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Daniela Ela is many things: singer, dancer, comedian, drag queen, actress, Youtuber, and video producer, just to name a few. But mostly, she just is herself (Her personal slogan being: soy yo [I’m me]).
Following her conception nearly five years ago, Daniela Ela began to play a more and more prominent role in the identity of her creator, until there ceased to be any intelligible separation be the two.
She produces and stars in the music videos for her reggaeton songs, which address a variety of intriguing themes relevant to the life of the young drag queen, with lyrics and scenes full of as much passion, sensuality, and facha as comedy, wordplay, and parody.
The most recent of these music videos is for the single “Berenjena” [eggplant], an incomprehensibly catchy song about the fire that is ignited within her upon seeing the verdulero walking through her barrio and not being able to help but notice that… se le marca la berenjena.
I immediately fell in love with the music video for “Berenjena”, which is currently exploding on social media (for obvious reasons). Then, I was struck by the tremendous quantity and quality of content that this young artist has been putting out over the last several years, not to mention her sparkly and super sweet personality (go watch her Instagram stories and you’ll see what I’m talking about), and the unstoppable positivity and authenticity with which she confronts life.
I had the privilege of speaking with her so that she could tell me a bit more about how the whole project got started, and how in reality it’s become much more than just a “project.” You can read the full interview below. And you can click here to reserve tickets to Daniela Ela’s next live show, February 15th at the Museo Fernandez Blanco.
Where did Daniela Ela come from?
It all started as a character. I was making these sketch comedy videos on Youtube called “Rodrigo y Daniela” and that’s where the character was born. And well, it happened that the main character, Daniela, started to have a bit more impact, people seemed to like her more.
I had always wanted to be a singer, and I think this was like, the best possible excuse to start doing it. I was like “okay, let’s start a singing career as Daniela,” so then in one of the episodes she becomes a reggaeton singer, and it worked, and I liked the “impact” it had. I mean, “impact” in air quotes because I was used to putting out videos that would get like 100 to 200 views, so all of a sudden a video with 1000 views was a lot for me. So I was like “okay then, making music as Daniela Ela seems to work,” and well, that’s how it happened. That’s how it all got started.
How did your catchphrase “soy yo” come about?
The “soy yo” is a really funny story. Because, well, unfortunately in the world we live in, there’s still, shall we say…discrimination. It all started when I was making my first song, I went to do a collab with another artist, and that artist had a manager. The guy, the artist, didn’t have any problem with me. He wanted to record with me. He was like “yeah, hell yeah,” so we went, and we recorded the song, and well, it turned out sounding great.
The problem was the manager. The manager got mad because the artist had made decisions without his permission, and on top of that he said that having me on the song was going to like, tarnish his image, due to me belonging to another…subculture, shall we say. So, the guy’s career was sort of taking off at the time, and the manager didn’t want to like, expose him or whatever.
But, we had already recorded the song, and the song started out saying his name and “junto con Daniela” [with Daniela]. And when he said “Daniela,” in the moment, “soy yo” [I’m me/that’s me] came out of my mouth, like as in…Daniela Ela, that’s me. So then when that whole problem surfaced I got the guy’s manager to agree that I would take out his name from the beginning of the song, but that I would keep his voice on the track. I wouldn’t publish who he was or anything, he would just be a “mystery person.”
And I told him “listen, it’s either that or you give me my money back,” because I had paid money for the song. So yeah, he said, take out his name, don’t credit him or anything, but you can leave his verse in the song. So I told my producer to take out those tags at the beginning, his name and the part where he said “junto con Daniela“, and the part where I say “soy yo,” to take it all out. But the producer forgot to take out the “soy yo” so the song just started: “soy yo” out of nowhere, and it was so hilarious to me, and like, I sort of gave it a cool meaning…I was like…soy yo [I am me]. It’s not wrong! It’s dope. So then that became like, my tag, my slogan.
That’s awesome that you were able to get something good out of such a shitty experience.
Yeah, I believe that sometimes things happen for a reason. The fact that the “soy yo” got left in there, I said, “there’s a reason for that.” And then, I really took that meaning to heart, ’cause I mean, I literally am me.
