Up Next with Samantha Hudson

To mark the launch of her new album, ‘AOVE’, the Spanish artist-cum-LGBTQI+ rights activist talks the joy of getting loose on the dancefloor for Re-Edition’s music column

 Looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure? Be wary of the algorithm and let yourself be guided by the entrancing vibrations of Up Next – Re-Edition’s long-awaited music column – where arts and culture writer Gilda Bruno sits down with some of the most inspiring names on the up-and-coming and established music scene to delve into the inspirations, sounds and dreams of a new avant-garde of musical talents.

Today Bruno speaks with León-born, multi-hyphenate artist, producer and actress Samantha Hudson to get a sense of her artistic evolution so far, explore the role that the internet has played in the construction of her identity and stage persona, and gather insights into the making of her contagious new album, AOVE.

If there is anything I have learned during my chat with rising multifaceted talent Samantha Hudson is that, no matter how hard life can get, every cloud has a silver lining. For those aware of how the Spanish creative rose to fame following the release of her school project-turned-debut single Maricón (2015), it shouldn’t take long to understand why the proverbial phrase feels especially fitting in this context. For all the others, things will get clearer a couple of paragraphs down the line.

When I speak to her on the opening night of Sónar Barcelona, the boundary-breaking festival active at the intersection of art, music and technology, it seems clear to me that the artist-cum-LGBTQI+ icon couldn’t have chosen any other path for herself than the one she is currently pursuing. A singer-songwriter, producer and actress, ever since the real beginning of her artistic journey, Samantha Hudson has relied on her craft as a way of claiming her right to exist in the world while simultaneously advocating for that of her fellow trans, homosexual and non-binary people.

Leveraging music’s “universal language” to voice the reality of her coming-out journey, with her first-ever song, she unleashed a manifesto of queerness powerful enough to shake the robust foundations of the Spanish Catholic Church and infuriate the country’s far-right political parties. What happened next is history: with a following of over 330K on Instagram, besides sharing some of the most coveted stages in the music scene with legends of the likes of Honey Dijon, Aphex Twin and Peggy Gou, today the artist is known for her pungent, thought-provoking commentary on gender, sex and freedom of expression as well as for her quintessentially camp aesthetic.

Below, we speak to her about the importance of learning how to “take advantage of every disgrace”, how music can help sew the gap between seemingly segregated communities, and why her electrifying latest album, AOVE, feels like an ode to those who still believe in a better future.

Photography by Alejandro Madrid. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson
Photography by Alejandro Madrid. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson

Re-Edition Magazine: You stepped into the music industry with Maricón (2015), your explosive debut single. But when exactly, and how, did music come into the frame for you, and what led you to it?

Samantha Hudson: I wrote Maricón (2015) when I was 16 years old as part of a school project. I had just started my bachillerato, a sort of secondary school here in Spain, and that was the last thing I had to submit before going on my Christmas break. I thought of taking the opportunity to show my new classmates who I really was. Back then, I was using performance to envision the kind of woman I wanted to become; having just started a new school, I felt like that was the perfect opportunity to express myself. So I wrote Maricón (“fag” in Spanish), filmed a video clip for it in front of Majorca’s cathedral and sent it to my teacher. After watching the video, the guy that taught religion at the same school decided to report me to the Bishop of Palma de Majorca: together, they started a campaign of cancellation against me and the teacher who had graded my project nine out of 10.

Before I could realise what was going on, a storm of Christian lawyers and far-right political parties had gathered 27,000 signatures to kick me out of school. It was madness: I was supposed to be enjoying my Christmas vacation when I found myself in all national newspapers and even on television. I remember it as if it was yesterday. Still, I have always been convinced of what I was doing, who I was and who I didn’t want to be: I knew that I didn’t want to be like them or believe in the things they were saying about me, as tough as that could have been for a 16-year-old kid. So I told myself, “you said that you want to be an artist, you are studying drama and have just begun to make some music. Being exposed to others and their judgments is probably the hardest part of this job, but thanks to the Catholic Church and the extreme right, you have had to deal with that already”.

RE: You have started with a boom.

SH: I have always been very controversial, not because I necessarily wanted to, but just because it is part of me. In this social media-ruled world, where everything that matters is chasing the opportunity to go viral, what happened with my debut single basically served me for life. For an artist like me who has learned to take advantage of every disgrace, the internet was really pivotal in kick-starting my career. Even if at first it felt like a game, now I am determined to be a music artist. When Maricón came out I was young, naive and silly. Now I am a strong, empowered woman and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

RE: Ever since the start of your music career, you have turned to your craft to raise awareness of the discrimination that the LGBTQI+ community still faces today. Can music foster understanding between people with radically different experiences?

SH: Art has always been used to manifest and promote the vision of different social movements. For me, music is a way of addressing the struggles I have gone through as a queer person and the life I have managed to build for myself in overcoming them. A great deal of music by heterosexual artists talks about love, marriage and break up, and that is because we turn to art as a means of channelling our personal experiences. Sometimes, like in my case, those experiences are political and can build bridges. As weird as it may sound, most of my fans are heterosexual women of my mother’s age who resonate with my work. After all, music is a way of connecting with others at a universal level. What people don’t get is that, regardless of our sexual orientation, we are all victims of the same gender violence. The kind of violence that urges me, my mother and all other women to shave their legs to be more feminine. The only difference between heteronormative people and people like me is that I cannot stand to live comfortably in and assimilate into such a dysfunctional system.

