Welcome to Kali Uchis’ High-Femme Fantasy 

Bouncing in a lowrider and chilling at home with the L.A.-based singer, whose music opens up a world of mischief and beauty, luxury and vulnerability. 
Kali Uchis

Kali Uchis is doing the most Kali Uchis thing imaginable. Set against the Art Deco façade of an Echo Park flower shop, she hangs out of the sunroof of a crimson lowrider, tossing roses to a swarm of fans. Occasionally, the ’91 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance jerks up and down, its driver playing with the hydraulics while Uchis signs vinyl records, dollar bills, and leather jackets. There is plenty of screaming, the thrilling sound of fandom finally consummated by an IRL encounter. At one point, someone shouts, “That’s my Sharpie; I love you!” 

It is early afternoon, and her fans—who call themselves “Kuchis” (pronounced exactly like you think it is)—have been camped out since 4 a.m., hoping to catch a glimpse of the artist. The line for the meet-and-greet, which wraps around the block at least three times, is its own kind of spectacle. People are picnicking on the asphalt, passing the time by brushing watercolor paint onto sketchbooks while “In My Dreams,” a cut from Uchis’ debut album Isolation, blasts from Bluetooth speakers. Each fit is immaculate—a terminally online, Y2K blur of clear lip gloss, rainbow butterfly clips, and crop tops that brandish phrases like “SLUT ERA” and “POSITIVE” in all caps.

These fans are dutiful graduates of the Kali Uchis School of High-Femme Luxury and Gentle Romance. For the last 10 years, Uchis has conjured vampy glamor and radical tenderness in her pearly blend of soul, R&B, and experimental pop. She plays on and against archetypes of the femme fatale, and in her universe of knife-sharp stilettos and dramatic cat eyeliner, days are spent plotting exes’ murders, or sipping tea in lingerie and a feather-trim robe. She’s found strength in a whole spectrum of femme aesthetics, even in the context of a patriarchal world that considers them trivial and vacuous. Part Brigitte Bardot, part Colombian baddie, the 28-year-old emanates a spiky-soft confidence.

Red Moon in Venus, her third studio album, arrives this week, after a string of commercial milestones over the last couple of years. There was her Grammy-winning collaboration with Kaytranada, “10%,” and her double-platinum hit “telepatía,” which made her the first female soloist to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart in nearly a decade. These metric-driven accomplishments are new for Uchis. “I’ve very much started from the ground up in the public eye, figuring it out as I go along,” she explains later, away from the mayhem. “Telepatía” wasn’t even intended to be a single—it took off organically on TikTok—but the song’s success highlights how Uchis’ ascent represents the rare industry slow burn. “Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m understanding that I don’t have to define my success by the standards of a pop artist’s success, because I don’t feel that I am a pop artist.”

After dismounting the lowrider in Echo Park, Uchis enters the shop to pose for photos with fans inside of a sculptural flower installation. In the back, a fuchsia neon sign spells her name in delicate cursive letters, the kind you might find in a 6th-grade girl’s notebook. Surrounding her are thin hanging wires of baby pink roses, which tumble past the singer’s candy-apple crop top and skirt, all the way down to her matching strappy sandals. The flowers fall gracefully around her face, framing the winged eyeliner on her temples. It resembles a high-femme fantasy Uchis saw in a dream, the promise of quiescent power come to life.

A self-taught singer from an immigrant family, Uchis grew up between Alexandria, Virginia and Pereira, a small town in the foothills of the Colombian Andes. She first turned heads in 2012 with a 17-track mixtape she mostly wrote and recorded on her laptop the night before she uploaded it to DatPiff. “It was really me freestyling and sampling,” she says. “I didn’t think people were gonna actually listen to it.” 

Uchis eventually deleted the tape and started posting self-directed music videos online, each one awash in the lo-fi glaze of a Super 8 camera. Over the next few years, she secured collaborations with Tyler, the Creator, Gorillaz, and Snoop Dogg and signed a major label deal with Virgin EMI. Her first two full-lengths, 2018’s Isolation and 2020’s Sin Miedo (del Amor y otros Demonios) ∞, collaged funk basslines and twinkling synths, unveiling a more complete portrait of  Uchis’ prismatic pop vision. Inspired by the title of a Gabriel García Márquez novel, Sin Miedo was her first album sung almost entirely in Spanish. It reveres the Latin American genres Uchis grew up with—reggaeton, bolero—as much as it seeks to transmute them. 

