Album Cover via Karol G/Instagram
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Every day, Donna-Claire gets closer and closer to abandoning her Twitter identity and just tweeting boardgame takes and game reports for the one person who might care to hear such thoughts.
The thing about maltose is you really shouldn’t let a plastic container of it drop six feet and crack open on your kitchen floor. The sugar is basically superglue. It will get everywhere. It will take a lot of arm strength to clean up. But, okay, so it happens anyway and now you can’t actually make char siu like you had planned. Bummer. So fast forward a few weeks and you have a new container of maltose, some pork shoulder, and a lot of time on your hands this present weekend. The meat has to marinate for nine hours, so you get up early on Saturday and get that going, and play a little fridge Tetris once the strips of pork are in their resting bowl.
The best part about cooking through the Woks of Life cookbook with your wife is not that everything tastes really good after a few hours of hard work. It’s not that it’s extremely economical to only use one cookbook for a year, and thus always have the pantry staples at the ready. It’s not even that you’re healing through your kitchen anxiety via the absence of yelling. It’s that every weekend of 2023 has been soundtracked by one album, your wife’s album of the year: Mañana Será Bonito by Colombian megastar Karol G.
Mañana Será Bonito released February 2023. It’s Karol G’s fourth studio album, which feels like it undersells both her starpower and the length of her nearly multi-decade career. The record’s title is built off an affirming phrase Karol G would repeat to herself in the dark times: “Tomorrow will be beautiful.” The album itself is a warm and vibrant entry in the contemporary reggaeton canon. It was the first Spanish-language album to top Billboard charts in the US. Thanks in no small part to producer Ovy on the Drums’ bubbly arrangements, Karol G had developed a tangible sense of optimism on this record. Mañana Será Bonito accomplishes the rare trick of bottling up a buoyant happiness in a bottomless spell jar.
Coming from a musical family, Karol G herself has been in the industry since the late 2000s, with her artist name coming into view in 2005. By 2010, there was a brief stint of uploading covers to a defunct YouTube channel. For a long time, the Karol G “team was me and my dad.” Still, Karol G’s been on singing competition shows, in high-profile relationships, out of high-profile relationships. She’s won Latin GRAMMYs. She has a tattoo of Rihanna and Selena. She’s won over the hearts of countless fans who admire her blend of regional music, chart-topping reggaeton, Dembow, and pop. As a woman in musica urbana, Karol G has smashed records and made history.
I have been a fan of Karol G’s since 2019’s Ocean. I famously showed up to a party hours before it started to help the host clean. I played Ocean while I did their dishes. I’m not a stranger to the way Karol G’s music can cast out and soundtrack the annals of daily life while still captivating the listener. She does not make background music; Karol G makes main character music without the added negative wrinkle of turning you into an asshole. Her songs lift you out of your body, away from the tedium of another day in a series of days. And when the days feel livable, her music underscores an appreciation for simple joys.
From Ocean to Mañana Será Bonito, Karol G’s leaned into the richness of her voice, but also amped up her natural charisma. In her NPR Tiny Desk performance, she introduces the Regional Mexican tune “Gucci los Paños” as such, and then adds a quick note in Spanish, gleefully reminding listeners the song is “for the streets.”
We started our baking and cooking projects on the weekends when we moved in together during COVID. We never shook the habit. After we got married, my wife bought a wood-bound recipe book with both of our names engraved into it, where she’s handwritten the best recipes we’ve made to pass down to future generations, or perhaps the cats, if they learn to read and finally get jobs. We’ve made cakes, tarts, galettes, dumplings of every order, no less than 200 crab rangoon. Our 2023 thing is cooking through Woks of Life, a book of Chinese-American family recipes before 2024 rolls around. As of writing, we’ve got 65 recipes out of 100 to go. A lot of the remaining things are sauces and sides—we’re totally going to hit our goal.
My wife isn’t exactly into music. She’s not an obsessive in the way myself and my fellow critics are, but she loves The National to bits and has enjoyed—I hope—most of the tunes I’ve introduced her to, including her favorite artist of the current moment: Karol G. She grew up hearing Regional Mexican music in the car with her father, a very jovial man who still drives stick and still has the same stack of CDs in his beater of a vehicle. He was born in Mérida, and he expresses love chiefly through cooking elaborate meals. The relationship between all of these details is not lost on me.
Every Saturday looks about the same in our house. We open up prosecco after grocery shopping for the day’s cooking project: shrimp and chive dumplings, or taro puffs, or egg tarts. I’m wearing my film camera and paging through Spotify. I’d previously learned not to ask my wife if she has any requests; the endless choice streaming presents stresses her out. But as of February, I have a very clear picture of what to play for us both. She has the confidence to ask for Karol G to be played on every synced speaker in our house. This is a point of pride. Mañana Será Bonito comes on twice, three times over the span of a weekend. It does not get old. My wife sings along to global smash of a single “Provenza” as she waits for the frying oil for sesame chicken to come up to temp. These are the moments that make a life.
Though the album is named for the stunning prospect of another day, it’s just as apt at describing how gorgeous the present moment can be. Mañana Será Bonito bursts with a colorful and defined personality. “Gatúbela” is a lustful single where the sultry reference point explains away the conceit of the song being Karol G moaning. The more downtempo “Mercurio” kicks off the final arc of the album and is a smart pacing decision. The album does not compromise and flatten Karol G’s pop sensibilities, and when you watch her perform the album’s best songs with a live band as an NPR, a deeper appreciation for her musicality develops.
The thing about Mañana Será Bonito is that it’s feel-good music that doesn’t outgrow or sour off its own positivity. If there are books that are meant to be read on a fine, sandy beach with a fruity drink just inches away on a rattan table, there are also albums designed to take you there and keep you in that frame of mind. The record is not oblivious, but instead encourages a kind of attentive escapism born from a place of hurt and coping. Listeners don’t roll their eyes and think, c’mon, have you seen the news lately? when this record comes on. Rather, the shape of this album zaps and melts down jaded thinking until it’s pooled on the floor in a clear puddle not too dissimilar from what might happen if you knock over a small container of maltose.