At Houston’s NRG Stadium on Aug. 29, Karol G invited a special guest to join her onstage: her international tour’s opening act, the Puerto Rican rapper Young Miko. Clad in a vibrant pink crop top and matching baggy pants, Young Miko took Karol by the hand as the two sang their collaborative hit, “Dispo,” moving in perfect harmony in an undulating perreo-style dance.
Amid the ecstatic cheers of fans, it was Karol, not the newcomer, who betrayed a rare glimpse of nerves as she admitted, “Ahora soy yo la que me puse nerviosa!” (“Now it’s me who has gotten nervous!”)
Miko’s meteoric rise from nascent local sensation to captivating performer capable of holding her own beside a global superstar is a testament to her undeniable talent. In just over one year, Billboard‘s 2023 Latin Rookie of the Year has broken out of her native Puerto Rico’s música urbana scene, performing with heavyweights like Karol and Bad Bunny as well as headlining her own Trap Kitty world tour of nearly 50 cities across the Americas and Spain.
“I feel incredible — a world tour! At least this early in my career,” Miko says, still sounding awestruck.
She has also been ascending the Billboard charts. “Dispo” peaked at No. 22 on Hot Latin Songs, and she made her Billboard Hot 100 debut in July with “Classy 101,” a smooth reggaetón number with Colombian star Feid. “It was definitely a shocker,” Miko told Billboard in June. “Usually one sees Beyoncé, Taylor Swift or The Weeknd on the Hot 100. To see my name is very surreal, a reminder that this is really happening and that people are consuming [my music].”
While her name now shares the charts with music’s biggest stars, not long ago, the 24-year-old artist born María Victoria Ramírez de Arellano Cardona was leveraging another form of artistic expression — tattooing — to finance her music. “The goal was always to start tattooing so I could afford my music dreams and eventually let go of the machine,” she says. “Thanks to tattoos, I was able to start paying for studio time.”
Since arriving on the global Latin pop scene, Miko has both played into and inverted male-centric Latin tropes with bold and raunchy lyrics that draw on her experience as a queer woman while boosting the LGBTQ+ community. “When I started writing music, I was like, ‘F–k it. People already know I’m gay, and why would I sing to men?’ Respectfully,” she adds with a chuckle, “if I don’t like men, I’m not going to dedicate a song to one.”
Her commitment to authenticity allowed her to carve out a place as a singular, hyper-femme queer rapper in música urbana with an unmatched, unhurried flow that has captivated a growing fan base that she calls Mikosexuals.
“For a lot of people, I came out of nowhere and caught a drastic boom — but in reality, we’ve been doing this for a really long time,” she explains. “SoundCloud played a big role in letting me test these waters that I had never explored before. We didn’t have any other resources. We had the talent, the idea, the vision, the work ethic.”
That drive paid off when Angelo Torres, co-founder and head of Puerto Rican indie label Wave Music Group, came across Miko while scrolling through Twitter on a flight in 2020. “This SoundCloud link popped up of this girl with pink hair and tattoos,” Torres remembers. “I was instantly captivated when I heard her tracks. There was something undeniably intriguing about her sound. [I thought,] ‘I really need to meet this person.’ ”
Torres and producer Caleb Calloway established Wave in 2021 and signed Miko several months after. Calloway, who would become pivotal to her rise, first collaborated with her on “Puerto Rican Mami” when she only had a couple of songs released on SoundCloud. That track arrived in December 2021. By July 2022, Miko was onstage at Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot in San Juan with Bad Bunny, performing her viral trap song “Riri.”
To Calloway, Miko’s sincerity remains the key to her success. “She has always maintained her originality, never letting fame alter her essence,” he says. “Miko was that artist that was able to finally fit in exactly to where my sound was and then take it to another level with her Y2K flow, with her singing and then rapping, and me doing the beat. It just sounds like we’ve been together our whole lives, and we’ve only been working for three years.”
Alongside Calloway and her longtime producer Mauro, Miko has crafted hits like “Riri” and this year’s “Wiggy” and “Lisa.” Her debut album, Trap Kitty, and the singles that have followed showcase her laid-back approach to trap, rap and reggaetón — a refreshing blend of boldness and nonchalance.
“We sensed tremendous excitement around Young Miko,” says Jeremy Vuernick, president of A&R at Capitol Music Group, which locked in a long-term distribution deal with Wave in April. “One of the most exciting things about Young Miko, aside from her incredible ability as a songwriter and storyteller, is the way that she’s able to connect with her audience.” And her unwavering authenticity and fiery passion have struck a chord with fans across the globe.
“It has been a year filled with a lot of learning, both professionally and as a person. It all happened so fast, but I’m surrounded by people who just want the best for me — people who have been with me since day one,” Miko says. “There are many new things that seem unreal, but I’m grateful. I’m growing, I’m learning, I’m evolving. I just know that the best is yet to come.”
Young Miko will speak at Billboard Latin Music Week, taking place Oct. 2 – Oct. 6. To register, click here.