ew artists can set a scene like Kali Uchis. Each of her albums has proven that she’s a master of mood boards and a queen of aesthetics: Her 2018 debut album, Isolation, was a lush world of retro R&B best enjoyed on a heart-shaped couch; 2023’s Red Moon in Venus included cosmic, shape-shifting pop songs to be drunk up during a lunar eclipse. Across each project, she’s stitched disparate sonic textures together like fabric swatches and placed her voice front and center — allowing it to gently guide her listeners to whatever new world she was building.
In true Kali fashion, her new album, Orquídeas, started with a specific vision: “This album is inspired by the timeless, eerie, mystic, striking, graceful, and sensual allure of the orchid,” she said in a press release that reads more like poetry. The orchid, it turns out, is the national flower of Colombia, where Uchis spent a lot of time as a kid. “I always felt distinctly intrigued and magnetized by the flower.” The goal across the record, Uchis continued, is to harness that imagery to “re-define the way we look at Latinas in music.”
Quickly on Orquídeas, it becomes clear Uchis has a few things in mind: First of all, she wants the world to know there’s no box or category to limit Latinas sonically. She bounces from icy R&B to bright merengue to liquefied dream pop. Second, the album balances a careful mix of power and vulnerability, one that adds complexity and nuance to notions of Latinas in music that often involve stereotypes as lusty sirens or spicy firebrands.
Take, for example, “Igual Que un Ángel,” a synth-pop ode to female autonomy. “She just wants peace.… She never forgets what’s real,” she sings in Spanish. When it’s less expected, Mexican star Peso Pluma pops onto the track, emphasizing Uchis’ message of tenacity. “Perdiste” is a glowing ballad that tenderly reminds an ex-lover of the woman he’s lost, while “Te Mata” is a reclamation of independence after a toxic relationship, beautifully crafted into a modern-day bolero. It’s one of the most stunning vocal performances by Uchis, who showed her knack for re-creating old-school classics when she interpreted La Lupe’s burning “Què Te Pedí” on her first Spanish-language album, 2020’s Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios).
But Orquídeas is also loaded with sexual agency and bad-bitch energy. “Labios Mordidos,” the album’s centerpiece, is an empowerment anthem that enlists her fellow Colombian Karol G for a glossed-out perreo party. On the discoed-out “No Hay Ley Parte 2,” she exchanges come-hither lyrics with Rauw Alejandro, then cranks up the energy on “Muñekita” for a splash of dembow, featuring Dominican luminary El Alfa and City Girls rapper JT.
Across the album, Uchis is bolder and more forthright than on past releases. So often, she’s played the languid cool girl, but she breaks out of her shell again and again this time out. She dives deeper into new sounds, and she flourishes the entire way.