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Inside Ana Mena (Estepona, 1997) resides a soul reminiscent of 1970s Italian divas, nurtured on folkloric melodies, immersed in commercial pop yet devoted to the urban scene, and a small-town girl from Malaga with hands stained with soil from her vegetable patch.
From this blend of personalities emerges today one of Spain's biggest musical stars, a lifelong dream come true for a 26-year-old who fled to Italy to cultivate her talent and returned to Spain to triumph. So far, she's done just that: selling out the biggest stadiums in her home country and reaching half a million streams on her latest single's — an electro-pop track titled Madrid City — release day.
QUESTION. Looking back on all that you've achieved, could you ever have imagined this success for yourself?
ANSWER. Honestly, I'm blown away. It's such a special and rewarding feeling, seeing the fruits of my labor, of something that I've pursued since I was a little girl. I've always dreamt of making my living through music. I'm so happy with where it's taken me thus far, and I'm really motivated to see where it takes me next. I'm constantly working on new projects, so it's nice to take a step back sometimes and appreciate the journey. It helps me mentally recharge my batteries.
Q. Do you ever feel pressure to be constantly bettering yourself?
A. No, not too much, and not from external sources. If anything, I voluntarily put pressure on myself because I like doing things well. I want to be proud of what I do and happy with the music I put out. I try not to obsess about it though, nor let myself suffer too much if things don't go as expected. I just tell myself that it will go better next time because it's so important to enjoy the journey and we, as artists, often forget to do that. We spend so much time thinking about what will happen in the future that we forget to relish in the moment and celebrate what we've worked for to be here. It's a mental shift I've made to learn to enjoy the present.
Because there was a time when that enjoyment wasn't real. Mena was more preoccupied about the future than the present. "Doubts arise, but I have people around me who take good care of me. My team has been the same for nine years, and that's crucial in an industry that's ever-changing. There are times when I'm sick of the sight of them, but feel proud to still be with the people who believed in me when I was a nobody. I've always felt very supported by them when the pressure has got the better of me."
Q. You've gone from playing to 50 people to selling out arenas. How do you wrap your head around that?
A. It honestly doesn't quite make sense. I'm still the same Ana that I've always been. Yes, I have more ambition now than before, but I'm still very grounded. You have to be. Being a recording artist means waking up early every day, doing a hundred and one things, traveling, going for fittings, doing promotional work... But there are ups and downs like in any other job. Whenever I need to get back in touch with myself, I go home, meet up with my friends, and spend time with my family and my dogs... I love doing 'normal' things; they're what matter most.
Q. Although I can't imagine that there can't be too much 'normality' with social media and paparazzi...
A. I try to keep my private life to myself; it doesn't — and shouldn't — affect my work. I'm an artist — I love making songs and being on stage. But what happens offstage is my business and I don't think that it's necessary for third parties to talk about it. I can also tell you that my adjustment to this lifestyle has been gradual and perhaps that's helped me to get used to it. Now, for the first time, I can't go anywhere alone. It's a bit scary for me. As for the rest, I try not to let it affect my day-to-day too much.
Q. Are the sacrifices worth it? Have you ever thought about quitting?
A. Every one of us pursuing this goal entertains the thought of quitting at one point or another, but our vocation prevails. I can't imagine doing anything else; there's nothing I enjoy more. I used to listen to my mom sing flamenco, and I wanted to be just like her. If you took music away from me right now, I'd be completely lost.
Q. Did you ever have a Plan B, just in case?
A. I never even considered it.
And thus Bellodrama was born — an album-turned-concept inexplicable even by its creator. "I'd define it as enjoying the feeling of melancholy, because I'm very romantic and enjoy that feeling of suffering in a beautiful way."
Q. Even in your personal life? Because professionally, it's easier to enjoy that suffering.
A. It's not easy, and it's not that I enjoy it, but I'm expressive and need to express what I feel. I have a lot of feelings, for better or for worse. Experiencing it personally isn't pretty, but it helps me create my music.
Q. How long did it take to come up with this concept? Because it's been five years since you last released an album.
A. The world is very fast-paced, and I had to find my musical identity, which I think has been key. I listen to my first album, and it's what I wanted to do when I was 18, but I didn't know myself and now I see it as a compilation of songs more than a cohesive work. During these five years, I've done a lot of work to discover my identity, which consumed me. I went to Italy and let my feelings guide me to avoid making a song just for TikTok. There's nothing wrong with doing that for a short while, but I want to feel free and do what I like, and not be a slave to social media algorithms.
Q. Have you tried to go against the grain, with a pop sound amid the dominance of urban music?
A. I consider my album a hybrid; I love both worlds, I listen to everything. Why should I deprive myself of something I like? Besides, nowadays people are less judgmental; there's room for all kinds of artists. Rosalía is a prime example — she always does what she wants and remains authentic.
Q. Speaking of Rosalía, what has happened in the Spanish music scene for there to be this emergence of female icons?
A. We're living a very positive socio-cultural moment, and this current wave of feminism is greatly aiding our visibility, as are digital platforms. Plus, there are numerous talented female artists with original ideas. Each one with a distinct sound, a way of storytelling, or a different aesthetic. That, in the end, is what attracts attention. I was discussing this with Aitana recently, and I'm incredibly excited about what's happening and I hope it can last for many years to come.
Q. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
A. If feminism means equality between men and women, then I'm clearly a feminist.
Q. Do you still face constant comparison among female musicians? If so, how do you cope with it?
A. It's totally unfair, and it doesn't happen with men. I don't read comments on Twitter comparing Quevedo with Omar Montes, and it's sad that it's often women making these comparisons. We need to gradually address this.
Q. At the same time, Bellodrama has made you an icon within the LGBTQ+ community.
A. I feel really fortunate, and if I can be a point of reference for them, to help them heal and express their feelings through my music, then I can rest easy.
Q. How do you juggle your efforts to come across as self-effacing and genuine with the pop diva persona you're creating?
A. Within every artist, there's a character, and I feel very genuine because I'm free in my creations. Ultimately, I'm a girl who goes home to Estepona and plants lettuce in her garden. I don't feature that in my album because I'm not the same on stage as I am off it, but I'm always myself. This album portrays a character of a sorrowful diva, akin to those from the 70s and 80s, because I love that aesthetic of suffering, crying, and telling stories. I'm intense, very romantic, and I adore musical theater. That's my duality.
Q. How do you handle the relationship with your fans in this era of social media?
A. Before, an artist would write songs, perform them, and perhaps release an album every three or four years. Everyone bought it, displayed it at their home and played it until it wouldn't play anymore. Now, you have to learn how to edit videos, speak the language of social media, be present... We have additional tasks. However, I don't want to be misunderstood; I enjoy connecting with my fans; it comes naturally to me. I prefer Twitter over Instagram, because it's witty, although there can be a lot of negativity.
Q. You might be the only artist to defend using Twitter...
A. No, I'm not defending it; quite the opposite. Some people have terrible attitudes, and you have to learn not to let it affect you, but the fans are very original, and that's what I focus on. It amuses me; I like knowing what they think. It's important to know the people who listen to you.
Read the original interview in Spanish here.