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Ms Nina
Ms Nina

Ms Nina wants you to dance your sadness away

The Spain-based reggaeton artist’s debut mixtape, Perreando por Fuera, Llorando por Dentro, pays tribute to the genre’s multicultural origins

Of all the club bangers of the 2000s, Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” seems uniquely able to send people into a frenzy. The excitement is enhanced by the lyrics, whose manifold interpretations enthrall listeners to this day: “Gasolina” literally means “gas”, but also “streets”, “party”, “cocaine”, and “semen”, by various accounts, though in Daddy Yankee’s words, the chorus just refers to “a girl who likes to have fun”. Released in 2004, “Gasolina” was a worldwide hit that brought reggaeton into the mainstream.

It was also the first reggaeton tune that Jorgeline Torres, also known as Ms Nina, listened to. She was around 13 at the time; that same year, her family moved from their home of Córdoba, where the Sierra mountains meet the green plains of the Pampas, in Argentina, to Motril, a small town on the Spanish southern coastline. Reggaeton, a sound that originated and circulated illegally in Puerto Rico’s housing projects in the mid-90s, had by then spread across Latin America, the United States, and Spain. The genre’s commercial breakthrough also instigated a wave of moral panic among cultural elites who, outraged by the sexually explicit lyrics and accompanying dance form known as perreo, equated reggaeton with cultural trash. As with other sounds born on the margins of society, popular dismissal of reggaeton often revealed deeply classist and racist bias based on the genre’s association with Latin American migrant communities and the working class.

Nowadays, reggaeton has largely seduced the mainstream and broken down language barriers, a phenomenon Nina, who sings in Spanish, welcomes enthusiastically. “Reggaeton is finally acknowledged as a music genre,” she says before a performance in London. At the gig, Ms Nina is wearing a white top with a rhinestone motif that reads “FUCK ME I’M AN IMMIGRANT”, a statement that reads like a witty allusion to the singer’s upbringing, though one can also see a nod to reggaeton’s history as an underground sound that thrived through diasporic networks. With a few exceptions, like Puerto Rican singer Ivy Queen, reggaeton has historically been led by male MCs, with women often being anonymous voices singing the genre’s hottest hooks. As such, it’s common to hear lyrics that are based around masculine, heterosexual perspectives on love and sex, but with singles like the frantic “Chupa Chupa,” an unabashed ode to oral sex, “Reinas”, a femme anthem co-written with genderfluid artist King Jedet, and “Traketeo”, Ms Nina centres women’s sexual narratives.

Her debut mixtape, Perreando por Fuera, Llorando por Dentro, resumes that exploration of sexuality, while also channeling Nina’s love for Latin American music genres: “Resaca” is a striking blend of cumbia rhythms and electronic sounds, and “La Diabla” incorporates a salsa-esque piano line. Lyrically, the singer alternates swiftly between overt lasciviousness and chatting about cooking and eating, hangovers, working, gossip, and other mundanities of everyday life – but lyrics don’t matter that much if you ask her, as even those who do not speak a word of Spanish will be carried away by the powerful rhythms throughout the album.

We caught up with Ms Nina to talk about her journey so far.

You were born in Argentina, and moved to Spain at the age of 14. What music did you listen to growing up? 

Ms Nina: My mother listened to Latin music: salsa, all sorts of cumbia, merenguecuarteto, which is a music genre from Córdoba, where I am from. On my dad’s side, I listened to rock. Then as I grew up, I started watching MTV and learned about pop music. The first reggaeton song I ever listened to was “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee. I went crazy and remember telling myself: “What the hell is this?” I loved it. I was 13, and that was when I started going out. When I came to Spain that year, reggaeton was trending. I had Don Omar’s album. I listened to Héctor El Father, Tego Calderón. Still, reggaeton had a bad reputation. 

But now it’s in fashion again. For me, reggaeton is like the new pop. You go to any club in Madrid and they will play it. Even if you don’t know Spanish you will dance. Reggaeton is finally acknowledged as a music genre… Just another music style that deserves recognition as such.

You released your first song in 2014 and have been dropping singles ever since. How does it feel to finally be able to put out a mixtape? What was the most difficult part of making it? 

Ms Nina: It was a challenge for me. I always released singles alone, in a very spontaneous way. I would put out a song whenever I felt like it. Last year I decided to make a mixtape and try different styles and rhythms. (On the album) there is a song that takes cues from salsa, another one that’s more cumbia. I used different beats from producers that I’ve always worked with. But I’m trying to develop my music. With this mixtape I can say “There you go, you’ve got Ms Nina for a while now.”

