Up Next is a FIERCE series highlighting rising Latina and Latin American women artists you might not know about but definitely should.
Rhythm and blues has returned to the main stage thanks to exciting young acts breathing a refreshing spirit into the genre. Among them: Juani. The Puerto Rican-born singer was raised in church, and the influence of gospel music is evident in her soul-stirring pop ballads, which, unlike her contemporaries, deal more with self-love than romantic affection.
“There’s a void where my heart once lived. No longer whole, I’m separated,” Juani, born Juanialys Corsino, sings in “Broken,” a song inspiring those who feel shattered, perhaps because of a breakup, to not let their heartache and depression claim their lives and, instead, seek the help they need to feel whole again.
“Music is a way of healing, and it’s a big tool that can be used to move forward in life. I want to use my platform to entertain, inspire and help people,” the 18-year-old Queens, New York-based songstress told FIERCE.
We chatted with Juani about curative music, what she does when she feels broken, her big break on Showtime at the Apollo with Steve Harvey and her forthcoming EP, No Lane, among so much more.
Q: You’re just 18 years old and yet have this really mature warmth to your voice. When did you realize you could sing and that this was something you wanted to pursue?
A: I realized I could sing around age 7. When my parents seperated, I would sing to their voicemails. It was a way for me to cope. I’ve always loved music, even as a little girl. It runs in my family. We sing or play an instrument. We just love music; it’s in our DNA. But I really started singing in church, especially when I lived with my grandmother in Massachusetts. It didn’t turn into something that could have been professional until I moved to New York my junior year of high school to live with my parents. I saw the opportunities coming my way, and I realized this could be something. I really started to believe in myself. After I had my first radio interview in 2016, it made it official for me: singing is what I wanted to do.
Q: You grew up in Orlando, Massachusetts and Harlem, areas with vast Latinx and Caribbean populations. What sort of music was playing around you and what kind of influence do you think this has had on your pop soul style today?
A: It was mostly gospel, to be honest. Most of my family is involved in church. But I also heard a lot of R&B growing up, especially Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. But I was really raised on gospel, and I believe that’s where my soul comes from.
Q: Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
A: I like to say if Beyoncé and Rihanna had a baby, then that would be me. But I do have male role models as well, particularly John Legend and Chance the Rapper. I know Chance doesn’t sing, but I enjoy his story and how he goes about his music. Tori Kelly just came out with her gospel album also. I really don’t have a person I idolize. I just follow people. I admire their paths. But it fluctuates because there’s new talent every day.
Q: When you were 16 years old, you landed a spot on Showtime at the Apollo with Steve Harvey. What was that like?
A: That was super, super exciting. People ask me all the time if I was nervous. I don’t know if it was all the praying I did, but I wasn’t as nervous. I think the bigger the audience, the less nervous you get. You feel less judged when you see so many faces. You’re not just staring at like 10 people. I think the pressure is less demanding. It was a great audience. Glory to God I didn’t get booed. And it got me a lot of exposure. I got to meet Steve Harvey and a lot of different artists. It was super, really.
Q: On your YouTube channel, you publish videos of covers and original music. Most recently, in September, you dropped “Broken,” a song and video about heartbreak, depression and self-violence. Why did you want to explore these themes through your music?
A: It’s a great message that should be out there. To be honest, with everything going on in the world right now, I don’t think we are speaking about these things enough. Music is a way of healing, and it’s a big tool that can be used to move forward in life. I want to use my platform to entertain, inspire and help people, and if that’s through music, then I will gladly do that as well.
Q: In moments when you’re feeling broken, at a low that feels impossible to overcome, what do you do?
A: I pray — that’s my go-to. I grew up with gospel music, so gospel music to me is a way to connect and heal as well. But not just gospel, music in general can be healing. It helps you get things out. I’m also very close with my mom, so I’m able to talk with her about things. When I feel low, she gives me words of encouragement. I encourage others to find that one person they can go to. Maybe it’s their mom or maybe it’s not, but identify that person.
Q: What role do you think music can play in healing and self-care?
A: Wow! It helps mentally and emotionally, and, if you listen to it while you work out, physically, too. Music is healing. It’s emotional. It can heal you through broken times or it can lift your spirit, but only if you allow it to. People tend to close off people in general when they need help, and we can do that with music as well. Sometimes life is so hard you don’t want to open up to anything; you don’t want to feel. But you need to, and music can be an easier way to open up. It’s not a person. No one is going to judge you. Allow music and lyrics to speak to you, and you can find healing in it.
Q: I love that! You’re an independent artist, managed by your mother, and yet you have tens of thousands of followers and are booking shows throughout New York City. What are some of the barriers and benefits that come with being independent?
A: Let’s start with the cons. Financially, it can be very hard having to do it on your own, but that can also be a pro, managing your own stuff. When you’re with a label, they help you a lot but that can mean you don’t land the best deal and you end up in debt later on. Another pro is having my mom as my manager, having someone I can trust. Also having free will and not having so many says in your project. Being independent is pretty popular in the music industry right now. We are realizing we can do it on our own as long as we have the numbers. Back then, if you signed to a label, that was your biggest accomplishment, and it’s still great, but media has changed so much that we can do it on our own. If you put your mind to it, know how to work social media and work hard on your music, it’ll get acknowledged whether you’re signed or independent.
Q: And being independent offers you creative freedom. What are some styles, genres or subjects you’d like to explore but haven’t yet?
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A: I’ve done Spanish pop already, but I want to do merengue or bachata. I do like acting and modeling as well. Recently, I’ve been more focused on music, but I do want to touch base on those other forms of art as well. I also love style, so I want to get merch going soon. Honestly, I would love to open a store, too. I have a lot of dreams. Even with music, I don’t see myself in one lane. I’ve done ballads and Spanish, but that’s never going to be enough. I want to continue to be able to explore with my music. I want to do all types of music.
Q: What are some projects you are working on and when can we expect to hear or see them?
A: Right now, I’m working on an EP called No Lane. It’s about being free and doing whatever my heart feels like doing in that moment. It’s about five or six songs, and I plan to drop it by the end of the year. I don’t have a concrete date right now because there are so many other things being presented to me at the moment. I’m trying to find balance, but I do know that No Lane is my next move.
Q: You’re 18 years old, at the start of your career. In a few years, what do you hope the people can say about Juani?
A: That I’m hard-working, that I earned this and that they’re inspired and want to go after their own dreams as well. I want to be Beyoncé No. 2, and I want them to be buying a ticket, girl, front-row!