Alaina Castillo is on another level. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter is the epitome of coolness. Building her musical career off her YouTube channel by doing covers and ASMR, Castillo transitioned into creating her own unique blend of music that fans can’t get enough of.
Born in Houston, Texas, to a Mexican father and American mother, she always knew she wanted to pursue a singing career. However, her parents encouraged her to focus on higher education and attend college, which led her to study biology at the University of Texas in Austin.
In her first, and only, year of college, her YouTube channel gained traction and her videos started to amass millions of views. It was then that Castillo knew that this was her chance to pursue her true passion.
“Whenever I went to college, like the summer before, that’s when my channel started blowing up. That’s when I was like, OK, now I’m going to tell my parents that I’m going to college but low-key I’m going to go home every single day, make videos and do what I can to make sure that I’m gonna get [to where I am now],” Castillo tells ET about kicking off her musical career.
Experimenting with her own music on GarageBand, she released her first original song, “ Let Me Know” in 2018. The track caught the attention of management group Fine Group Entertainment, which led her to connect with producer RØMANS. The two have been working together ever since, releasing her first EP, Antisocial Butterfly, in 2019, as well as part one of her debut LP, Parallel Universe, which dropped this past May.
Her dark R&B ballads and catchy pop-infused bilingual anthems differentiate Castillo from other artists on the rise. She also keeps it real with her fans about the ups-and-downs of growing up.
“The reason that I am doing all of this is because I connect to it on a very deep level and I want my fans to connect to it in the same way, with their own meaning,” Castillo shares. “Hopefully it gives them that escapism that it gives me.”
And fans have connected. Her TikTok boasts 1.8 million followers, her YouTube has over 60 million views, she was named Spotify’s first-ever US RADAR artist in 2020, and has over 150 million streams on its platform. Earlier this year, she attended her first award show and performed “Bésame Mucho” at the 2021 Latin American Music Award, and is embarking on her Parallel Universe Part 1 Tour this fall.
Whether you’ve been a longtime fan or just discovering Castillo, read on to get to know the euphoric singer.
Entertainment Tonight:You came from a tight knit religious family. How was music part of your life growing up?
Alaina Castillo: When I was younger, I always remember saying I wanted to be a singer. I would do karaoke at my friend’s houses, I would join the choir, [but] I was really shy. My mom knew I was reserved so when I wanted to join the choir she’d be like, “Are you sure about that?” I really enjoyed doing it and it was fun. That’s where it kind of came and it was weird because I would literally listen to Christian music when I was younger and then I hit a point where I started making friends in middle school and they showed me R&B and all different radio stations and I was like, “What is this?”
What kind of artists did you listen to that influenced your style?
The artists I listened to when I hadn’t discovered radio were Elvis [Presley], the Beach Boys, whatever my parents had playing at the time. A lot of Whitney Houston as well, which was the type of music I gravitated to. And [what] I started listening to in middle school was just a lot of Usher, Ne-Yo, Rihanna and Drake. It was a lot of Houston R&B. It became a style of music that became my preferred and go-to whenever I’m making music.
YouTube covers and your ASMR videos were your way into the entertainment world. When did you decide you wanted to pursue a singing career?
I hit a really low point in my life in 11th grade. I just felt like I was alone and I realized how powerful I was being independent. That’s when I started my YouTube channel and it was just the growing process that took the longest, I think. Whenever I went to college, like the summer before, that’s when my channel started blowing up. That’s when I was like, OK, now I’m going to tell my parents that I’m going to college but low-key I’m going to go home every single day, make videos and do what I can to make sure that I’m gonna get [to where I am now].” I told my friends, each week I would give them updates of what videos I wanted to post. For a while they didn’t really see the image and it was hard talking to them because they weren’t in the same mindset as you, but I just kept going. But college was when it all started happening. My first and only year of college [laughs]. I’m really glad it happened the way that it did because it’s such a trial and error process.
How did you come up with your galactic aesthetic and vibe?
From the very beginning I really liked space, I liked visuals while I was singing my covers. I always had something going on in the background that people could look at and see. So after saying I like Saturn, putting that in my logo, the colors just started to add up. Because for each artwork, if it was yellow and green I wouldn’t want it. I would go more for the purples and the pinks. That was just something that came out in every single thing. It’s fun because I created this parallel universe that I can escape to with the neon lights, pink colors and everything. For me, if the vibe isn’t right around me, then I don’t feel comfortable, so I like to create comfortable situations that make people feel like they can relax and open up.
How do you describe your sound and the type of music you put out?
It’s very dark and moody and just a different vibe to it, because I’ve listened to so many different genres of music in my lifetime that I like to put everything into one song. If you want to listen to something different then my music is the place to go for that.
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What’s your process for creating music? Are there deadlines you have to meet or do you get creative freedom?
It’s whatever mood I’m in because there have been a lot of cases where we just scrapped full albums that we have because we don’t feel it. There’s a lot of creative freedom, which for me is necessary because if I feel like I’m too trapped then I just don’t do well at all. It’s been fun to make that music but there’s definitely a lot of freedom when it comes to creating this music that I have been making.
You’ve sung in Spanish before and your father is Mexican. Does your culture and background influence your art?
