Photography by Ryan Shorosky
Fashion by Julia Ehrlich
When I let it slip to Leslie Grace that I’m a Super Junior fan, her eyes light up like floodlights.
“So you’re an ELF?” she yelps, referencing the K-Pop group’s fandom nickname. One of Grace’s recent hits—and she’s been pumping out hit-after-hit—is hopping on SuJu’s “Lo Siento,” a trilingual Latin-influenced pop track with Grace on the chorus. K-Pop, it should be noted, is big business in Latin America. According to Korea.net, three million K-Pop fans are in Mexico City alone, making it an epicenter for the K-Pop-Latin-American-pop collision. When her friends and the producers of “Lo Siento” came to her to do the track, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Obviously, I knew everything that was going on with K-Pop,” she tells me. “I had obviously known about Super Junior—not to the extent that I know now though. I’m blown away. SuJu had planned to relaunch their album, and they had already planned a Latin American tour, and their team knew they wanted to re-release the single off the album as a trilingual track in Spanish, English, and Korean. They were really open to learning about [Latin] culture, and why we use certain sounds, which I think was so super smart on their part. Very necessary, because venturing into another sound, just the same way we did with them, [they could be accused of appropriation].”
Now, she’s fully in the scene and performed with the boy band at KCON in New York to an arena full of adoring, screaming fans.
But this isn’t Grace’s first rodeo. She’s been prominent in Latin American music since releasing a couple of bachata-flavored covers of Motown girl group songs (the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”) in 2012. Lately, her sound has crossed over into the reggaeton/Latin-pop territory—her songs “Díganle” (featuring Becky G, and the remix featuring insanely popular reggaeton boy band CNCO) and “Duro y Suave” (featuring Noriel) have both surpassed 100 million views on YouTube.
Riding on those successes, the 23-year-old Grace is preparing a new album called Gracevolution, a documentation of her growth as an artist.
“There’s a common thread amongst all the songs, which is sincere lyrics about stuff that I’m going through, and I think other people my age, or maybe older or younger, are going through,” she says. “Things that when I was 16, 17, 18, I didn’t have as much confidence to talk about, but now I’ve totally found that power and vulnerability. Two, sound-wise, there’s a lot of fusion. There’s trap vibes, there’s reggaeton-cumbia vibes. So there’s some more of that on the way, but there’s also a moodiness to the album, as well, which I’m excited about.”
Part of the openness of the album is Grace’s vocal encouragement for those with mental health issues, something that she says she’s struggled with.
“I hadn’t dealt with any mental health issues until this year,” she says. “I can say sincerely that I didn’t understand when people would talk about depression or anxiety. I’d just think, ‘Okay, that’s life.’ But even my mom has gone through so many things. As an artist, I wanted to speak about it in light of everything that’s going on; I thought it was timely to speak on something that’s so stigmatized, for artists specifically. It hits me, because I know what it feels like now, and I can’t imagine the pain of keeping a burden that big, and to feel like, ‘Nobody gets me, and I have no escape, because my job is to be poised and bring positivity to other people.’ That’s something that we have to have a conversation about more often, and let people know that we’re all human beings and we all share similar struggles, and even if the struggles are different, we can all empathize in some sort of pain and some sort of struggle.”
Makeup: Charlotte Prevel
Hair: Vernon Francois
Photo Assistant: Julian Berman
Stylist Assistant: Grace Lynch
Makeup Assistant: Keely Maroney
Production Coordinator: Tim Oliver