Samantha Hudson live at Sónar Car, Sónar Barcelona. Photography by Clara Orozco. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson
Samantha Hudson live at Sónar Car, Sónar Barcelona. Photography by Clara Orozco. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson

RE: You were one of the protagonists of the latest edition of Sónar Barcelona, where you explored the ways in which the internet shapes our identity in a live discussion with visual artist Parafeno. How did the digital realm allow you to envision your “future” self?

SH: The internet was truly revolutionary for me. Especially as a teenager, becoming aware of the existence of a world without fixed barriers, where I could be all the things that my parents and society had told me I couldn’t be was incredibly powerful. Throughout my childhood, I never felt represented by the media I would consume, whether TV series, films, or anything else, as none of those had any queer characters in them. Gaining access to the internet meant seeing someone who looked or acted like me on a screen for the first time. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone and showed me that other people were going through the exact same things I was experiencing myself. Tumblr was my favourite platform: I loved how extreme, absurd and filterless it was, and I was especially obsessed with its dark memes accounts. As I dived more into that world, I started dressing awfully on purpose, mixing the most disparate things and styles: it was my way of rebelling against a society that didn’t make sense, yet continued to force me into boxes.

RE: Your latest album, AOVE (2023), has just come out and it makes me want to dance. What is the story behind this project?

SH: At the start of my creative journey, my performances were very theatrical, but I am now gravitating toward electronic music. The inspiration for AOVE stemmed from the drag queen scene and the countless transformations I was lucky enough to witness within it: that is where I started and I will be forever grateful for that part of my life. Had I not cut my artistic teeth doing drag, today I wouldn’t be able to face the audience. Rather than being political, this album is all about embracing yourself and making the most of nightlife while hanging out with your friends and lovers. I know it can sound shallow, but considering the tensed atmosphere of these last couple of years, with COVID, the Russian-Ukrainian war and the cost of living crisis, I felt the need to shake things and spark some joy. Today Cyndi Lauper is more relevant than ever, and yes, sometimes “girls just want have fun”. With its hard beats and bumping bass, AOVE is a celebration of that. It is about putting yourself first, dancing and simply enjoying the ride.

Photography by Alejandro Madrid. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson
Photography by Alejandro Madrid. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson

RE: What do nightlife and the dancefloor represent for you and the LGBTQI+ community as a whole?

SH: I was raised in Magaluf, a holiday destination on the island of Majorca that attracts tourists from all over the world. It is a pretty crazy place, but I wouldn’t have been the same person had I grown up elsewhere. The dancefloor definitely holds a special place in my heart; much like the internet, it is one of the few things that managed to get me out of my bedroom as an insecure teenager, prompting me to accept myself and interact with others. When I moved to Barcelona and, later, Madrid, away from my parents and the world I had known up until then, the dancefloor allowed me to find myself one beat at a time. It felt like the only place where, regardless of what you wore or how you behaved, people wouldn’t judge you. Instead, they would come to talk to you and listen to what you had to say. There is something so magical, almost mystical, about a crowd of strangers gathering at a club to dance their night away. Something so powerful in letting loose and feeling the music as the DJ pulls the records. It is very liturgical, just like a mass.

RE: The 30th-anniversary iteration of Sónar Barcelona focused on how AI is rewriting the history of the art and culture sector. Where do you stand in the AI debate? What are your first impressions of this tool?

SH: All the visuals that served as a backdrop to my Sónar show were AI-generated and developed in collaboration with Parafeno. It is inspiring to think of Artificial Intelligence as a tool that can pull from humanity’s knowledge and artistry to create these new “mash-up”, utopian narratives. It was great to find out that AI was the theme of this year’s festival, as it made my project even more relevant to those attending. While I am aware of the limitations of AI in relation to artists’ intellectual property, I think creatives shouldn’t dismiss it simply because of the debates arising around it. Instead, we should find new ways of engaging with it to understand how it can help us take our craft to the next level.

RE: In recent years, more and more music artists have lent their talent to other creative realms. Whether music, fashion, cinema or art-related, what would be your dream collaboration?

SH: In terms of music, I would love to collaborate with Spanish trap artist La Zowi. She performed on my same stage at Sónar and I know her quite well, which is crazy considering I was a massive fan of hers when I was in high school. Teaming up with her is definitely one of my dreams as is getting bigger here in Spain. Recently, I have been thinking about the prospect of reaching international fame, but there is something that makes me quite anxious about it. Other than that, if I could choose, I would love to morph into a rock, a jellyfish or even a sea plant: I am not made for this world and the world is certainly not made for me!

What were your New Year’s resolutions for 2023? How are you holding up to them? And what can we expect from you in the future?

SH: As I said, I am definitely going through a lot of changes as I become more aware of the direction I would like to pursue as a music artist. I am so proud of my 90s-inspired, countercultural club aesthetic and I cannot wait to take that even further in my next projects. Right now, I am just waiting to see where my craft leads me. Still, I do want all my fans to know that Samantha Hudson has only got started and has big things coming for them in the future.

Photography by Alejandro Madrid. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson
Photography by Alejandro Madrid. Courtesy of Samantha Hudson
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