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Total look Emeerree, Styling Alba Melendo, Styling Assistant Fernando Gómez, HMU Fer Martínez

‘Gay boys are Bad Gyals’: the gospel according to Spain’s dancehall diva

As she embarks on a career-defining tour, Bad Gyal dissects her fanbase, fashion, and fiercest critics

She takes a glug of water and hoists a see-through stripper heel onto a boombox, bringing a shoal of rhinestoned nails to her ears as if to devour the shrieks of a thousand fans. At the sudden cock of a hip, strobe lights consume the stage and Alba Farelo, otherwise known as Bad Gyal, is throwing her back into “Gimme The Light”, her peroxide bob shuddering over the baseline like a WW2 helmet. It was the second time she had performed at this summer’s Primavera Sound and her homage to Dutty Rock – which just happens to turn 20 this year – compounded both where she has come from and how far she is willing to go. 

After all, it was Sean Paul who introduced an eight-year-old Bad Gyal to the sounds of Jamaica, his bombastic floor-fillers scoring an otherwise quiet childhood spent in a seaside town on the outskirts of Barcelona. Vilassar de Mar is a far cry from Kingston, but dancehall and bashment stirred in Bad Gyal a deep and enduring sense of affinity – one which she’d later infuse with reggaeton and seductive electronica on hit records like “Fiebre”, “Zorra”, and “Alocao”. At first, her allegiance to the genre came under fire, her affectations and aesthetics embroiled in all the discourse surrounding cultural appropriation that dominated the late-2010s. But in the six years since her breakout track went viral – “Pai”, a Catalan redux of Rihanna’s “Work” – Bad Gyal’s complex relationship with Jamaican culture has been accepted as just that: complex.

As her act grew bigger, the bedroom melancholy of her debut mixtapes gave way to overblown expressions of wealth, sex-appeal, and status. On “Tremendo Culón”, Bad Gyal sings about having a tremendous arse – and she does much the same on “Pussy” – her voice autotuned to femmebot proportions, glitching over dembow rhythms and enough syncopated trap beats to elicit a scowl in the most frigid clubgoer. And yet, music was never really the plan. She was a creative but directionless teenager, envisioning a career in fashion before dropping-out of two seperate design schools. “The teaching felt so old-fashioned and so obsolete,” she says, “and I didn’t have a strong sense of myself back then. Now I know how to play with clothes and the way I dress is so recognisable. It’s so me.” 

A cauldron of MTV references and archival Versace, Cavalli, and Dior – to which “Flow 2000” is an ode – Bad Gyal’s cold-blooded look and encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion has landed her front row seats at JW Anderson, Marine Serre, and Jean Paul Gaultier couture. Her next moves will be powered by some of the industry’s most prestigious designers and it would be trite (but not inaccurate) to suggest that her babetastic approach to style is why her crowds are populated with so many gay men. As Bad Gyal says, “they just love a diva.” And when so many of dancehall’s classics are peppered with homophobic lyrics, an opening of this kind is quite prodigious. “We’re at a point where everyone should be able to enjoy every genre of music. Even if it wasn’t originally intended for us, we’ve always been part of the audience.”

Her latest single “SEXY”, which lands today, sees Bad Gyal return to the synthetic melodies of her earliest records, chronicling an illicit encounter with a blinged-out New Yorker as he pours Hennesy down her throat and onto that tremendous culón. “It’s a beautiful time in my career but I’m a really ambitious person. I know I’ve accomplished a lot of stuff but I’m always thinking about how to go further,” she says. “I want to be big.” Now in the throes of an eight-month tour, which will take her from Brixton, to Barcelona, to Buenos Aires and beyond, we catch-up with Bad Gyal as she dissects her fanbase, her fashion, and her fiercest critics. 

Hey Bad Gyal! So I thought we’d take it back a little. Your background was in fashion – not music – right?

Bad Gyal: I mean, I don’t know if I’d say it was my background. I’ve always been someone that enjoys fashion, but more as a bystander, and at one point I did try and make a career out of it. I actually tried to study fashion twice in two different universities. The first time was at a public college, but I didn’t like it, the teaching was so old-fashioned and obsolete. So I stopped studying, worked for a year, and saved up to go somewhere else. I lasted three months before realising it wasn’t my thing, and that’s when I started making music.

What kind of clothes did you want to design? 

Bad Gyal: I didn’t even want to design, I think that was the problem. A stylist, maybe. But I was lost, and at the end of the day I was only 18. It’s hard to have any kind of perspective on who you’re at that age. Now I’ve managed to develop a really strong sense of personal style. The way I dress is so recognisable and so me. Like, I know how to play with clothes, take risks, and try different stuff. Back then I just used to hop on different trends. I didn’t look awful, I was just having fun. That was the beginning of my evolution, learning how to mix different brands with my own wardrobe. 

And you have quite an enviable mix going on now. 

Bad Gyal: Oh I’ve always loved vintage because it was always the most affordable. The first bargain I found was a Gucci-monogrammed bag, it was so fucking cheap – actually it was the first thing I bought with my music money. Now I’m obsessed with these silky trousers I just bought from Versace’s SS03 collection. I’m in love with that entire collection and I found these on a vintage app. They’re like iconic Versace – really bright with baroque prints and Donatella’s face all over them. It sounds crazy but they’re amazing. And they fit perfectly… which is a sign I think. 

You’re such a Versace girl. It’s been so fun to see the fashion world embrace you.