People always ask me stuff, like, I tend to get people asking if I’m drag, or if I’m trans, or if I’m a cross-dresser, and I always respond: soy yo.
To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about drag, it’s something I became familiar with very recently. But yeah, I mean, ever since I can remember, I always loved pretending to be someone else. Acting. And yeah, sometimes when we would play with my cousins I would dress up like a girl, but it was like, as a game.
When I started doing the Rodrigo y Daniela videos, Daniela was a bizarre character because, I mean the whole joke was that it was me playing the two characters, like, they’re a couple, but it’s just me, one person. And I played Daniela more for the comedic aspect, for the humor, like it was just me in a wig, sometimes I even had a beard, but it didn’t matter because it was funny, you know?
So, it all really started when the people who organize this party called Fiesta Nix saw my videos and contacted me to see if I wanted to perform as my character at the party. So I said sure, hell yeah. So then, well, I got there, and there’s all these other drag queens who totally slayed. They were totally made up, with beautiful wigs, and there I was, little old me in my plain old wig and a dress that I borrowed from my mom. But I loved it. I decided I wanted to learn how to do my make-up, I wanted to do what they did. Because honestly, drag is such a beautiful art form, and I was introduced to it at that moment and I thought, I want to make this a part of the videos.
So I made an episode where Daniela changes her image. I wanted to kind of innovate a little more, because I always saw drag as this androgynous, super exaggerated thing, and I wanted to make it into more like a drag…teen, like a young adolescent girl. And anyway that was kind of how I just naturally was, because I didn’t really know much about doing make-up and well, I was going to do something a little more dialed back. And yeah, that’s when I started wearing makeup…and I loved it.
And that’s when Daniela started growing and developing to the point where she started making music, and I think that was the point where…the total change happened…like going from drag, to something else. I still consider myself “drag” because sometimes yeah, I love to go full drag, whether it’s with the music, or taking photos for Instagram. I feel like it’s a beautiful art form that really has nothing to do with a person’s…orientation, you know? Like, I mean, anyone can be a drag queen.
But anyway. In terms of my personal evolution, I think Daniela was very much an escape, like, the perfect excuse to…discover who I really was. I feel confident like this. Whatever it is that I am, I like the way I look, and I think that’s what matters, you know?
It’s like, when someone creates a character, usually, it’s an expression of what they always wanted to be, you know how sometimes you, like, me for example, I used to feel shame, and worry about coming off as too feminine. So, I always kept that part of me hidden away. But then, with Daniela, I could do whatever I wanted because at the end of the day, it was a character. But at the same time, I was expressing myself in a way that, on the inside, I had always wanted to.
So I think that it was the best possible escape for me, when Daniela was born, and that really helped me to like, let out what I had always kept inside and didn’t want to let show. And the character is what ended up allowing me to become my true soy yo.
You have so many awesome music videos. Tell me a bit about what the process of producing a music video is like for you.
It’s always just a question of putting in the effort and making it happen. Not having, necessarily, the economic means to hire a production company to make a music video, I think the advantage that I have is that, I make things work with what I have. You know? Like, oh, so I don’t know how to edit videos? Well, we have the advantage of being able to access tutorial videos on Youtube for free, so…it’s also a question of patience. Sometimes it’s hard. But, fortunately, I’m able to be resourceful and patient.
So over time, I learned how to do it, because I had always said I wanted to be a singer and make music videos, and I said “not having money isn’t going to stop me.” I mean, however, I have to go about it, I’m going to make it happen.
And that’s how it was, with every video just pulling together the resources I could get a hold of. Obviously yeah, some money does go into it, but, I save a ton by figuring out how to use alternative resources. And all the videos were like that. I’m pretty anal about it having to look professional like I want it to look so good that people see it and say “wow! what production company did you hire?!” And I can respond: soy yo [laughs].
But obviously yeah, I have people who help me. I say to my friends “hey, can you film me?” or “can you hold this camera and film me?” There’s always someone behind the camera. But it all comes together with a lot of hard work.