I learned Spanish in high school because my dad never spoke to me [in Spanish]. So I was like, fine, I’ll go learn it on my own. I’m still learning to this day, but I remember the first time that I could sing a song in Spanish and I was so proud and happy. Now I just want to make my own music in Spanish. So it came from the idea of me being able to make music that my family could understand, my dad’s side of the family, or even my fans that speak Spanish. That is what I wanted because at the end of the day it’s easy to get lost in everything, but the reason that I am doing all of this is because I connect [with music] on a very deep level and I want my fans to connect to it in the same way, with their own meaning.
Your first official single was “I Don’t Think I Love You Anymore.” How did that come about?
That one was really weird because it was one of the last songs that we wrote for the EP. I was just not having a very good day, was going through some stuff emotionally with my relationship and I didn’t know where it was going to go. I’m such a hopeless romantic so whenever I went into the studio I was like, “[Let’s] make a sad song. I don’t want to do anything else but sing a sad song.” So [RØMANS] did it and when I went up to sing and the first thing that came out during the chorus was “I don’t think I love you anymore” and that to me just hit my brain and I was like, “f**k, did I really just say that or do I take it back? Or just go on with that feeling?” because it was a very vulnerable topic. And I think we just knew right there and then that it had to come out first because my fans knew that I was a really straight-up person with my feelings. So to release that first was obvious to show that there are dark moments in everything and people might not know it.
How was the fan reaction to that song and how did you feel after it was released?
It was awesome because that was my first thing. I had done a few things on YouTube, making random songs on GarageBand, but this was the first full production, where we had done a pre-save for and everything. I just felt really connected to it and kind of scared at the same time. Whenever it came out, I just remembered that the reason that I started my YouTube was because I wanted to sing and my videos helped other people. So whenever people who listened to “I Don’t Think I Love You Anymore” liked it, I was, “Yo, this is what I’m going to be doing for the next few years. This is all that I want to do.” It kind of hit me that it was starting in that moment.
“Wish You Were Here” if your most recent track. Tell us about the track and inspiration behind it?
I started writing it during quarantine because my boyfriend, we were apart. I was in Los Angeles, just moved here, and then everything just kind of shut down. I stayed in my apartment a lot and was just getting used to everything, being away from my family, people who kind of ground you. It was really rough because I am a very independent person [but we still] need somebody. So that song, I had the idea and it was obvious to start writing it, but we never really knew what to do with it because it didn’t fit the vibes that we were working on before that. It’s been a work in progress. But it’s about missing somebody or wishing that the one person who can fix all of your issues was with you but they’re not. There’s one line that says, “This is how I know it’s not enough,” because I have things to be grateful for and happy about, but at the end of the day I need my person with me. I think it just hit for a lot of people with quarantine, a lot of people losing their loved ones.
So what artists are you into and are currently listening to?
Right now I’m listening to a lot of SG Lewis, Jhené Aiko, Westside Boogie, Kali Uchi, those are kind of my top. It’s very different and I’ve been trying to go on all these different playlists to find, it’s called silk sheets and it’s just those things that get you into the vibes and there’s so many new artists that I have been listening to.
You make an appearance on Facebook Dating’s Summer of Love, where you discuss your dating experiences with cultural commentator Justin LaBoy and Tik Tok personality Leenda Dong. Tell us about how you got involved in this?
I tend to keep a lot of stuff private and I think to my fans I’ve told them stories of things that have happened in my life with relationships and stuff. But I’ve been pretty good [with relationships], like my relationship for the past few years now. So I was just like, “What am I going to say?” But there’s always stories to dig up. It was really fun to be a part of that… I haven’t really said those stories out loud. It was weird talking about it because I’ve never really talked about my personal life, but I was like, let’s do it for Facebook and see what happens.
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In the fall you’re going on tour and have a couple festivals coming up. How are you feeling about hitting the road?
I am so nervous. I mean, what?! I guess that’s true now that I said it [laughs]. But I’m so excited for tour! We’ve been going through the dance rehearsals and everything, and to me that’s always my favorite part. So I’ve been getting on Live with my fans on Instagram and taking them through the steps so that they are super involved. I’m really looking forward to the tour, Life Is Beautiful in September, and then releasing new music after all that time.
What has been your pinch-me moment?
It’s crazy because I just released my first EP like a year and a half ago, so I’m still having so many pinch-me moments. But I think recently probably the Latin AMAs because you have to go up during the break and I stood on my little platform and I was looking at all the people that I usually see on TV. I was like, “Sh*t, let me get in my position really quickly before I sing.” But that was definitely a moment! I was so happy though. I wasn’t nervous. Usually I’m throwing up because I’m nervous but before that I was just happy to be there. I was like, “Finally, let’s go.”
And I loved the creative side of it too because this moon was literally surrounding me, so I was definitely very comfortable as well. It was a fun first award show experience.
Now that you’re going full force with your career, with success comes a lot of exposure, feedback and criticism. What has been one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced and how do you overcome that?
I think it gets harder when you realize that there are a lot of eyes on you and the things you’re doing. But at the end of the day, I just try to think about it as I’m talking to my parents or friends face-to-face. Whenever I get on Twitch or any of my socials and I’m just chatting with my fans, that’s the energy that I take everywhere because they are so supportive. They are there for me and literally my hype team. If I ever feel nervous or pressured by the opinions of others, then I’m just going to forget about that because I’m here to do me and to make my music and leave a mark.
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