After releasing her first single “Whine Up," Kat DeLuna skyrocketed to the top of the charts. However, after her initial major success, the buzz surrounding the Domican singer dwindled down to a low hum. But don't count her out just yet. With a new look and a reinvigorated sound, DeLuna is poised to make a comeback.
Complex talked to the 24-year-old pop star, who's eyeing the Billboard Hot 100 with her newest single "Wanna See You Dance," about starting her solo career at a young age, the miracle of her first big hit, and what her fans can expect from her next.
Interview by Alexa Futterweit
In 2006, you started to pursue a solo career and were signed by Epic Records. What made you want to go solo? And what was it like to sign with such a major label?
The story behind that is I’ve been singing since I was three years old. I’m from the Dominican Republic, but I’ve lived in America, so my first language is Spanish.
It all started one day when they had this talent show in school and I wanted to be submitted, but you had to be five and up and I was three. After I was like, “I wanna be in! I wanna be in!” they finally let me in. I sang this song I loved that no one knew at the time, which was this big ballad by Amanda Miguel. Everyone was like, “Ugh did that three-year-old just sing that ballad like that?” From there on, I started to pursue it and moved back to the States.
I lived in New Jersey. I went to a performing arts high school where I studied opera, so I was always involved. While in high school, I was always doing my solo gigs, but I made a group. Then after high school I went in. [Laughs.] I was going anywhere I could write and audition. My friend Tyrone and I started working together and, a couple months after that, I signed to Epic Records.
I know it sounds like it was so quick, but it was a lot of hard work, and you give up a lot. I gave up being able to hang out with my friends, I couldn’t go to my prom, and I kissed a boy for the first time in my life at nineteen. I was always busy doing other stuff and my mom would take me to all these auditions. I would be doing community shows and festivals in the Bronx, New York and Connecticut. By the time I was 12, I had already been on stages with Marc Anthony, Brenna K. Star and all these Spanish names.
What was it like working with all of these big names?
It's always been a lot of fun and it started off as a dream. Growing up as a fan you’re like, “Oh my god! I’m working with this person!” Then when you meet them you realize, “Oh. They’re just like me.” [Laughs.]
I work with a lot of people as a featured artist or have them as a featured artist on my songs. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Akon—I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of guys. They’re really amazing, and they’re nothing but professional and very smart, so you learn from them.
From Akon, I learned to always write my own stuff because he writes his own. Busta Rhymes told me to be a “freak” and to “freak.” [Laughs.] I did a song with Omarion once and that was the first time I was pushed to dance really fast and hard. It’s the little things you learn.
So far, who has been the most influential on your career?
That's hard because I’ve worked with so many great people. I respect all of them and I grew up being inspired by so many of them. Believe it or not, I still haven’t met Mariah Carey, but I did meet Beyoncé. She has been a big inspiration to me. You know what I learned from Beyoncé? To be humble. I looked at her and thought, "Wow, being about yourself and being real to yourself really takes you further.” She’s really amazing.
Think about this: Here I am, my first time ever on TRL and I was like, “I’m gonna kill my show!” When I get there, they tell me that Beyoncé is also there. She actually introduced herself and was like, “You’re gonna do great! It’s okay, don’t be nervous.” And it was great because I felt like I had a big sister there. Even though she was doing her own interviews, she told me, “You did amazing! Oh my god! I can’t believe you move like that!” You wouldn’t expect that from someone who has done it all.
Tell me about “Whine Up," since it was your first single.
“Whine Up” was a miracle. I got signed and the president of the label at that time wanted to get me out there [in the public eye] within the next year. So, they took me everywhere and they wanted me to work with a lot of different producers.
At the time, I wanted this specific sound and I wanted to find a producer who had it, but I couldn’t find it. Then, my manager told me he had this guy who was trying to work with us, so I told him that I wanted to meet him. So he comes in and we go into this really small room on Broome Street [in New York], and here’s this really humble Moroccan guy [RedOne] who starts to play his music for me. I started to fall in love with this ballad that he had called “Love Me or Leave Me," which ended up being one of the ballads on my actual album.
There was this one song he had that wasn’t finished, but it had this one beat that made me think, “That’s the one!” So we took it, sat down and wrote the lyrics for “Whine Up.” It was supposed to just make people move and go crazy. We came back to the studio on Broome Street every day for a month, and then we pushed the album release.
And we did all that without the label knowing. I was like, “Here’s my producer, here are my songs, and here’s the album—boom!” It was like a Cinderella story. From there on, my life changed. I feel like I’ve been blessed because, when you think about it, I’ve had everything in a short time.
Shortly after Jennifer Lopez released her single "On the Floor," many of your fans, as well as critics, claimed that "On the Floor" plagiarized your single "Party O’Clock." I know you’ve had mixed feelings—
That came out of nowhere. It was really weird. I had no idea what was going on at the time because I was overseas. I mean, sometimes when you work with the same producers, things get mixed up. At that time, I wasn’t working with anyone because I was doing my own thing, but I had previously recorded “Party O’Clock” with the same producer [RedOne].
But it's OK, things happen. My song ended up being a huge hit overseas. India loved it. [Laughs.] And I found new producers that wanted to work with me, so it was great. [The situation] was kind of like, “Oh my god we’re wearing the same dress!” [Laughs.]
You have a MySpace, Facebook, and a Twitter account. Do you feel social media has become the best way to reach out to your fans?
Definitely. I would be crazy to say no. This is a new world. All of my friends and I are on Instagram and we can go months without seeing each other yet we know what’s been going on because we follow each other.
You know what I learned from Beyoncé? To be humble. I looked at her and thought, 'Wow, being about yourself and being real to yourself really takes you further.'
I feel like you have to become a part of social media, especially if you want to be an artist and have so many things coming out. It’s an amazing way to reach your fans. There are obviously limits, but to me, it's awesome!
It's weird because in Europe they’re not really into it, and that’s why I think the fans are so different. I just finished last month touring in Japan. We did six days in actual tour venues and it was the most amazing experience ever, especially because it's a whole new world and the fashion is crazy.
Is that one of your favorite places you’ve toured so far?
Yeah definitely, and France is amazing! Europe itself is just amazing. But I love the United States though. It’s so amazing because every state has its own different type of fan. One of my favorite places here was in Wisconsin. Two years ago, I did a show there and it felt awesome. People went hard with bringing posters and stuff.
Do you have any new music or collaborations that you’ve been working on?
We actually just finished shooting the video for my new single “Wanna See You Dance," which is a mixture of hip hop and R&B. It’s like a fashion story of Adam and Eve. People don’t know about Lilith. Lilith was in there, too, and she is stronger. So I played both parts, Eve and Lilith.
Then, I have my first ever Spanish single which just released called, “Sobredosis." And now, with my new look and everything, I’m really excited.
I truly feel blessed because not a lot of people get to do what I do. I’ve been able to travel everywhere except Australia, and that’s amazing. Right now, I’m working with this awesome headphone company, Velodyne. Their sound is really amazing because it’s not over powerful but its clear. Eventually, I want to get into the fashion world.