Arise KiNG MALA: Los Angeles alt-soul crooner KiNG MALA wrote her new single “She Calls Me Daddy” about a situation that she said many people within the LGBTQ+ community have lived through – the invalidation and trivialization of her sexuality by toxic fuckwits.
“I was with a girl in a bar and these two guys walked up to us and were like, ‘Are you guys dating?’” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we are.’ They said, ‘That’s so hot,’ and grabbed us by the waist. Physically grabbed us. I looked at one of the dudes and I was like, ‘Why are you touching me?’ He flipped out and said, ‘Oh my god no, I thought it was cool.’ I was like, ‘What made you think this was cool?’ That feeling of invalidation hit me so strongly.”
It’s something that she says is far from uncommon – treating sexuality like a phase, a plaything. Her response, in life and through this song, is to reclaim her power.
“If you’re not gonna care, then I’m not gonna care,” she says. “She’s coming home with me whether you like it or not, so fuck you. That’s the vibe. It’s based on that feeling of being invalidated but taking it and claiming your power again over that kind of situation.”
El Paso-born KiNG MALA, aka Areli Castro, grew up with a passion for music and started taking it seriously when she hit high school.
“I honestly don’t remember ever choosing to go into it, because it was always something that I wanted to do,” she says. “It was always my plan, my goal, to just go into music and make it my career somehow. I always felt like the industry was really big and no matter what I did, I would find a place in it. So it was always my passion and I don’t have a lot of patience for doing things that I’m not really, really into. My parents bought me a piano when I was 15 and that was really when I started writing music and performing. That’s how it all started. Lots of sad girl piano ballads at the start.”
KiNG MALA describes her sound as a mixture of all her influences, most notably soul but also alt-rock (“Arctic Monkeys, Cage the Elephant, Young the Giant, the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, stuff like that”). Initially, she wanted to form a rock band in L.A. but quickly realized that she was more suited to the alt-pop sphere as it allows for more flexibility. As for her lyrics, she says that she’s a feelings-based person.
“I tend to write about situations that elicit big emotions for me,” she says. “Some of these deeper experiences are just like more metaphorical, feelings-based stuff. I tend to just write about the things that make me feel something. Whether it’s very specifically situational, or for example the song ‘Homebody’ is that feeling where leaving my house makes me anxious. Stuff like that. ‘Sugarblind’ is that lust for someone. I like to write about those feelings and try to put it into words. It feels like putting a puzzle together.”
The same strength that drives the new single also inspired her choice of name. The artist wanted to pick something that balanced masculinity and femininity.
“I’m really into taking tropes from both, and I feel that I fluctuate between feeling more masculine and more androgynous, into feminine,” she says. “I was in Disneyland with my little sister, and she was in a princess boutique thing where they all get dressed up as princesses. It’s all really cute and whatever. There was this little girl there and she was getting made up as a king. At that point, I realized it had never occurred to me that I could be a fucking king. I was reflecting on that experience, and using ‘King’ felt very empowering to me. Then ‘Mala’ means ‘bad bitch’ in Spanish, so a little nod to my Hispanic roots.”
We are, of course, right in the middle of Pride season and it’s a poignant one after the year we’ve all just had. For MALA, it’s particularly important as she felt, until recently, insecure about her place in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’ve always identified as queer, bisexual, but I never felt like I had the right to claim it or to be a part of the community,” she says. “I don’t know why. I didn’t feel like I belonged necessarily, just because I was like, I don’t know if I’m queer enough. When I released the song, I realized how loving and supportive and welcoming this community actually is. I always knew that, I just never gave myself the opportunity to try. With this song, I was almost afraid that people would be like, ‘You don’t seem queer enough to be writing songs like this.’ But immediately, everyone just welcomed me and were so supportive. I feel like a whole community built itself around the song. I really have experienced just what this community really is and how loving, supportive and open it is.”
If KiNG MALA and her music helps other people open up and feel free to be themselves, then that’s priceless. Meanwhile, June is also her birthday month, so she’ll be going at Pride pretty hard.
“I want to go to the L.A. Pride,” she says. “It’s always amazing. I go with my friends and it’s awesome. In general, I think just celebrating with as many people as I can and I think also especially being an advocate for all the organizations I support and just for being open, accepting and loving of everyone. Try to have as many conversations about it as possible. That’s my goal, I think.”
For the rest of the year, MALA will be releasing more singles and then starting to think about a full lengther in the fall. As for shows, who knows?
“I feel like there’s a lot of talk right now about shows and tours, all the good stuff,” she says. “I’ve been in rehearsals and it’s been so amazing to get back at it. The live show is definitely the most complete and exciting it’s ever been. I’m excited for people to see it.”
Ditto, your majesty.
Arise KiNG MALA: The “She Calls Me Daddy” single is out now.