As if it weren’t clear enough from her music, authenticity is incredibly important to singer Ángela Aguilar. At just 15 years old, Aguilar is among the youngest artists ever to be nominated for a Grammy and Latin Grammy, per the award show’s website. Her second album, titled Primero Soy Mexicana (translated to “First, I Am Mexican”), is being recognized as one of the Best Regional Mexican Music Albums at this year’s Grammy Awards.
For Aguilar, being Mexican-American is a driving force in her career and her life. “Being whatever ethnicity that you are is like a superpower,” she tells Bustle over the phone recently. “You have to use it. I [want all] young girls and all those young boys to be who you want to be and be proud of it.”
Aguilar's talent is no surprise to those who are close to her: She comes from a successful, award-winning family. Aguilar is the daughter of multi-Grammy and Latin Grammy-winning artist Pepe Aguilar, as well as the granddaughter of Mexican film and music icons Antonio Aguilar and Flor Silvestre. Mexican artistry — particularly the Latinx music genre called ranchera — is in her blood. Ranchera music largely became popular on ranches. Styles of the genre vary vastly, but are mostly focused on themes of love and heritage. Whichever style, ranchera music always tells a story from start to end.
“I’ve always liked Mexican music,” Aguilar says. “I’ve liked the way it makes me feel and the way each song is a story and it’s your job to project the story onto the audience.”
Aguilar was born in Los Angeles, California in 2003. At just 3 years old, she began singing, following in the footsteps of her family and traveling on tour with them. Her first album, Nueva Tradición, was released in 2012. Despite her strong music roots, Aguilar still had a hurdle to jump over at the start of her career: being a female ranchera artist. The traditional Mexican genre has been heavily dominated by male artists since its inception, but that detail wasn’t frightening to Aguilar — she’s ready to show young girls that there is room for their voices in this space.
“Men started singing ranchera music way before women started singing ranchera music," Aguilar says, noting that it became popular in movies in the '60s and '70s. "It would be the typical very sexy Mexican woman singing in a bar or singing for men."
Now, however, change has finally begun to spread throughout the ranchera community, Aguilar notes. “It’s super, super cool because right now, the women that are singing the genre — which are not many — are just doing it because they love it and they’re not just going to sing at a bar.”
The music video for her song “La Llorona” has garnered nearly 45 million views since its release and combines many Mexican traditions into jaw-droppingly beautiful imagery. In fact, Aguilar’s nominated-album serves as a tribute to those who paved the way for young girls, like her, with a passion for ranchera.
“[The album] is like a tribute to like all the Mexican women that opened the doors for me as a young Mexican woman to be able to sing this genre,” she says. “I wanted to honor them with my music and just honor their memory and their legacy and just [say] thank you for giving me this opportunity to sing what I love.”
Aguilar is most grateful to Mexico and her deep-seated roots in the culture for guiding her to this point. Being Grammy-nominated at the age of 15 is certainly not a minor accomplishment. And although she doesn’t feel any pressure to win — her category is stacked with talent including Luis Miguel and Los Texmaniacs — she's looking to the future to see how she can use her music to empower generations of ranchera-loving women to come.
"How do you expect to become something different and grow as a person if you don’t even know who you are and you don’t even know where you came from?"
“I feel pressure, but not pressure to win," she clarifies. "I just feel pressure... for the next product that I come out with because I need to be very good and I need to be better than what I did [before]. What’s the point of having a lot of fame and having a lot of awards and everything if you have nothing to back it up with? And what’s the point of having fans if you’re not going to create material for the fans to enjoy?”
She adds, “I just want to make Mexico proud and make my family proud. I just want to have this tribute for all young women that want to sing this genre.”
Now, Aguilar is gearing up for the big night, as well as preparing to perform on the pre-Grammys telecast. In terms of advice for others hoping to make their mark, she emphasizes the importance of authenticity once more, stating that without that, it’s impossible to show who you really are through music.
“For me as a Mexican, it gives me great power, it gives me great strength to listen to music that comes from Mexican artists," she says. “How do you expect to become something different and grow as a person if you don’t even know who you are and you don’t even know where you came from?”
From doing assignments at her local school in California to performing on the stage of the Grammys, one thing never changes about Aguilar: her passion, both for her music and her Mexican roots. And that passion — so deeply grounded in who she is as a young woman — is what sets her apart as a trailblazer in ranchera music.