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On 'Wachito Rico,' Boy Pablo Yearns For His First Love

Originally published on October 25, 2020 12:09 pm

Growing a mustache. Teaching a girl to dance. Lying in bed on a rainy morning.

These are the everyday daydreams of Wachito Rico, the titular character at the heart of Boy Pablo's new album.

And they're not far off from the real life of Nico Muñoz, the 21-year-old Chilean-Norwegian musician behind Boy Pablo.

"Wachito Rico is just a normal boy that really wants to get this girl," Muñoz tells NPR's Weekend Edition. "It started out as a joke. Then I realized it sounded like a character and that's exactly what I wanted for this album — to create a character that I write about and also that I act out in the music videos we've made."

Wachito Rico, which is Chilean slang translating to "handsome boy," is Muñoz's first full-length album since his major splash onto the indie pop scene in 2017. At the time, a video of Muñoz and his friends performing his song "Everytime" went viral on YouTube.

It spurred dozens of covers and tutorials, with fans trying their best to emulate his bedroom pop soundscape of slick synths and sunny guitar riffs.

"I didn't know that that was a thing before I heard of all these bedroom pop artists," he says. "It was just a space that I liked to be alone in and create whatever I want because I mean, I feel safe here. It's really cozy and it's apart from everybody else."

Muñoz started playing guitar at age 11, when he made it a goal to learn covers of his favorite Blink 182 songs. From there, he transitioned into trying to make punk music, which he says didn't fare so well — it wasn't until he discovered bands like Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend and Mac DeMarco that a whole new world of indie music began to open up for him.

And he's stayed independent through his online success. He prefers complete control over his creative decisions, he says, which is why he's not planning to sign a deal with a major label anytime soon. Instead, he relies mainly on social media to provide updates for his new music and videos.

For Wachito Rico, Muñoz released a five-chapter "cinematic album" that captures standout singles like the breezy "hey girl" — inspired by his real-life nerves to ask out his current girlfriend — and the bilingual disco theme "wachito rico," in which he insists he can show his love interest how to move her hips.

"It's just like a regular love story really from a coming-of-age movie," Muñoz says. "Me and my manager were watching a lot of movies by Wes Anderson and Jared Hess, so inspired by that we created a story of our own."

But it's not all rainbows and sunshine — things take a turn for Wachito when his first love finds him dealing with his first heartbreak. And those rough patches shine through in "I <3 U," which he says is currently his favorite song on the album because it's dedicated to a special person from his teenage years.

"I was having such a depressing time in high school. I went through a lot of crap," he says. "And this person really lightened up my life."

Several days after speaking with NPR, Muñoz posted on Instagram that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating himself in his brother's apartment. He wrote that he's "doing fine."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOY PABLO SONG, "COME HOME")

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The music of Boy Pablo is often described as bedroom pop - warm, dreamy songs created by 21-year-old Nico Munoz in the comfort of his home. But the Chilean Norwegian artist has a global reach. He blew up on YouTube a few years ago, breaking over 30 million views on one of his songs. And his first full-length album, called "Wachito Rico," is out this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME HOME")

NICO MUNOZ: (Singing) It's late morning. I'm right here in bed. Oh, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nico Munoz of Boy Pablo joins us now from Bergen, Norway. Welcome to the program.

MUNOZ: Hey. Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So bedroom pop - you've been doing this work-from-home thing way before the rest of us. So tell me about why you were recording it at home. I mean, what is it about that space that creates good music?

MUNOZ: I didn't know that that was a thing before I, like, heard of all these bedroom pop artists. It was just a space that I liked to, like, be alone in and just create whatever I want 'cause I feel safe here. It's really cozy. And, yeah, it's apart from everybody else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. So Wachito Rico is a Chilean term that translates to handsome boy. Tell me about the title. Where did it come from?

MUNOZ: It started out as a joke. And then I, like, realized it sounded like a character, and that's exactly what I wanted for it - this album - create a character that I write about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WACHITO RICO")

MUNOZ: (Singing) I just want us to have a good time. (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about that character. Who is it?

MUNOZ: Wachito Rico is just a normal boy that really wants to get this girl. But it's just like a regular love story, like, really from a coming-of-age movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WACHITO RICO")

MUNOZ: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So your parents immigrated to Norway from Chile during Augusto Pinochet's regime.

MUNOZ: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, Chilean music is such a huge thing. I mean, there's - it's just such a rich, rich, rich vein.

MUNOZ: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did they bring any albums with them to play around the house while you were growing up that influenced your music?

MUNOZ: Like, I'm the youngest of four, so my brothers and my sister used to play a lot more music, like, than my mom and dad. I mean, yeah, of course, there was some Latin music like Americo or Rafada (ph) - like, partly Chilean and Latin music at home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you go to Chile ever?

MUNOZ: Yeah, I've been there, like, five times - six times.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah? And what is it like for you going back there?

MUNOZ: I've been living my whole life here in Norway, but it feels like home because my whole family is there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this album feels a lot like a breath of fresh air because you really lean into sort of the innocence of young adulthood. Let's listen to "Hey Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY GIRL")

MUNOZ: (Singing) Hey, girl, it's the first time I've looked at somebody like this. Hey, girl...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's based on this universal feeling, right? What is this story about?

MUNOZ: I remember when I was trying to get this girl that is now my girlfriend, and I was so nervous. I was shaking every time I was going to talk to her. I guess it's just that feeling of completely losing your head before you talk to a girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOY PABLO'S "HEY, GIRL")

MUNOZ: (Singing) I've never been in love before. I don't know what to do. Hey, girl...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So your guitar has this particular sound. And, you know, your playing has spawned many, many guitar tutorials on social media. Does that seem surreal - that you have, like, all these followers looking at what you do?

MUNOZ: I was shocked because people were, like, covering my songs. And they were, like, doing their own versions and stuff. And I was like, this is what I used to do with, like, my idols and, like, the people I look up to. When I was, like, 11, I started learning all these Blink-182 songs on the guitar. So, yeah, that's when I, like, started making my own music.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about the role of sort of social media in your career.

MUNOZ: Oh, it's everything. I would not have gone viral, obviously, if it wasn't for YouTube. I don't think, like, people saw this coming 15 years ago, but it means everything right now, like, having followers on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter. It's really where you can express yourself and open up to people about your art.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, because you have millions of fans, I want to ask you this. You've chosen to stay independent. You do not have a major label behind you. Do you think that what you're doing is the way forward - that artists like you don't need record labels like they used to?

MUNOZ: Yeah. I mean, I think more and more people are trying to be independent and just try to do as much as possible themselves. Maybe you're more proud of your work. Or, like, you want to be in control of everything. That's the case for me. I didn't want, for example, my creative freedom to be taken away at any level.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's your favorite song on the album?

MUNOZ: It depends on my mood, but I would say, like, these days, it's the last track on the album, "I

(SOUNDBITE OF BOY PABLO'S "I

MUNOZ: (Singing) I love you. Don't know what else to say to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what's it about?

MUNOZ: It's maybe the most personal song I've written - like, most heartfelt song I've ever written. It's about this special person. I was having such a, like, depressing time in high school. I went through a lot of crap, and this person really, like, livened up my life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sort of like a love letter to them.

MUNOZ: Definitely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Nico Munoz of Boy Pablo. His debut album is "Wachito Rico." Thank you so much.

MUNOZ: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOY PABLO'S "I

MUNOZ: (Singing) Come here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A few days after we spoke to Nico, he posted on Instagram that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he's feeling fine and quarantining. And we wish him a speedy recovery. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.