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The mass appeal of Nathy: Spain’s queen of controversy

Directness and realness makes Nathy Peluso stand out among the current crop of female rappers

Argentinian singer Nathy Peluso performing at the Pedralbes Festival in Barcelona, June 2021. Photo: Jordi Vidal/Redferns

The Catholic Church has held many masses of atonement in recent years,
seeking pardon for unspeakable crimes. Allowing a music video to be
filmed in one of Europe’s greatest cathedrals would not seem to be of the
same order. Yet, last October, just such a mass was held amid the 13th-century gothic majesty of Toledo Cathedral after the video for Argentine-born, genre-straddling Spanish singer and rapper Nathy Peluso’s song Ateo
was filmed there.

The day after the video appeared on YouTube, the archbishop of Toledo issued a grovelling apology, saying: “We humbly and sincerely ask for the forgiveness of all the faithful who have rightly felt wounded by this
inappropriate use of a sacred place.” He announced that a special mass would be held that Sunday.

The cathedral had certainly seen nothing like it in 800 years. Peluso and her collaborator, the Spanish rapper C Tangana, danced pelvis to pelvis in front of the Renaissance mural of the Last Judgement in the chapter house, and Peluso shook her famed booty on the cathedral’s checkerboard floor. “Este culo es [This ass is] natural, no plastic,” she had previously boasted on her breakthrough hit, the Latin trap song Nasty Girl.

The naked woman being grabbed by the hair by a demon at the centre of the mural inspired the moment when C Tangana grasped Peluso’s hair in much the same gesture. Peluso later appears in studio-filmed scenes as a Judith or inverted Medusa figure, naked and holding Tangana’s severed head.

While even in the video itself, actors in priests’ garb look on agog from dark corners, the cathedral’s dean seems not to have anticipated any problems,
arguing that the video was about conversion through love (indeed, despite the potentially provocative title, the lyrics riff off the opening line: “Este
amor es como una religión”
(This love is like a religion). The dean did however
have to admit that the video used “provocative visual language.”

Peluso has been provocative from the off and Ateo was not the first time she has courted controversy. Debut single Corashe (2017), on which she declares herself “la mulata”, drew accusations of cultural appropriation and blackfishing. Her sporting of braids in the video for Natikillah (2019) and her notably darker skin tone and adoption of a Cuban accent in a recorded performance of Sana Sana (2020) drew further ire, and the fact that Ateo was a bachata – a song and dance form from the Dominican Republic – also attracted criticism.

The adoption of looks and sounds pioneered by black artists is hardly unknown on the Latin trap scene and is symptomatic of a contemporary pop
landscape that takes in global genres. But Peluso’s physical theatre training and interest in creating characters through music are just as responsible for the attitudes she has adopted.

Regardless – or maybe because of – this background noise, Peluso has fast become a bona fide star, quickly rising from the Barcelona urban music underground to become yet another representative of the triumph of Latin pop. Last year, her debut album Calambre (2020) won a Latin Grammy for best alternative music album. Her most recent releases included a collaboration with Christina Aguilera and a tie-in with PlayStation. Ateo went straight in at No 1 in Spain last year and was one of the major hits of 2021.

Peluso’s essential appeal is in her boldness. Her breakthrough single, a collaboration with Argentine superstar producer Bizarrap, found her oozing attitude and her lyrics announced her public persona in no uncertain terms: “Curvilínea y elocuente/ Magnificamente colosal/ Extravagante y animal” (Curvaceous and eloquent/ Magnificently colossal/ Extravagant and animal).

On that song, Peluso also boasts “Esta muchacha e’ clara y concise” (This girl is
clear and concise), and indeed it is her directness and realness that makes Peluso stand out among the current crop of female rappers. Her lyrics are all her own and are always plain speaking. In her look there is indeed “no plastic” – her teeth are as yet untroubled by a dental aesthetician and there are sturdy legs to match that big booty. On stage, she is a physical powerhouse, and when Peluso plays London later this month in only her second performance in the UK, she will bring something all her own to the stage.

Nathy Peluso plays the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on September 18

NATHY PELUSO in five songs

Corashe (2017)
A ballsy, goading song in which Peluso completely rejects the role of the female romantic victim, Corashe appeared on her debut EP and became seen as a feminist anthem.

Copa Glasé (2019)
Peluso’s first single after signing with Sony is a big band jazz number that
demonstrates her huge vocal ability.

Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol 36 (Nasty Girl) (2020)
Peluso’s breakthrough song, known as Nasty Girl for the use of the phrase in its Spanglish section. It earned three nominations at Argentina’s Premios Gardel awards.

Delito (2021)
This sexually loaded song finds Peluso admitting “Bailamo y que parece un delito” (We dance and it seems like a crime).

Ateo (2021)
A collaboration with Spanish rapper C Tangana, this seductive bachata song topped the Spanish charts for five straight weeks last autumn.

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