Bad Gyal: Yeah, I feel really lucky, it’s such a beautiful time in my career in that regard. I love the fact that designers send me stuff and invite me to their runways shows. It’s amazing. You know, I’d really love to be in a Versace or Cavalli campaign. 

Did Pol Anglada, who did the artwork for “Tremendo Culón”, introduce you to Jonathan Anderson? I know they’re going out and you sat front row at Loewe last season. 

Bad Gyal: Pol didn’t technically introduce me, but I think he introduced my music to him, and I know Jonathan really liked it. Then Jonathan contacted me and we just started a relationship from there, so it was quite organic, really. Pol is amazing, though. We really wanted him to do the artwork but my label needed everything to be handed-in within a week, so he did an amazing job. I was so, so, so happy. 

Your style pays homage to the greats, too. You can spot Britney, Lil’ Kim, and Beyoncé throughout your videos. Are there any looks that you wish you did first? 

Bad Gyal: All of them. But I think this could go in two directions. If we’re talking recently, then I actually think I’d choose Rihanna’s naked crystal look when she went to the CFDA fashion awards. I feel like that had a huge impact on how we dress nowadays. But if we go more vintage, I’d choose one of Lil’ Kim’s. It’s not the most iconic but I love it and tried to recreate it in my “Flow 2000” video. It’s a backless cheetah fur  dress embellished with crystal teardrops and I think she’s wearing Fausto Puglisi accessories or something. It’s super sexy. 

Your music in general is very referential. At the beginning of your career you received a lot of criticism surrounding cultural appropriation, but that seems to have stopped now. Do you ever feel like you were misunderstood?

Bad Gyal: I don’t know if it’s completely over. I try to be really clear in everything that I do, like where I find my references, who the icons are, where my inspiration comes from, and I always try to do so from a position of respect. Whenever we’re inspired by other cultures, we need to make the world aware of who the people are behind the art. But I think I’m a really honest artist and while I acknowledge where my sound is coming from, I also need to put myself in the music. 

I think you should be free to feel inspired by whatever naturally inspires you, because that’s not necessarily something you can choose. For me, music is vibes, so I don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying music that doesn’t naturally exist within my own culture. We’re at a point where everyone should be able to appreciate and enjoy every genre of music. Even if it wasn’t originally intended for us, we’ve always been part of the audience. That’s why I’m inspired by that kind of music, because I have always been the audience. It’s always made me have fun.

Do you feel like you’ve proved yourself within the genre? 

Bad Gyal: I don’t think so because that’s not my goal. My goal is to do me, try to be a good person, be successful, keep going, and have a good relationship with the people running the culture. Of course, I love doing collabs with people from Jamaica and Puerto Rico because that’s the real vibe. And I’ve been lucky to be able to collaborate with the people who are the root of my inspiration.

Are you where you wanted to be at this stage in your career?

Bad Gyal: I’m a really ambitious person and I know I’ve accomplished a lot of stuff but I’m always thinking about how to go further. I want to be big.

There’s never been this amount of attention paid to musicians coming from Spain. There’s you, Rosalía, Nathy Peluso. Why do you think that is? 

Bad Gyal: It’s just never been like this before and it’s all down to Rosalía. She’s the one going super far – Spanish artists have never won Grammys like that. So doors are opening and that might look amazing from the outside but the music business isn’t easy. You have to keep working, you can’t stop. I’m not really someone who links with many people in the industry, either. I prefer my own people in Barcelona, it’s a chill and easy vibe. I only really meet artists when I’m at festivals. 

Speaking of festivals, your audiences are always so diverse – by which I mean a lot of gay men. Why do you think your music speaks to them so much? 

Bad Gyal: I’m not sure, maybe you can tell me? 

That’s a bit presumptuous, Bad Gyal. Maybe because your lyrics can be quite funny?

Bad Gyal: I’ve never heard that one before, but actually there have been a lot of times in the studio when I’ve finished writing a version of something and we’ve all burst out laughing. I can only speak about my fans but I think it’s because the gays love a diva. They love the powerful energy. The beauty. The body. The dance. The movement. They love everything. They just get the vibe, they’re intense and have so much energy. I mean, Gay boys are Bad Gyals, too. That’s the good thing about dancehall going international, even Spanish kids are doing TikTok dances to dancehall songs and that’s never been a thing before. In London it’s different, though, you’ve always been more connected to that culture.

Yeah, I’ve always said “Hold Yuh” should be my funeral song actually. What would yours be?

Bad Gyal: Oh my god, no. Damn. I’m not thinking about that. I’ve never even asked myself that. 

Okay, well, what look would you be buried in? 

Bad Gyal: Okay that question is more interesting. Maybe some iconic 90s Mugler. It would be a crazy Mugler creation. It would be weird to be laid out in Mugler but if they granted me my last wish in life it would be to wear one of his pieces. 

On a more positive note, you’re working towards a new album which is slated for release next year. Are you going to return to the more melancholic sounds of Slow Wine or power ahead with the floor-fillers? 

Bad Gyal: It’s going to be mixed. Over the last few years I’ve only really been interesting in doing music for the club and having fun with it. But at the same time, this new chapter will have a lot of OG Bad Gyal sounds. It’s really balanced. It’s the perfect mix. It’s not easy to do a good sad song that you can dance to. 

What do you think people get most wrong about you? 

Bad Gyal: I’d say people obsess over me not being the greatest singer, and I get it, some people are looking for a perfect singer and that’s what they appreciate in an artist. But not everything is about that, other people like the fact that you write your own lyrics, do your own melodies, that you pick your own beats, are involved in production, styling, choreography, show design. And I have all those attributes.