Ángela Aguilar has recorded four albums and has sung for crowds filled with tens of thousands of fans. Last year, she earned two Latin Grammy nominations, and her performance at the awards show garnered a standing ovation from the audience.
The video for her rendition of the classic Mexican ranchera song, “La Llorona,” has more than 44 million views and counting.
That’s quite the resume for a 15-year-old high school freshman. And Aguilar wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Singing is my dream,” Aguilar says. “It’s what makes me the happiest.”
As for her latest achievement, she recently scored her first Grammy nomination — she’s up for best regional Mexican music album (including Tejano) and is this year’s youngest nominee.
“I was sleeping in my room when I found out,” she says. “It was really, really early, and my sister started jumping on my bed. I got mad because I wanted to sleep, and that’s when she told me about the Grammy nomination.”
They then proceeded to wake up their parents by, naturally, jumping up and down on their bed.
She admits that if she sees Lady Gaga, she “might faint.”
“I saw ‘A Star Is Born’ and cried so much,” Aguilar says. “The soundtrack is amazing.”
In addition to attending the music industry’s biggest night as a nominee, she’ll also be performing at the pre-telecast event, which will take place before the live awards ceremony on Sunday.
In some ways, Aguilar’s success isn’t too surprising considering her pedigree: Her father is Grammy-winning mariachi singer and songwriter Pepe Aguilar. Her grandfather is the late Grammy-nominated master mariachi singer and actor Antonio Aguilar. And her grandmother is the prolific Mexican singer and actress Flor Silvestre.
“My backyard was literally the Grammys, and my play area was the Staples Center,” Aguilar says, laughing-but-not-joking. “My upbringing taught me values. No matter how much you have or how many concerts you do, everyone’s the same. That’s really helped me as an artist.”
Aguilar is an artistic and musical force in her own right. Her first full-length solo album, “Primero Soy Mexicana,” is a compilation of 11 popular ranchera songs. The album’s title is a nod to her Mexican American identity.
“I was born in Los Angeles, and I’ve been living here all my life,” she explains. “But that doesn’t make me any less Mexican and that doesn’t make me any less part of my culture. Before being American, I am Mexican. Before I spoke English, I spoke Spanish.”
Aguilar is widely recognized for reimagining the ranchera genre through a contemporary lens that still honors her heritage.
Many of her dresses, for instance, incorporate the same bright colors of traditional Mexican clothing. She’s particularly fond of designs from Oaxaca, which feature “the most beautiful flowers,” Aguilar says.
“I design most of the clothing I wear with my mom,” she says. “We also work with a lot of artists in Mexico. I use Mexican culture to inspire me.”
In her video for "La Llorona," which puts vibrant Día de los Muertos iconography on full display, Aguilar wears traditional calavera makeup, complete with bright blue crystals around her eyes.
“I’m still a 15-year-old girl who just likes sparkles,” she says.
And like any other Mexican girl of the same age, her recent quinceañera was a top priority.
“It was big,” Aguilar says of the event, which took place in October in an abandoned mansion in Mexico City and took eight months to plan. “The theme was cherry blossoms. There were cherry blossom trees everywhere, and we had a milkshake bar. It was so fun.”
When she’s not busy planning a quince for the books, she’s crooning in a way that would make the average listener think she’s been through hell and back. Any Mexican will tell you that it’s simply impossible to listen to a ranchera song without feeling like your heart is being ripped out of your chest and shattered into a million pieces. And that’s precisely what Aguilar appreciates most about ranchera music: Its brutal — at times gut-wrenchingly so — honesty.
“There are many genres where you cannot really tell a story, and it’s mostly just [for] hearing music,” she says. “Very rarely can a genre teleport you and take you on a ride, and ranchera music does that. No matter what song you sing, there’s a story behind it.”
Ranchera has a long history of being male-dominated, and dominated by men much older than Aguilar at that.
“If you have a female artist that sings ranchera, it’s like, ‘Oh wow,’” she says. “It’s very uncommon for a woman to be singing in this genre, especially if she’s 15 and has been doing it since she was three.”
Her famous family may be the reason she gravitated toward a career in the spotlight, especially at such a young age, but Aguilar says that she’s a performer because it’s what she loves.
“I go to school Monday to Thursday, and then on Friday I usually leave for concerts,” she says. “Half of the students at my school don’t know who I am or who my dad is. Then on Fridays, I get all super glammed up in my super big puffy dresses and perform in front of thousands of people.”