Red Moon in Venus is Uchis’ most immersive project yet—a bottomless plunge into the waters of love and loss. The fluid groove of “Blue” feels like a Sade B-side, while “Love Between” weaves doo-wop nostalgia into crystalline romantic reverie. Often, it’s her smoldering voice that holds all the dreaminess together. When Uchis sings, it feels incantatory, calling on a long vocal genealogy of femme softness and grief. On the album’s lead single “I Wish you Roses,” you can hear the lissome ethereality of soul legend Minnie Riperton, but also the low, plangent melancholy of jazz titan Sarah Vaughan. “Deserve Me,” featuring Summer Walker, holds the hard-won knowingness of Afro-Cuban star La Lupe, with hints of Brandy’s cool self-assurance. It’s never maximalist, always utilitarian, molded to fit revenge and desire in equal measure.  

The morning after the fan event, I meet Uchis at her home about an hour outside of Los Angeles. After a month of rain, the typically desiccated shrubland is now lush and verdant, dotted with tufts of sagebrush and pointy cacti. The backyard boasts a small veggie garden of tomatoes and peppers, a stone labyrinth, and a wide pool. Overlooking the nearby hills is a bucolic landscape of strawberry farms and horse ranches. It is a world away from yesterday’s trampled rush, and clearly a refuge designed for Uchis’ peace. “I can’t be around a lot of people all the time,” she says. “I don’t be going out too much. I get overwhelmed and just prefer to be in my own world.”

Uchis moved into the house a couple months ago, but even in its minimalism the space feels luxurious. We settle on a fuzzy, alabaster loveseat that sits low to the ground; a half-full bottle of Patrón from a night of celebration lays discarded on the couch. On a shelf in the kitchen, there’s a copy of Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, by the Chilean writer Isabel Allende—a book about the carnal pleasures of food and sex. 

The mood is cozy: Uchis’ manager brings us fleece blankets, water, and lavender tea. The singer sports a hot pink sweatshirt and silver velour lounge pants, along with leopard-print slippers and a matching headband. At one point, Uchis’ cat, Bunny, saunters into the room, curling up on the arm of the couch in the sun that streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Uchis was born Karly Marina Loaiza in Alexandria, but spent a few years of her childhood in Pereira. She became resourceful by circumstance; in Colombia, her family didn’t have hot water, so she learned how to shower with buckets. She made sure to never throw out food. When her family eventually got a dishwasher, she never touched it, knowing it would waste electricity. “Being a little kid was always about everybody else first,” she remembers.

The singer’s family returned to Virginia, where her father managed apartment complexes for a living. He would often hire cousins, aunts, and uncles who’d recently arrived from Pereira as cleaners or construction workers. Sometimes, a young Uchis had to put up drywall too. “Being from an immigrant family and always being taught that work is the most important thing, I lost a bit of my childhood, always trying to be productive, be ambitious, and make money,” she reflects. Uchis often shares piercing emotional insights like this, usually in hushed tones. Maybe it’s because she’s a Cancer and has a lot of feelings. Or maybe she just knows what it’s like to survive the implacable fatigue of diasporic life and siphon wisdom from it. 

Uchis’ first performances took place at school, where she played saxophone in the jazz band. She sold customized thrift store clothes to make extra cash and saved up for a camera. “I was really into directing and learning how to edit videos,” she says. One short film was about a teenage lesbian drug dealer who fakes her own death, only for her girlfriend to find out she’s still alive via Facebook. Uchis often skipped class to work on it, but her real ambition was to create original songs for these dramas. She bought a laptop and a USB mic, and taught herself how to record her voice on GarageBand. 

The people around her were initially skeptical. “The first thing that my dad said to me when I said I wanted to be a singer was, ‘There’s a million girls prettier than you and that can sing better than you. What would make you think that you could ever do that?’” 

She goes on, “A lot of immigrant families are of this mindset—your parents have to be the most honest with you and they have to make you as tough as they can make you, because the world is hard.” Her relationship with her father became tense, and at 17, her parents kicked her out of the house. She lived out of her Subaru or crashed with friends, working at a grocery store to cover her expenses, until eventually reconciling with her family. After her mixtape garnered buzz, she took a risk and moved to L.A. in 2015.

“I felt like, Oh I’m never going to be shit, because people like me just grew up in shit and I’m just born to be shit,” she says. “You have all those negative thoughts and you have to just silence them and realize, I’m not any of that. I’m not my family. I’m not my bloodline. I’m my own person.” 

Uchis has learned a lot about heartbreak over the last few years—familial, romantic, and platonic. “I always had a very warped sense of what love is,” she says. She’d find herself carrying trauma into her relationships, seeking out toxic friendships and partners as she got older. “I had to accept the love that I wasn’t able to receive from my parents,” she reflects. “They essentially hated me because they hated themselves.” 

