MONOGEM welcomes life and hope on debut album ‘Gardenia’
MONOGEM’s Gardenia memorializes the past while painting a hopeful future. AL DÍA spoke with the singer to discuss everything that went into it.
With the release of her single “Magia” only one week prior, the impending debut album from MONOGEM had been building momentum.
Gardenia was released on Sept. 2 through AWAL — an “alternative” to the traditional record label model — but long before its release, the album was carrying an impact.
Singles “Dame La Fuerza,” “Soy Lo Que Soy,” and “Paraíso” all marked defining moments for the singer thanks not only to their unique origins, but also their infectious choruses and inviting instrumentals: a presence consistent throughout the record.
MONOGEM has built a career rooted in atmospheric and rich songwriting. Her debut album is no exception to this reputation.
Gardenia’s songwriting further cements MONOGEM’s talent with the pen, having taken on the challenge of writing primarily in Spanish for the album. This is a first for the singer, allowing her to embrace heritage like never before.
One example of that embrace was writing songs in Spanish for the first time. MONOGEM elaborated to AL DÍA about her transition from English to Spanish songwriting:
“It all really started with ‘Soy Lo Que Soy,’ which was the first song that I ever attempted writing in Spanish… that was a big breakthrough moment for me… it just felt different when that song came out… It encouraged me to try another song in Spanish, then I put out ‘Paraíso’ after that,” she said..
After recording “Soy Lo Que Soy,” MONOGEM shared the song with other Spanish-speaking friends, and later hired a tutor to assist with her accent. The work MONOGEM put in granted the singer a certain confidence to sing in Spanish. This confidence is on display throughout Gardenia.
“Being half Mexican, and wanting to access that part of my heritage and my past, it all just kinda felt full circle to put this all together, put this into one project, make it a full, complete album, package it up in one moment in time,” said MONOGEM. “It didn’t feel natural to go back to writing only in English.”
The album’s title was also an homage to those Mexican roots.
Gardenia was named in honor of MONOGEM’s grandmother, Hortensia, whose favorite flower was the gardenia. MONOGEM explained the record as being covered in her grandmother’s essence, and the lessons she taught her.
“There’s a certain element, at least for me, of nostalgia,” said MONOGEM. “This nostalgic feeling of my grandmother. She’s in that record.”
The singer’s grandmother insisted she never forget her roots, to never stop speaking, and never stop learning, so as to keep the culture alive.
“I would say I learned [Spanish] mostly from my grandmother, [my mother’s] mother, who would speak to me often,” said MONOGEM.
During high school, she would go on to excel in Spanish and later learned to sing in Portuguese while studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, but it wasn’t until she recorded “Soy Lo Que Soy” that the singer found the inspiration to craft Gardenia.
Inspired to carry the language and culture her grandmother taught her, MONOGEM set out to create her debut. On Gardenia, one song with significant roots in MONOGEM’s heritage is the title track, which doubles as an interlude.
“[‘Gardenia (Interlude)’] feels very traditional in the way that it's sung. It’s a quick little interlude, like an ode to mi abuelita,” she said. “That track was very much inspired by what it felt like for me to have traditional Mexican roots, and grow up listening to traditional Mexican music.”
“Gardenia (Interlude)” is a potent and slow-moving track, featuring one of the most enveloping and dreamlike vocal performances MONOGEM offers on the album.
Just as Gardenia memorializes the past through the wisdom of the singer’s grandmother, the debut also welcomes a hopeful future. Gardenia functions as a tool of transition, ushering in MONOGEM’s motherhood, and welcoming a bright and hopeful future through songwriting.
The closing track, "Magia," is a celebration of life, the journey into motherhood; “an ode to the strong pregnant women out there.” Upon the single’s release, MONOGEM announced her pregnancy.
“We had written [‘Magia’] about that feeling of being so sure of yourself, your next step, your next decision, and how when all of those pieces fit together, it really does feel like magic,” she said.
Many moments on the record are representative of the heritage adopted from MONOGEM’s grandmother: a heritage she also hopes to pass down to her newborn.
The singer has described Gardenia as the most accurate representation of herself and her personal development over the past two and a half years.
“Whatever I found inside of me the last two years... the inspiration and the connection to my story, and the fact that [this] story is connecting with so many other people… that’s the magic of the record,” said MONOGEM
There is no shortage of memorable songs on Gardenia‘s track list. Many hold potent reminders and lessons, such as on “Sólo Amor.”
The song acts as a reminder to slow down, focus on health, happiness, love, and to honor nature and appreciate the time given to us. When asked for tips on fighting stress, and ways to obtain relaxation, MONOGEM was full of advice.
“Breathing: it’s something so simple… the second you actually tune in and focus on your breath, in a meditative state, it’s like everything changes,” she said. “First step is tuning inward, focusing on what is important and what you’re thankful for.”
The lessons on Gardenia are ageless, and communicated through warm and gentle means.
With Gardenia, MONOGEM pushes herself into new territory after an already-varied career — from the pop-infused 100% to her collaboration with rapper Qveen Herby who, while in college, lived across the hall from her.
Now, Gardenia unveils MONOGEM’s next chapter in a clear light.
“[For] people who have had bicultural upbringings, I hope that this record can be a way for us to connect,” said MONOGEM. “[A way] for me to connect with all the people who have had similar upbringings, who don’t really know where we fall.”
Gardenia is available now.