American identity with pride, as when she represented the recent campaign for Kids of Immigrants, an LA streetwear label that raises funds for the migrant rights nonprofit Border Angels. “Americans,” she tells me, “are exhausted!”
Us comes at a time when bilingual pop is breaking new ground—in 2017, two of the biggest singles in the US were “Despacito” and “Mi Gente." In 2018, "I Like It" landed Cardi B her second number one, and Bad Bunny's X100PRE was one of the most anticipated debuts of the year. “I started to sing [in Spanish] on this record because I felt really limited by one language by trying to say what I wanna say,” Rodriguez says. “Latinx artists and entrepreneurs are taking things into their own hands more and creating those outlets and work Bilingual music is having such a moment.”
If Me felt like a deep dive into Rodriguez’s thoughts and feelings about doomed relationships and solitude, Us is an expansion of her musical and songwriting world. It feels brighter, lighter, bouncier—you can imagine “Timberlands,” a kiss-off to a former love (sample lyric: “Lace up your Timberlands / Step on my heart again / I'll never let you in”), playing over a triumphant teen movie montage. In the spirit of keeping things breezy, she took our Myspace-style quiz so we could get to know her better.
BROADLY: What was the last song you listened to?
Lorely Rodriguez: It's really embarrassing—the last song I listened to was "Dancer in a Daydream" by Ace of Base. I just love this record, The Sign. I love the production and I love their vocal melodies.
Do you have any pets?
No, I'm allergic to everything. It sucks.
How do you live in LA, with all the pollution and the dust?
It kinda gets to me, but, honestly, there’s pollution in any city. I used to live in New York, and that was hard. The first time I went in the summer I was like, “What?!” Everything is so small and contained. I just felt like I was in a cement box.
When was the last time you cried?
Oh, man—I was watching Bohemian Rhapsody on the plane. I was talking to a friend about it: Freddie Mercury is such an interesting artist to make a blockbuster film about—it feels like a little watered down because [he was] a queer artist who lived in a time where he was misunderstood. He was influential, had such an incredible voice, [and was] an artist of color growing up in the UK. It just felt like cheating to make a blockbuster movie about him. But it was also very cute and fun and entertaining.
If you had to change your name, what would you change it to?
I would change it to Beyoncé Knowles.
What did you do for your last birthday?
I put a record out, played a show, and did 10 interviews in the morning. I had an interview at 9 AM with someone in Europe. I was like, “Sorry, it's my birthday—I'm kinda hungover.”
Do you have any nicknames?
Yes, my friend call me Empress. I get annoyed, but I kinda like it—it's cute.
Do you identify with your zodiac sign?
I'm a Libra, but I don't have my shit together at all. I'm really obsessive, which is why I make music. I Iove spending so much time doing the same thing. So I don't identify with it, but I love talking [about astrology] and sharing with people. I love talking to people about what signs they are, and who's compatible with what. My favorite sign is Virgo—all of my best friends are Virgos.
Do you believe in psychics?
Have ever had a tarot card reading?
I had two tarot readings and I think it's bullshit, but I respect people who like it. I respect the imagery and what each card stands for—which is why I choose Empress Of [for my musician name]. I don't like people telling me my future or past. I don't like someone who doesn't know me try to pick my brain apart. The two times I've done it, they've been totally off.
What's your biggest insecurity?
Right now, it's my skin because I'm breaking out so much from makeup on stage. But I'm working through that. I feel like, with any insecurities, just embrace it. Don't try to deny it—let it sit with you, and then try to overcome it.
What's your go-to karaoke song?
I love Linkin Park's “In the End.” I don’t like karaoke to begin with, because I like watching other people do it. When they're like, “Go on the mic,” I'm like, “Yo, I do that for a living!” It's not fun for me.
Have you ever been into a physical fight?
Yes. I went to a pretty rough school just for a semester. After that, I went to an art high school because my best friend was like, “Girl, you need to get out of this LA school system bullshit.” It wasn't fun.
If you had to choose a different job, what would it be?
If I had to choose a different job, I'd be helping people—an esthetician, or something. I really like people who are trying to make other people feel better, and that's what I do through my music. I write songs that help me and other people.
If you could live in any fictional universe, which would you choose?
I really like Bob’s Burgers—it would be very fun to live in a little fictional sea town. I would be Tina, the teenager who is really sexually anxious and awkward.
What's your favorite Christmas movie?
I really like Home Alone. Home Alone 2, where they go to New York, is pretty lit. Those movies always feel like Christmas. When you put them on, you're just like, “alright, where’s the food? Where’s my mom?” No work and no one emailing me—that's what it feels like.
Is there a song that immediately makes you cry?
Des’ree's "I'm Kissing You" from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack. I went through a phase after I just put my record out where I put that song on a loop for an entire day. I love other people who know that song and obsessively listen to it. Like Perfume Genius—we bonded over that when we were working on the cover together. He loves that song as well.
Final question: What's your favorite meme?
The math equation one. I bring it up sometimes when my friends are saying something—like, “I feel like the math equation meme right now. What are you talking about?”