If you talk to people who have worked with Kali Uchis, they often use her name as an adjective to describe her essence and artistry: “It has a Kali-ness to it” or “a Kali trademark,” they say, capturing her distinct vibe.
On Orquídeas, the singer’s fourth studio album, which she released on Friday, Uchis delves deep into her Colombian heritage without straying away from the essence that’s made her stand out over the last decade.
“If I was teaching a masterclass for aspiring artists, I’d tell them to look at Kali’s process. She’s not calculating or chasing. She’s a trendsetter, not a follower,” says Nir Seroussi, the executive vice president of Interscope Geffen. “She has a clear version of what she wants to say, but she doesn’t have a constricted path.”
Uchis effortlessly taps merengue, neo-soul, bossa nova, R&B, and even a bit of urbano on the album from a fresh, distinct perspective.
“For somebody to be ten years in and to still be getting bigger is incredibly rare, says Matt Morris, who A&Rs Uchis’ projects. “This music she’s made in the last 10 years has informed the zeitgeist today. She’s always been ahead of the curve and a perfectionist in the best way.”
From City Girls’ JT and Rauw Alejandro to Peso Pluma and photographer Daniel Sattwald, Rolling Stone caught up with several of the collaborators on Orquídeas to discuss working with the “mastermind” and creating the rich world on the album.
Sana sana, colita de rana, bitch
City Girls’ JT vividly remembers seeing Uchis for the first time. “She just had this demanding energy about her that some people would probably be intimidated by,” she tells Rolling Stone. “But I found it so sexy.”
At the time, the rap star knew very little about the singer and had never listened to her music. But she remembers Uchis had a way of carrying herself that stuck with her.
Fast-forward several years, and Uchis called JT to ask if she’d join her for Orquídeas’ dembow-infused lead single, “Muñekita.” Uchis was a fan of her work with City Girls. When JT heard the news, she was gagged. “I was like, ‘For reals?’” she recounts with a laugh. “Kali is a true artist and is very inspiring. Still, to this day, I’m shocked.”
JT says that Uchis invited her to her house in Los Angeles to record her verse. When she arrived, Uchis had written a complete verse already. “I write my music 100 percent, so at first, I was like, ‘How could Kali do a verse for me?’ I did not expect it to be good,” JT says. “But when I heard it, I was like, ‘OK, this is fire! I could do that.’”
JT wanted to “add something spicy” to the song, though. “I’m like, ‘It’s not describing me as a shit-talking Sagittarius,’ and that’s how sana, sana colita de rana came about,” she says. “We laughed about it the whole time because I had a Spanish accent on it.”
“Being a part of a Kali Uchis album feels like a full-circle manifestation,” JT adds. “I really admire Kali and I want to give her her flowers because I look up a lot to her.”
Chillin’ poolside in Acapulco
Manuel Lara, the producer behind several of Uchis’ hits, including “Telepatía,” remembers a particular 2022 writing camp that he, Albert Hype, Brandon Cores, and several other producers had with Uchis in Acapulco. It was a massively productive week that spawned some of the album’s singles and standouts — and even “Hasta Cuando” from last year’s Red Moon in Venus.
The producers set up three separate areas to make music in the mansion: poolside, where they’d stay up late into the night recording takes; a home theater, which had a dark, cave-like feel to it and had a ton of sound absorption; and an underground billiards room with an echo that “sounded like we were in a cathedral.”
“Kali would be with a microphone singing from inside the pool,” Lara remembers with a laugh. “I’d think, ‘She is going to get electrocuted!’ She was in her vibe, so tons of ideas came up.”
The producers would come up with different sounds, chords, and ideas in each station and receive direction from Uchis. “In her mind, it was quite clear,” Lara says. “She was connecting the dots as we worked.” The end result became Orquídeas highlights like “Te Mata,” “Labios Mordidos,” and “Tu Corazón Es Mío.”
Peso Pluma goes pop
Kali Uchis pulled Peso Pluma out of corridos and reggaetón and “brought him into her world” on “Igual Que Un Ángel,” says Nir Seroussi.
“On paper, because we’ve never heard Peso do anything like this, we asked, ‘How the hell is that going to sound?’” says the executive who helped get Peso to join the project. “When you hear that Kali has Peso on a song, you automatically think it’s going to have a trombone on it.”
“In your head, [the collab] doesn’t make sense. But when you hear it, it does,” he adds. “It’s beautiful how well he sounds in this. He sounds so comfortable.”
The singer’s often-coarse and raspy vocals translate perfectly on the dreamy, synth-pop energy of Orquídeas’ third track. “It’s a different sound than what fans are used to hearing from me and I love being able to showcase more versatility in my music,” Peso tells Rolling Stone. “It was great to collaborate with Kali on this song.”
“Aligned” with Rauw Alejandro’s vibe
Uchis wanted to find an album for “No Hay Ley,” the one-off single she dropped in 2022, since it didn’t make sense on last year’s Red Moon in Venus, Seroussi says.
“This is one that she was really passionate about,” he explains. “When you’re so prolific like her, songs end up getting lost. But she wanted to find a space for it.”
