Tell Me Más: Indie Boricua Artist Melissa Ocasio Is Manifesting the Music Career of Her Dreams
In our Q&A feature series Tell Me Más, we ask some of our favorite Latine artists to answer the questions only their BFFs know about them, revealing everything from their most recent read to the songs that get them hyped. This month, we sit down with Puerto Rican alternative indie artist Melissa Ocasio.
Since the pandemic, Puerto Rico’s indie music scene has exploded. It’s as if the island births new talent by the hour – and it can seem almost impossible to keep up. One of the artists who emerged during this renaissance is Melissa Ocasio. The Boricua artist has been making a name for herself as an alternative indie meets electro-Caribbean artist, ever since she released her first official single “Agárrate,” a call-to-action song about the femicides happening in Puerto Rico.
On March 6, 2020, Ocasio released “Agárrate” to the world. But the song was actually two years in the making.
“I wrote the song ‘Agárrate’ back in 2018. I was living in New York, and I remember I was learning more about feminism and everything related to our rights as women. ‘Agárrate’ was born because of the femicides happening in Puerto Rico,” Ocasio tells POPSUGAR. “Everything started because of Valerie Ann Almodóvar Ojeda. She was a girl that was murdered. It was a really big deal, and it was a case that hit me. I was living in New York and thinking about, what can I do?”
In 2018, Ojeda was just one of many women murdered on the island. At the time, femicides were occurring on a weekly basis, making Puerto one of the regions with the highest femicide rates in the Americas. The Ojeda case stirred Puerto Ricans on the island, motivating many women to hit the streets in protest. Ocasio’s intention behind “Agárrate” was to create awareness around the issue. What she didn’t anticipate was that this was going to be exactly what she needed to finally kick-start her musical career.
“I wrote this song, and in my mind, I wanted it to become an anthem. ‘Agárrate’ was like a call to action. It was a warning, like FYI: women are taking the streets,” Ocasio explains. “We’re not going to be silent. We are going to speak about this. We are going to fight for our rights until the patriarchy se acabe.”
Ocasio released the song a year after moving back to her native Puerto Rico from NYC, where she had been living for a few years taking on media jobs to financially support her dream of becoming a music artist. Although she had written some music and had performed at a few NY venues here and there, the Boricua artist felt like she wasn’t building the momentum she had hoped for. So in 2019, she packed her bags and went back to live with her parents in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
“It felt like one of the lowest points of my life. I had ended an on-and-off relationship, and I was also trying to deal with trauma and all these things that as a Latina and as a Puerto Rican, we don’t talk about,” she says. “So, I started going to therapy that year, and at the end of that year, everything changed.”
Ocasio started to lean into her creativity and focused on writing and creating music. Her style became more expressive and eccentric, wearing funky vintage pieces and getting a sexy pixie haircut. She was becoming more authentically herself. It was around this time Ocasio was also introduced to her current producer, Rafa Rivera Rodriguez.
“I played him my first song [“Agárrate”] ,and he was like, we can work with this. Let’s do it,” Ocasio says. “The way he accepted me made me feel like OK, I can do this. I was confident before, but now, I finally found the right people to work with.” It was with Rodriguez that Ocasio officially recorded “Agárrate” at AQ30 studio in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.
While working with Rivera, Ocasio began to sharpen her sound. It’s free-flowing, experimental, and yet so caribeño. Her musical influences have a lot to do with it. Ocasio grew up with two church-going Baptist Christian parents who were also quite musical. Her mom sang, her dad played the trombone, and they were both major salsa fans. They were also heavily involved in their church’s worship choir. In addition to singing at church from a young age, Ocasio also took singing classes, musical theater classes, and piano lessons. She grew up listening to a lot of classic Puerto Rican salsa and Pop en Español artists like Julieta Venegas, Natalia LaFourcade, Shakira, and Juanes. Though Ocasio’s sound doesn’t really compare to anything else, she credits artists like La Lupe, Bomba Estero, iLe, Las Añez, Carla Morrison, and Perotá Chingó for influencing her music.
