Tall white candles cast shadows over arrangements of white roses, all of which are bathed in a deep red glow coming from the overhead lighting. The room looks like a sepulcher, complete with a lectern, atop which rests a big Bible, casually open to a verse no one cares to peek into. Crowds waft in. Mostly everyone is wearing dungeon-y leather or mesh outfits, either tight with cutouts, or nostalgically baggy – many representing the top designers of Mexico City, some of whom are here themselves, greeting each other with a singular cheek-kiss, catching each other up on life since the last party, art opening, or rave they saw each other at. Here are the shakers and makers of the city’s booming arts and fashion worlds, and tonight at the center of it all is Blue Rojo. He stands off to the side, sunglasses on, staring at the centerpiece wall where a projection of the artwork for his first full length album, Solitario, floats like a heavenly body at the listening party for his highly anticipated oeuvre.
A few weeks later, Blue and I are walking roadside next to early morning traffic trying to find the restaurant that overlooks the Lago de Chapultepec (one of the central organs of our hometown Mexico City, which boasts everything from face painting, ballet shows, and even a castle featured in Romeo + Juliet), sweating through our jackets. We’ve been lost for a while, and we curse our friend for giving us wrong directions as we exchange private conversations and local gossip, fears, dreams, issues that are plaguing us now that we are both *gasp* 30. But perhaps more monumental than reaching a new decade is Blue’s rise from one-time talent search contestant (as Santiago Ogarrio on La Voz in 2013), to his rebirth as independent pop musician Blue Rojo, and where he finds himself now: as a major label artist, repped by Universal Music Latin and VOID Records.
Not only did this signage come with financial backing to take Solitario to a new artistic level, but it also signals a seriousness with which the work is regarded, further elevated by international acclaim from the likes of Spin, Noisey, and Rolling Stone. Blue was also included in 2022’s Ceremonia festival alongside acts like ASAP Rocky, Wu Tang Clan, Arca, and Nathy Peluso.
Mere weeks between the listening party and our lakeside breakfast date, Solitario is placed at number 12 in The Fader’s top 40 albums of 2021, ranking higher than one of Blue’s favorite musicians, Lana del Rey, an artist who, like Blue and many others he has counted as inspirations throughout his life, proves that a rose by any other name sometimes does smell sweeter.
“There was too much baggage in my name,” Blue explains about the genesis of his new identity as our spoons clank the edges of our coffee cups, finally sitting at the restaurant overlooking the lake. “When I was on La Voz I didn’t know who I was at all. I completely disassociated. When I lost I was so depressed. I went to Guadalajara and I was like, ‘I need to live alone. I need to do so many drugs. I need to explode.’” The explosion, as painful as it was, gave birth to a new era in his life. Inspired by the growing aesthetic of face tattoos among rappers, Blue recognized it as a visual language of expression and dedication. “I know that I will never work in an office, so that’s one thing. It’s like chasing my fucking dreams.” He’s also chasing the freedom to be himself, even if it sometimes comes at the cost of being profiled or judged on impact. “Maybe it’s stupid or selfish, but I wanted them.”
Slowly, with the help of time, sobriety, and a life-changing foray into the work of Grimes, Blue Rojo was born. “It all clicked.” He wrote his first song, “me crucifikkaste,” which he shared exclusively as a video, and with it amassed a genuine following. Still with him years later, they have come to witness a different level of production in his latest videos from Solitario, “DESPUÉS DE LA PANDEMIA VOLVÍ A SER CATÓLIKO,” “EL AMARRE,” and the newly released “NO TE KIERO OLVIDAR.”
Blue is a believer. An ardent practitioner of Catholicism during childhood, the fork in his life path could have led him to priesthood instead. Deflated after his stint as a contestant and now on the other side of the Santiago Ogarrio explosion, Blue was even more focused on finding the reason he was drawn to music, singing, and having chosen this path. “Now I see it’s to connect,” he explains, noting that along the road of wandering there were signs all along, such as the show’s choice for him to sing “El Rey Azul (The Blue King)” by Emmanuel.
With the help of the internet and the support of local creatives, audiences quickly connected with his work, which lives at a crossroads between pop, the internet, modern life, and the expression of feelings, equal parts vulnerable and fun (“I no longer trust my head or Instagram”). He wants the energy of the work, its indefinability, to take you on a quest through “this world of emotions and sadness, but at the same time beauty, spirituality, mysticality.”
As friends we have both fanned over the work of Spooky Black and Yung Lean, sad boys of soundcloud, and although Blue does not consider himself a sad boy per se, I point out his emotional rawness provides the same type of space for listeners (particularly straight cis men, a surprisingly huge portion of his audience) to be vulnerable. Laden with machismo and conservative cultural norms, Mexico’s mainstream work is usually a reflection of that bigotry – For a bi-cultural gay man who spent formative time growing up absorbing border culture in Tijuana to invite listeners to have introspective and soft moments with themselves is a revolution. It’s a goal for Blue to continue to challenge and subvert these norms. “I want to make concepts that are more direct and that push the social standards in Mexico, in Spanish speaking culture.”
“Like what?,” I ask.
He grins at me. “I’m not gonna say more.”