Tokischa’s rapid rise has been divisive. For some, she is a sexual deviant endangering children, or a victim of neglect and difficult circumstances. To others, she’s a self-objectifying woman who’s just satisfying male fantasies. And to still others, she is a fearless feminist whose insurgent spirit is breaking ground. Last summer, she performed in Santo Domingo at the Dominican Pride parade, and featured trans women as extras and dancers in the video for “Linda,” which drew praise from across the L.G.B.T.Q. community. The beauty blog Byrdie wrote that she’s “actively moving the needle away from the male gaze and towards female liberation,” and doing so in a Latin music industry that often favors white artists.
It hasn’t all been rosy, though. Last fall, feminist activists and Colombia’s vice president condemned the portrayal of Black women in Tokischa and J Balvin’s video for “Perra,” in which Black women wear prosthetics that depict them as dogs, and Balvin, a white Colombian, walks one actress, who is on all fours with a chain around her neck.
After the video was removed from YouTube, Balvin issued an apology. Tokischa later told Rolling Stone that she was “truly sorry people felt offended,” but that the visual was conceptual, intended to illustrate the song’s metaphors. “We were in the Dominican Republic; over there, we’re all Black,” she said of the backlash in a December podcast interview. “It wasn’t like we went to Africa or the United States to find those women.” Unsurprisingly, the comment drew criticism from some fans on Twitter for dismissing valid concerns about the animalistic depiction of Black women.
The reaction illustrated how fans increasingly demand progressivism from pop stars, especially disrupters like Tokischa. “Since the first day I started making music, I said, ‘I’m going to speak my truth,’” she said. In a radio interview last year, she made the point a different way: “I only talk about me, my life,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m responsible for fixing society.”
Tokischa is still an agitator, and a necessary one. “Not being afraid to express my sexuality, my way of thinking — it’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who are scared to say who they are, because they’re kicked out of their houses, they’re fired from their jobs, they lose friends. But you’re not bad — you’re doing what your heart is telling you.”
“I have a lot of other messages to offer,” she continued. “But now is the moment for this message, and I’m loving it.”