And with Berenjena, it was hilarious because I had been working with this track I liked, with a totally different idea, but I just wasn’t getting anywhere. I couldn’t seem to make it work. But then one day I was looking at Tiktok and I started watching these Tiktoks with boys who…who you could see their, you know, berenjena [laughs]. I just happened to have that track on in the background and the little lightbulb popped up over my head. And I ran to the computer and started recording, and started writing, and literally, the whole song wrote itself in like an hour. I mean, I just got inspired…I got inspired by the berenjena [laughs].
But anyway, whenever I finish writing a song, I show it to my close friends. It’s always good to get positive feedback from other people.
One friend told me that no, that it wasn’t going to fly, that I would come out looking like…like a whore. He said “you’re over-sexualizing men” …and I thought about that for a second…and like, that’s what always happens these days with reggaeton songs. They sexualize women, they talk about titties, about this and that…why can’t I talk about the berenjena??? So I was like fuck that, I’m going to record it anyway.
But I did kind of tone down the song, ’cause there were a few lines that were pretty…dirty, and I said no “I’m going to take it down a notch” [laughs]. So I added the part that says “disculpa lo que digo suena algo informal” [sorry that what I’m saying sounds slightly informal]. I added the apology! [laughs]
Honestly, I totally identify with this song. I mean who can honestly say that they’ve never noticed the berenjena of a cute guy? It’s one of life’s simplest pleasures, but nobody talks about it!
I think it’s the similar to like, for instance sometimes I walk down the street, and there’s some guy who likes the way I look. And I love to walk down the street and receive compliments. I mean, of course compliments are one thing and harassment is another. But sometimes people give you compliments, and they make you feel pretty, and…I think, well, I can do the same thing. But with more…more like what people listen to these days.
That’s why I was doubtful at first because I was afraid of feeling like, that people would be put off by it. But that kind of thing happens with every song. Sometimes you write a song and you’re like “this song is sick,” but then of course you think about what people will say. So, that’s what’s difficult about making a song. I mean, I write a lot, all the time I’m writing songs, I have a long list, and I go through and pick out which ones I want to go forward with, and eventually choose the one that will be the next single. But with Berenjena, I didn’t think about it too much. I wanted to release it. I had a lot of faith in the song.
How do you deal with that aspect of… being who you are and the way you are while you just happen to be making music in a genre that’s notorious for being misogynous, heteronormative, hegemonic, etc.?
I’m trying to make this be…normal. I mean, if I’m going to aim for an LGBT audience, then I keep aiming at that same audience, and I keep creating like, two separate worlds, you know? I want it to all be the same world. To make stuff for every audience and for it all to be normal.
So, I knew there would be repercussions if I presented my project in front of a more…”straight” audience, you know? Because I am, or at least people think of me as, a trans girl, who not only makes reggaeton music but on top of that, sexualizes men…I don’t know, I knew that people wouldn’t take that so well…so I said “I’m gonna do it.” Because luckily I also have the power to say “that doesn’t affect me.” I mean…I don’t give a shit what they say.
I got made into a meme, actually, on a page that has a lot of followers. And there were a lot of negative comments. But I turned all of the negative comments into something positive. Because that’s how it is, I mean, in my opinion, people aren’t really so…well, I guess yeah, some people are mean, but a lot of the times there’s just being mean for attention or whatever. So I’m like oh, okay then, you want attention? I’ll give you attention. But always when it benefits me and it doesn’t affect me, as long as I’m having fun. So, I laugh with them, and then they end up following me, and they tell me “you’re so cool” and it’s like…people will insult you but then end up praising you.
Fortunately, I’m able to process that as something normal. There are people who, unfortunately, yeah, want to hurt your feelings. There are comments that hurt. But also I mean, that’s part of it too, no? Fighting against that. Fighting against the existence of that reaction, of people seeing the video and saying “oh, it’s just a tranny who wants some dick” you know? It’s kind of, playing with that, in a sense
Click here to reserve tickets to Daniela Ela’s next live show, February 15th at the Museo Fernandez Blanco.