The track ended up being reimagined with Rauw Alejandro, who added a “different twist” to the fan-favorite, thanks to his flowing vocals. “When you have two artists with similar tone or energy, you think they won’t add up to each other,” Seroussi explains. “But I think Rauw gave it a different color. It’s like a second version as opposed to a remix, because you can hear how his delivery brings on something different.”
Rauw gushes about Uchis to Rolling Stone, calling her an “incredible artist,” adding that the energy of the song resonated with him and what he’s doing musically after dropping Planeta Saturno last summer. “I love what she does and what she stands for,” Rauw says. “It immediately clicked when she sent me the song, and I was excited to collaborate because the vibes aligned with my musical moment.”
The ‘undiluted world of the orchid’ in the album’s imagery
The album artwork for Orquideas sees a nude Uchis with her body pressed against a glass wall, her breasts covered by two orchids as she’s surrounded by bits of gold, spread-out flowers, and a fuscia-colored liquid that gives the illusion that the singer is floating underwater.
Sannwald — who previously directed music videos for Uchis’ “Fue Mejor” and “Nuestro Planeta” — says he immediately jumped at the idea of working with Uchis on this. “Kali and I have developed that friendship, and I think she felt very safe in my environment,” he says.
As she did with the sound on the album, Uchis honored her roots by naming the album Orquídeas after the national flower of Colombia, the cattleya trianae orchid. Sannwald incorporated the flower — known for its pastel lavender petals and yellow lip — in most of the images he shot. There are also small flakes of gold floating around Uchis’ left arm, which Sannwald says are an “important element in her culture.”
During the shoot, Uchis lay on a large plexiglass platform while Sannwald shot her from below. There’s a behind-the-scenes image from the shoot where Uchis looks down at Sannwald with a smile as she poses from atop the plexiglass. “It’s really sweet,” he says of the memory. “You can really see that we have a lot of fun together.”
Sannwald ended up shooting several options for the album that he hoped to take “into a surrealistic world” by tapping artist and designer Mat Maitland, who’s worked with Michael Jackson, Lana Del Rey, and Elton John.
“The artwork is so important that it feels like an extra track on the album. It’s part of the world, and you can’t really pull it apart,” says Maitland, who also designed the physical album’s packaging. “You’ll always think of the imagery when you’re listening to it.”
Along with the Uchis image on the plexiglass, there are two alternate covers that Maitland worked on. Both see Uchis in what Maitland describes as an “undiluted, sumptuous world of the orchid.” In one, Uchis is seen suspended in mid-air while floating on the flower as if it were a cloud. While building the collages, Maitland says he took inspiration from Prince’s 1987 Lovesexy cover, which sees Princes sitting nude atop some lilies with similar pastels.
“I wanted the orchid to be this otherworldly, oversized fantasy landscape,” Maitland says. “There’s nothing else there: just a world of orchids, and Kali is in that world.”
There’s also a gorgeous gatefold image in the LP packaging where Uchis lies in dirt wrapped in golden rope, her breasts covered by flowers. Behind her, a larger-than-life orchid resembles a vulva. Maitland says there are “birth or sexual elements” as touchpoints that don’t “force the viewer to think one thing or the other, but hints” at them. In Ancient Greece, the orchids also symbolize fertility and virility. It’s no coincidence: the day before dropping her album, Uchis announced that she was expecting a baby with Don Toliver.
A Coachella sneak peek casi ‘te mata’
Producer Lara has a bright memory of hearing Uchis perform “Te Mata” for the first time. He was in Colombia watching a livestream of Coachella, when Uchis started performing the then-unreleased song out of nowhere. “I was like, ‘What?!’ She’s taking the song! It was amazing,” says Lara, who co-produced the track. “That’s how I knew that the song was going to be on the album.”
Morris, the A&R for the album, says that Uchis playing the song at Coachella was even a surprise to him, but that it created “a demand for the song” for the months leading up to its release. “She’s able to drum up excitement over a long period of time, not because it’s a larger strategy, but because she’s always working on so much and wants to get it out there for her fans,” Morris says. “She makes such timeless music that stands the test of time.”
Lara says that his production team took inspiration from Cuban singer La Lupe’s “La Tirana.” Morris lauded it for having a “telenovela” feel to it, calling it a “natural progression” from the music she made on 2020’s Sin Medio (del Amor y Otros Demonios). “It’s very dark but at the same time is sensual,” Lara says. “I feel like is one of the songs that does represent the roots of Kali in this record.”
An unconventional merengue closer
Uchis ends Orquídeas with a merengue, wedding dancefloor party on “Dame Beso // Muévete.”
“It’s a merengue, but there are parts that are not conventional. This wouldn’t pass in a traditional song, but it’s the blender she puts it in,” explains Seroussi. “To me, it’s beautiful how she makes everything sound like the Kali trademark.”
“It shows a fun side to her personality. I remember the first time I heard that I was like, ‘Wait, what?’” adds A&R Morris. “People aren’t dipping their toes in this sound right now. She’s a trendsetter, and she’s able to explore new terrain and still make it feel like herself.”
Seroussi says Kali wanted to experiment with two types of meringues and was deciding which to proceed with. She loved both “Dame Beso” and “Muévete” so she decided to combine them. “That would’ve never crossed my mind, to be honest,” Seroussi says with a laugh. “Ella hace y deshace. It’s genius. There’s no adherence to rules. Everything stems from her intuition.”
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