Boy Pablo grows up, but stays true: a profile piece by Debaser
In the past years, Norwegian-Chilean singer Boy Pablo got the chance to play in several Liveurope venues such as VEGA in Copenhagen and Ancienne Belgique in Brussels thanks to the support from the Nordic Culture Fund and Creative Europe. While we wait for live music to come back, our Swedish venue Debaser chose to dedicate a profile piece to this promising artist.
Boy Pablo is the project of Nicolás Muñoz, a 23-year-old Chilean-Norwegian artist who unintentionally went viral in 2017 with his music video for ‘Everytime’. Like many fans, it was my introduction to Boy Pablo. The outrageously budget, looks-like-it-was-shot-in-1998 video that features Muñoz and his band playing on a slab of concrete jutting out into the middle of a river, is, at first, nothing cinematographically noteworthy. I remember asking myself, “really?”
But as the camera zooms in and out on the group of teenagers —in their Adidas socks-and-sandals and their faces wincing as they look into the rare Norwegian sun—you start to like it. The music is catchy and nostalgic. They’re just a group of guys, making music, and not trying to be anyone who they’re not.
It’s that down-to-earthness, in lyrics and public persona, that Boy Pablo fans have fallen in love with. “I’m a chill guy, and people in Norway, they don’t express feelings at all. That expressing feelings I got from my family, being chill I got from being Norwegian,” Muñoz said in an interview with Grammy.com.
That family, though, isn’t from Norway. In the 1980s, Muñoz’s parents left Chile to escape the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s rule. So, Muñoz grew up in rainy and dark Scandinavia, but in a home that was warm and Spanish-speaking. The combination forged a mixed identity which bubbles to the surface in his first full-length album. In Wachito Rico, Boy Pablo evolves from the happy-go-lucky kid that listeners know from past releases, into the maturing artist working through some very human emotions.
For the uninitiated, Boy Pablo’s lyrics almost always revolve around themes like love and the uncertainty that comes with finding it. But ‘Te Vas / Don’t Go’ is unlike most Boy Pablo songs. It’s slow, long (more than five minutes), and could easily fit in a bittersweet indie film’s final montage. This particular song—with its stripped-back guitar and vocals—gives listeners a deeper look into the heart of Nicolas Pablo Rivera Muñoz. Emotional lyrics which are usually guarded by a wall of euphonious, disco-y synth in his songs, are laid out bare. The result is a raw and vulnerable song that’s slowly opening the wall’s front gate.
And while they’re simple— which he attributes to his non-nativeness to the language, and music critics to his stated lifelong love for The Beatles—it’s this characteristic that makes his songs so relatable, and loved by music fans from Oslo to Santiago.
In Wachito Rico—which means something like “handsome boy” in Spanish slang—Muñoz explores this identity’s latin side. He’s said that Watchito Rico is a kind of alter-ego, a conduit personality in which to explore themes and feelings that aren’t easy to access as himself. There’s a noticeable change from Boy Pablo’s past releases: more lyrics in Spanish. They pop in and out of songs, used in different ways throughout the album:
To ask the important questions, like in the chorus of ‘Te Vas / Don’t Go’, Munoz sings,
Te vas, te vas.
Te vas, ¿porqué te vas?
You’re leaving, you’re leaving,
You’re leaving, why are you leaving?
Or to add humour: In ‘Mustache’, Muñoz’s dad is heard telling a story, in Spanish, about putting car wax on his face as a kid after hearing that it would cause the hairs on his face to sprout.
Finally, the Spanish culminates in the title track, ‘Wachito Rico’, which features full verses in the language. Muñoz sings:
No puedes negarlo
Tú quieres bailar conmigo
Dame tu mano
Yo soy tu Wachito Rico
You can’t deny it
You want to dance with me
Give me your hand
I’m your handsome boy
Muñoz’s music has brought him all over the world, in just a few years. In that time, Boy Pablo’s videos have come a long way, too. Muñoz created a five-part series to accompany the release of Wachito Rico. Its look and feel is inspired by one of his favourite directors, Wes Anderson, and features narration by a nasal-y voice you might recognize as that of Rick Kirkham, from Netflix’s Tiger King, who also lives in Norway. In these videos, unlike in Boy Pablo’s initial release, the aesthetic is beautiful. The stories, though, stay simple. In the series’ first episode, the main character, Wachito Rico, played by Muñoz, sees a girl he likes in the stands watching his football match. After he scores a goal…well, I won’t give it away.
The point is that Muñoz, while exploring new sounds, writing more vulnerable lyrics, and even bringing in a different but familiar language, has stayed true to what he loves to do: tell stories that people can relate to. As a fan of indie music with a touch of pop, I’m excited to see where Muñoz takes Boy Pablo in the years to come.
Written by Stefano Montali