From YouTube to Stardom: Alaina Castillo Is Rising by Being Intimate With Her Music
Alaina Castillo is slowly but steadily rising into pop stardom, and on her way there, she’s capturing the emotional pulse of an entire generation. Through soft and melodic tunes, the Mexican American artist is vocal about her feelings, all while basking in the joy that processing her dark emotions through music brings her.
First gaining popularity with covers on YouTube, Castillo reached new heights in 2022, opening for Coldplay in her Houston hometown’s own NGR stadium during the band’s “Music of the Spheres” World Tour and releasing her critically acclaimed EP “Fantasies.” Now, she’s focusing on creating new music that showcases all of her sides, from the raw, sad emotions to her Latina identity and her love for EDM music.
“I’m doing the little kind of sad dance vibes that are bringing in a bunch of Spanglish . . . I’m incorporating a lot of dance influences,” she tells POPSUGAR. “I’m very excited because it’s mixing my two worlds – I guess three – of the Spanish with the sad girl [and] with the dance. So it should be really, really exciting.”
The Tejana singer-songwriter burst onto the scene with dreamy pop and R&B tunes, and lyrics in Spanglish, at the hands of producer RØMANS, who found her on YouTube. RØMANS has previously worked with Demi Lovato and John Legend. As a teen, Castillo used to attend raves and hold on to that cathartic feeling for weeks. Creating music with lyrics that are true to life’s lows while emitting uplifting emotions is key to her intention as an artist.
Among her influences, she lists artists from Rihanna and Miguel to the dance-music powerhouse Excision. “I’ve been realizing that I had some sh*tty situations. I have grown from them. I am still trying to undo years of trauma and all these things, and that’s why even when it’s so sad and sour, there’s still a happy little optimistic side to it because you need that in life,” she says while reflecting on her music-creating process.
In this way, Castillo’s music inspires feelings of nostalgia, the kind that can make listeners process their own emotions around nostalgic life moments, from falling out of love to heartbreak. In the playful and addictive dance single “Party in My Head (Ur Not Invited),” she sings, “Keep it sad/ no keeping tabs/ that’s how you get control/ Se que me quiere poseer” (“I know he wants to possess me”). Meanwhile, in “Sad Girls Always Finish First,” she sings, “She’ll say she’s fine/ her darkest lie,” speaking to the pressures many women feel to pretend to be OK.
It’s the kind of realness that keeps you hooked, as it’s therapeutic and grounded in reality. “I kind of write a lot of things about love, but it’s either happy things or just very toxic kind of thoughts . . . but sometimes it’s like, I want a little dance with it, or I don’t want it to just be a sad, slow, synth R&B song. I want it to kind of have a buildup,” she says.
“I was the only girl with three brothers, so singing was kind of the creative thing that I had.”
Castillo began singing on her own as a kid. When she was in first grade, she’d carry around a blue CD player and sing to people. Eventually, she began participating in talent shows and joined the choir. “I just was always doing it because I liked how it sounded . . . I think [my family] kind of just allowed me to do my thing,” she shares. “I was the only girl with three brothers, so singing was kind of the creative thing that I had.” Her introduction to music as a kid in Houston began with Christian music and more American pop singers like the Beach Boys. Eventually, her family relocated to League City, TX, where, as a teen, she started attending raves and connecting with others through music.
While the new city wasn’t as diverse as Houston, Castillo eventually found her tribe. She said that during middle school and high school was when she understood she was different, yet she was able to be different with others like her. Still, Castillo often felt like an outsider, and that’s when she found emotional solace by posting covers on YouTube, where RØMANS eventually found her. Many stars in today’s era began in a similar way, like Chloe x Halle, who were found by Beyoncé’s team, or La Gabi, who got picked up by J Balvin. They are far and few between, and yet these are gifted artists who crack a certain code with persistence and talent. “Music, to me, was just an escape. It was an escape from the life that I had and I wanted to create a better life that I knew I deserved,” Castillo says. Music has become a way for her to embrace her Latina identity, imbuing her music with the richness of her experiences and her bilingual reality. For Castillo, her family’s background has become a source of power and empathy. It allows her to be grateful for her blessings.
“I literally started [making music] to be myself and to have and create a life that was different than feeling trapped in a room where I didn’t have an opinion and I didn’t have a say.”
Still, as she continues rising in the industry, staying true to her practice of making music to connect with her emotions is key. Castillo paints, sings, writes, and still posts covers on TikTok as a way of staying grounded during the exciting turns her career is taking. “I literally started [making music] to be myself and to have and create a life that was different than feeling trapped in a room where I didn’t have an opinion and I didn’t have a say,” she shares with deep conviction in her voice. “And that’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’m not about to let somebody else order their way to the top of my pyramid. Like, now I am at the top.”
Since releasing her first single, “I Don’t Think I Love You Anymore,” in 2019, Castillo has certainly grown her following exponentially. And yet, while she steps into her next project, she stays loyal to her initial TikTok and YouTube fans, experiencing fulfilling moments in the process.
“It’s been super amazing. I started on YouTube doing covers, but now whenever I go live or I’m talking about what songs people want to see on my YouTube, etc., a lot of people just say the songs from the ‘Fantasies’ EP,” Castillo says. “And to me, that’s just like a very full-circle moment because they used to ask me to do other people’s songs and covers and, you know, they still do, but a lot of people are showing love for ‘Fantasies,’ and that’s all that I could ask for.”