Perreando por Fuera, Llorando por Dentro (Dancing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside) was the mood I was in this past year. I fell in love and suffered. I was also going out loads. It was like laughing and crying at the same time. In the album I talk about love, I throw shade at my ex, I speak about silly things.

Was there a particular song you struggled to write? Which one did you like the most? 

Ms Nina: I have a tougher time writing love songs because they’re more personal. I really like the song called “Resaca”! It’s cumbia, which I had never made before.

One of reggaeton’s defining features is its wordplay. Does humour play an important role in your writing?

Ms Nina: Of course! In my lyrics I make up words. Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and all the rest also make up words. I love Tego Calderón because he invents many words. Sometimes lyrics don’t even mean anything. But does it matter? As long as they make you dance. In my music, I know that I don’t use words correctly but I don’t care. If one has enough attitude! 

You’ve said before that your music is meant to make one dance, loosen up and forget about one’s problems. On the other hand, part of your public and the press sees a feminist message in it because your lyrics evoke empowerment and women’s sexuality. Do you feel comfortable with people seeing your music as vindictive, some even going so far as to label it ‘feminist’? 

Ms Nina: My lyrics speak about a woman who does what she wants. I think that’s due to how my mother raised me. She taught me to dress however I wanted and to demand respect from others. Music is a way of expressing myself and communicating that message… So without realising it, I’d make songs like “Chupa” and people would be like “Damn, how do you dare saying that?”, but for me it wasn’t a big deal. “Feminist reggaeton” is not a genre, it doesn’t make any sense to me. People look for the label… Like it’s in fashion.

“Don’t be afraid! I was also that girl living in that small town who was scared. You need to dare!” – Ms Nina

Reggaeton is linked to perreo, a sensual dance that can shock people. Do you think it is important that people become less prudish about sex? 

Ms Nina: To people who say perreo is gross, I want to say “Dude, do you not fuck in your house? Do you not have sex? You never feel horny?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going to the club and dancing. Why is sexualising it that bad? I love to dance when I go clubbing. And people who say they don’t are lying. Because if you’re at a club at 5 am and they play “Gasolina”, people will go crazy. It’s true!

Do you think your music can make people be more comfortable with their sexuality? 

Ms Nina: Yeah. Girls relate. I also have a big LGBTQ+ fanbase. I speak with them a lot on the internet and I love it. When I was a teenager, I would never have been able to speak to a singer I liked. My audience is super lovely. Everyone is welcomed to my parties, whoever they are. All we ask for is that you are nice and that everybody respects one another.

You’re a musician now, but Ms Nina used to be the name of your net art project. Has your relationship with social media changed since you began using them? 

Ms Nina: I began using the internet while studying photography. I published my images but never photographs of myself. I interacted with people but I would never upload selfies or pics of my ass like I do now on Instagram. When I started making music, I continued making collages but I stopped uploading them. I started sharing more about myself. But social media is bad… It’s a bit poisonous. Everyone’s life looks perfect. So I make sure I never share anything from my private life. Jorgeline has her personal life, and Ms Nina will share her music or whatever she feels like sharing. 

You’ve performed in many places outside of Spain, including France, Switzerland, Sweden, the US. What is the crowd like in places where people don’t speak Spanish? 

Ms Nina: People dance! There are people who come specifically to see you, people who don’t know you. But with perreo people go mad. Even if you don’t know my music or didn’t grow up listening to reggaeton, you will dance. I always say perreo, or dancing, is something one has inside of them. It’s more or less marked depending on the people, but you definitely have it. 

Back in Spain, you’re often associated with other female artists making reggaeton, trap, or what is understood as ‘urban music’. Do you feel like you’re part of a movement?  

Ms Nina: I’m part of a movement of girls that’s come out of the internet. I’m happy to see so many girls. Don’t be afraid! I was also that girl living in that small town who was scared. You need to dare!

Ms Nina is an alter ego. My dad used to tell me, “You have two options: you either go and study or you stop being a pain.” So I had to try to make something out of Ms Nina and see what happened. I left my job, I was working in a kitchen at the time, and gave it a go. And it’s been great so far. I preferred to take the risk. That’s why I encourage everyone to do things. Because nowadays you can upload something online and if it doesn’t work, it’s no big deal. Next month you release something else!