How Karol G Made History With ‘Mañana Será Bonito’
Back in 2017, at a Universal Music Latin Entertainment convention in Miami, Jesús López played the newly-released “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee for those in attendance. “We all thought it was a hit,” says López, the chairman/CEO of Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula. “Admittedly, never what it became, but we knew it was something special.”
That evening, López also introduced two new signings: Sebastian Yatra and Karol G. The two Colombians, he said, “are the two big new artists in the company.”
It would take “Despacito” six months to make history as it soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and stayed there for a then-record 16 weeks, tying the time spent by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” at No. 1 in 1995-96. (The record would eventually be broken by Lil Nas X‘s “Old Town Road.)
It took Karol G six years to make a different kind of history, as the first woman to place an all-Spanish album at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with her latest project, Mañana Será Bonito. The set earned 94,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in the week ending March 2, according to Luminate, its starting sum largely powered by streaming activity and with single “TQG” with fellow Colombian Shakira as one of its driving forces.
But there was no one tipping point for Mañana, or for Karol G. Rather, the success was the result of long-term planning and a series of key actions over the years, beginning with the door that “Despacito” opened, and including a steady stream of releases — four albums total; opening a 2019 arena tour for Gloria Trevi, which expanded her Mexican-American fan base; her hit “Tusa” with Nicki Minaj; and her 2021 album, KG2516.
“We haven’t stopped,” says López, who, thanks to another history-making moment, is Billboard‘s Executive of the Week.
Karol G has been on an upward trajectory that’s only accelerated the past year. Regardless, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 is remarkable. Short-term, when did the road to No. 1 begin?
We began in April 2022 with Coachella. We started to have meetings to plan the launch of [new single] “Provenza,” and that’s when we began to plan the next album. I wanted February 2023, but Karol was aiming for November 2022 to coincide with the Latin Grammys. Then, between production and her tour, the date moved. Beginning in Coachella we designed a truly clear strategy to release singles one after another with a story for each single. Remember, singles now have a narrative behind them. We started climbing step by step. Clearly there was no tipping point, but rather different important moments.
Was the No. 1 a goal, and why did you see it possible?
Once we saw those first-day numbers we thought we could be No. 1, and we worked every campaign we thought could help. Initially, we were aiming to beat Bad Bunny’s numbers at that moment. If we hit 40,000 to 50,000 equivalent album units, we would place higher. Then the data started coming in. The weekend after release we knew we were in the battle for the No. 1, and by Monday I thought it would happen. My team was a little more reticent, and I was more optimistic, which is usually not the case. But I’m also more analytical and I crunched my numbers and it looked like we would be No. 1. Karol was all over it and she’d ask every day if we need more posts or more tweets. The artists and the company all came together because we knew what this meant. It was once again a very big statement for Universal Music.
Karol took up painting in the past couple of years, and the album cover, as well as the merch generated around it, uses her artwork. Was the merch important in this release?
Yes. All that began last year with Coachella, and we started to experiment when we released [singles] “Provenza” and “Gatubela,” designing merch that would bring her fans closer. The cover of Mañana Será Bonito, for example, will be a mythical cover, and it represents Latinidad and colombianidad 100%. I love Karol’s integral approach to things. And she’s very persistent. She works each detail very thoroughly. She has her ideas, and then she truly executes them very well.
How important was TikTok in the album’s success?
It’s not essential to the album, but it is for the singles. TikTok is the new radio; it breaks songs, and that’s how we’re using it. It’s been very important in this stage for singles like “Provenza,” “Gatubela,” “Cairo,” and right now our focus is to have “TQG” break records as well. The number of creations that fans are making with the music on TikTok is astronomical. It has to do with the storyline of empowerment around the song, and the collaboration between a legend [Karol G] and a legend legend [Shakira].
Shakira is signed to Sony. Was it complex to close the collab with her?
No. Not at all. We already have rules in place amongst ourselves [labels]. When we bring two names together, we know what we have to do. If two artists want to work together, we don’t put obstacles [in the way].
Given her No. 1, I have to think some of Karol’s consumption comes from the mainstream and not necessarily from Latins. Have you been working that market as well?
Yes. Since “Tusa,” everything we do we also work on the mainstream. We have PR teams, radio teams. But overall, it’s about people communicating differently today. There are no barriers. If you sell 12,000 tickets in a city that doesn’t have a big Latin population, clearly you’re reaching non-Latins. At school, a Latin girl sits next to her non-Latin friend. And since Latin is hot right now, there’s greater consumption. But, there’s still much to do in the mainstream, and I believe her tours and endorsements, as well as this single, will allow us to continue growing that market. The single and the album are already big hits in countries like Italy and France, but we need to do more work in England, for example.
In your opinion, what’s Karol’s appeal?
She’s a mix of many things. Obviously, getting here is not just about singing well or being clever. She is, first and foremost, a workaholic, meticulous, takes care of every detail. In the urban world, she’s a woman who sings very well, and that allows her to both rap and phrase beautifully; her songs have more range. And she’s very good at grasping where she wants to be, and she’s a natural role model for women who didn’t have role models. She’s very confident in who she is and that has allowed millions of women to identify with her and feel valued. She’s the girl next door. Karol is a diamond. Really, it’s not easy to find all these qualities in a person.
How important was this No. 1? And what’s next?
I don’t want people to always think ours is the company of “Despacito” or J Balvin or “Mi Gente” or even “Macarena.” Sometimes we forget what we’ve done. This success was very important to Latin women overall, to Karol G, but also to Universal Music Latino. The point is to write the next story. And the next, next, next great one will be Feid. I think he’ll be the biggest artist of 2023.
Previous Executive of the Week: Val Pensa of RCA
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