Red Moon in Venus contains some of those lessons of self-worth. “Moral Conscience” could be addressed to a traitorous lover, but the song is also about Uchis healing childhood wounds—and taking comfort in cosmic retribution. (“One thing about karma—that bitch will find you,” she quips in the first few seconds.) “Deserve Me” is deliciously petty, full of warm, orotund melodies that affirm you’re better off without the companion who made you feel alone in the first place. Uchis didn’t become fully aware of the fact that the songs on the album shared these themes until after she wrote them. “When I looked at the entire body of work, I realized a lot of the message was centered around knowing yourself,” she says. “Love, obviously, but all the different aspects of love—whether it be releasing somebody with love, calling love into your life, or self-love.” 

When the album was announced, Uchis explained in a statement that the songs reflect the “divine femininity of the moon and Venus.” Though histories of the divine feminine vary, the concept is an amalgam of different belief systems, drawing on deities across cultures and centuries, including Isis, Aphrodite, and the Virgin Mary, among dozens of others. As a new-age trope, the divine feminine has often been diluted into a kind of gender essentialism, emphasizing feelings, roles, and practices that are traditionally coded as feminine or tied to notions of fertility, such as caretaking and intuition. But for many contemporary spiritualists, the concept is an act of patriarchal subversion—one that doesn’t have to recur to traditional gender roles, or even the gender binary. 

For Uchis, engaging with the feminine hasn’t necessarily been intentional. But she wonders if the lack of unconditional love she had early on in her career has pushed her in this direction. “I grew up on tough love. I never had that feeling of anyone being like, ‘You can do anything and you’re beautiful,’” she says. “Maybe that’s why a lot of my work revolves around self-empowerment and femininity. That’s how I learned to heal and found myself.”

Uchis’ earnest emotionality forces you to engage with the most intimate parts of yourself—the scars and the fortitude alike. When I look at her art, I see a capacious vision of what it means to be femme, one that blooms from the seeds of both self-knowledge and fantasy. You can imagine yourself as a telenovela villain in red lipstick and heels, but you’re also allowed to drink a glass of Merlot in a bubble bath and cry your eyes out. Uchis’ world of mischief and beauty is an aperture—a chance to remind yourself you’re still that bitch, even if you’re bruised.

These days, Uchis is focusing on the long arc of her discography. She’s challenging herself vocally, exploring the range of her whistle register and her melismatic limits. But she’s also doubling down on the themes that have defined her music from the start—autonomy and connection, intimacy, and alienation, trauma and recovery. She’s still singing in both Spanish and English, intent on establishing herself as an artist in both worlds. When she told her label she was going to write Sin Miedo, an album almost entirely in Spanish, “They literally said, ‘You’re on your own,’” she explains. “It also felt like so much of my demographic was disappointed to even hear that it was in Spanish, because a lot of them are English speakers.”

Yet for many U.S.-born Latinx artists of a younger generation, Uchis’ rise has been a blueprint. In 2021, the Dominican-Mexican artist Ambar Lucid told me that Uchis was “iconic” to her as a 14-year-old—and an inspiration for her own career. The Chicano singer Omar Apollo, who features on Red Moon, has called Uchis his bestie, sister, and prima. He recently said that just watching her work—quickly, focused—helped him a lot.  

Uchis points out the industry’s impulse to collapse multidimensionality, especially for bicultural artists. She has sought to resist those coercive forces since she started making music a decade ago. “If I really wanted to be more commercially presentable, I could have just picked one thing that was sellable, but I’ve never felt that capitalistic pressure on my art.”

Red Moon in Venus includes a couple of Spanish-language tracks, but Uchis says those are “conceptually and sonically” different from the songs on her next Spanish-language album, set to drop later this year. “When I think of Red Moon in Venus, I think of being on a bike ride, or laying in the sun listening on my headphones,” she says. By comparison, the next album is more upbeat—apparently, it explores her “bitchier side.” She incorporates styles of Latin American music she hasn’t ventured into before, and stretches her voice even further than on Red Moon. “Being multidimensional, there’s all these different sides of me that I need to show.”

Along with the cat named Bunny, Uchis also owns two actual bunnies. They’re called Butterscotch and Mumu, and when we approach them in their cage outside, they start to cluck like chickens. In a nearby shed, Uchis grabs pellets for them to snack on. The first rabbit was a Christmas gift from her boyfriend, the R&B singer Don Toliver. She got the second one after learning that the animals need companionship to survive. “They can get lonely and die of heartbreak,” she says. The thought is sweet and sorrowful, just like the stories Uchis tells in her own songs.