After releasing “Agárrate,” Ocasio not only started feeling more grounded in her artistry – she also started excavating her religious beliefs. Having grown up in a Christian church, she found herself dismantling and deconstructing everything she was taught regarding spirituality and the divine.
“I started finding myself to be like a goddess. Like, I have the power in me. And I started reframing my ideas regarding religion,” she says. “Everything started with meditation. I started journaling and writing down everything that was happening in my mind and my heart. I was combining my thoughts and feelings and writing it all. I also started learning about how to connect with this [higher] energy source.”
In 2021, she moved out to Los Angeles with her current partner, who is also a music artist, to make the connections she needed in the entertainment industry. Still, Ocasio felt pressure to make money, so she took another media job that she says sucked the life out of her. But this year, she realized the only way she was going to make it as a music artist was if she put all her time and focus on her music.
“I realized music was my path,” she shares. “I was born to do this.”
So Ocasio quit her day job on March 15, and on March 21, she released her debut EP “hola, impostora (hello, imposter),” a collection of four poetic tracks that touch on themes she’s experienced in her own career journey. One track is called “Síndrome de la Impostura,” which translates to impostor syndrome.
“I think everyone at some point has to deal with it,” she says of impostor syndrome. “But I think for me since I first started writing my songs, I felt pretty confident about my singing. But not so confident about my lyrics and my music. I always had this fear that maybe I’m not good enough.”
The EP’s first track, “Silla Enfermiza,” which translates to sickly chair, touches on how trapped Ocasio felt working at her last 9-to-5 job along with the fear of losing the financial security it provided. Meanwhile, “La Pared” is a song about what happens when we bottle up emotions.
The track “Vuelo (Flight),” addresses the opposite of “Síndrome de la Impostura.” It represents where you can arrive when you can break past the impostor syndrome.
Since releasing her EP, Ocasios’s career has been taking off. This month, she kicked off her first tour, “A Las Músicas,” alongside Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Andrea Cruz – they’re playing shows from Aug. 8 to Aug. 31, in cities from Mexico City to New York. She’s proof that when you do the hard work but also surrender to the universe and trust the process, your hopes and dreams can indeed manifest into realities.
“I think I started manifesting this tour earlier. I think I put it out there. I had like so many notebooks with my thoughts and all this manifesting stuff,” she says. “[When people listen to my music], I want them to feel whatever they need to feel. I write with purpose and intention, but it also has the freedom to be whatever my listeners want it to be.”
Read on to find out whose album Ocasio has on repeat these days, her dream collaboration, and the beauty product she can’t live without.
POPSUGAR: How has music healed you?
Ocasio: I have healed in many ways, but I can say that it has allowed me to heal my inner child.
POPSUGAR: Who are your top three favorite artists right now?
Ocasio: Phony PPL, MARO, and Japanese Breakfast.
POPSUGAR: What album do you currently have on repeat?
Ocasio: “Casa” From Natalia Lafourcade.
POPSUGAR: If you could collaborate with any artist on your next track, who would it be?
Ocasio: Las Áñez.
POPSUGAR: What beauty product can you not live without?
Ocasio: SPF – I’m obsessed.
POPSUGAR: What’s your favorite Puerto Rican snack?
Ocasio: Sorullitos con mayoketchup.
POPSUGAR: What’s your most recent TV binge?
Ocasio: Just finished “Sex and the City.” I finally was able to watch all the seasons in order.
POPSUGAR: What’s the last book you read and what did you love about it?
Ocasio: “La Hija Olvidada,” a novel by Armando Lucas Correa. I loved the story and how the themes of religion and language were approached from a little girl’s perspective.
POPSUGAR: If you had one last day to live, how would you spend it?
Ocasio: With all my loved ones gathering together, dancing, talking, and eating at some campo in Puerto Rico.