She’s the bilingual singer-songwriter who literally texts her fans. Voir shot Gen-Z icon Alaina Castillo from her LA bedroom via Zoom – we talked ASMR, comfort zones and the importance of staying engaged.
Alaina Castillo was a ‘quiet kid’. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you’ve ever tuned into one of her ‘SAD GIRL DIARIES’ on YouTube, or followed her on any social media channel for that
matter. But, in Castillo’s own words: “Change is inevitable.” She’s specifically referring to certain members of her fanbase who’ve felt it their responsibility to let her know that she’s ‘changing’, as
if their 2D perception of her, a multi-faceted human being, were somehow totally accurate and unalterable. Luckily for Alaina, she knows who the ‘true ones’ are.
Alaina is wearing: Custom Made Mata Complex Set
Castillo rose to fame a couple of years ago, dipping her toe in YouTube’s ASMR community (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) and posting soft, melodic covers of tunes such as Paul Anka’s ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder’ and Plain White T’s ‘Hey There Delilah’. She quickly grew a loyal following and just two years later, her first album is on its way. Her newest track, ‘stfu (i got u)’, is an ode to a new found confidence, and explores the process of navigating a new relationship. “I’m a bit needy, I have my clingy thing going on,” she tells me with a shy smile from her fluorescent-lit bedroom, her cat Quill snoozing in the background. “It’s my little take on a love song. This is the happy Alaina who is finally able to express herself the way she wants to.”
“It’s my little take on a love song. This is the happy Alaina who is finally able to express herself the way she wants to.”Alaina Castillo
As if having reached over 120M audio and video streams wasn’t enough, Castillo’s talent also spans across a different language. Another of her recent release was Spanish bop ‘¡parate!’, inspired by her own struggles with anxiety. A quick search reveals that ‘parate’ is a word with many a meaning, but in this case it essentially means ‘stand up’, and refers to Castillo’s own difficulty doing just that last year. “A lot of times in 2020 I didn’t wanna get up, the mornings were so hard for me,” she explains. “Your brain allows you to change your perspective, but I was just staying negative and [telling myself] the day was going to be horrible because my anxiety was so overwhelming.” The message of the song is that, once she let herself, Alaina was able to stop letting these feelings get in the way of her life. “I can just tell myself: ‘Don’t get lost in your thoughts’, and I [no longer] have to fall into that hole every morning.”
Alaina is wearing:
Although Castillo is undoubtably a confident young woman and (in her own words) “a little weird”,
traces of childhood shyness still remain, if very subtly. This very fact is what lead her to start making ASMR videos in the first place, “[As a child] I was very quiet and obedient, not really speaking or whatever.” She explains, “There was always a hidden personality. My friends were able to see that but I think my family were like a metaphor for the rest of the world – nobody really got to see that crazy side of me.” It was when she began writing her own songs, which she tells me is her favourite part of the job, that she was able to express her true personality more freely. “The other day my mom was like ‘Hey lady, what does stfu mean again?’ and I was like, ‘Um, I don’t really know…’ so they’re getting to see that. It’s fun.”
Alaina is wearing:
Most of Alaina’s songwriting happens on RØMANS’ sofa (singer, songwriter and record producer
Sam Roman, part-responsible for hits by Mary J Blige, Clean Bandit and Naughty Boy to name but a few), but I’m keen to know if there is such a thing as a musical comfort zone for her. She’s often described as a genre-bending artist, with fingers in many a musical pie, but what feels safest? “My comfort zone is definitely singing quietly. I’ve always been a very quiet person, it shows in the way that I speak. But lately in my vocal lessons I’ve been practicing singing really really loud because I’m just not used to that,” she says thoughtfully. “But I’m not being quiet anymore, I’m breaking out of that. I’m learning to get out of my comfort zone and my fans can go through that process with me, maybe they need help getting out of theirs [too].”
Alaina is wearing:
Naturally, as a 20-year-old who rapidly rose to fame via the internet, Castillo’s family have had their own anxieties about her career. “In the beginning my mom was [worried], she was like ‘Don’t worry about your appearance, don’t worry what people say about you’. She was very uptight about that stuff because it’s hard, everybody is gonna have something to say.” Alaina admits that, when first faced with the world of keyboard warriors and their unsolicited opinions, she questioned herself. “When people start hating on you it’s like, ‘I thought I knew who I was, but what is going on right now?!’” In what is becoming clear to be a somewhat wise-beyond-her- years attitude, Alaina describes herself as ‘emotionally separate’, explaining her thought process when she receives a negative message or comment: “If I hadn’t seen that comment, my day would just keep going as normal.” And so, it does.
Castillo’s relationship with her fans could definitely be described as… close. She has a phone number which she regularly shares on her Instagram stories, specifically for texting with them. The obvious question is: surely there are a mass of unwelcome messages? “Um, ‘lil bit. There are some strange people asking for feet pics, telling me ‘I know you’re writing these songs about me’, it’s weird,” she tells me, grimacing a little. “But I try to talk to [my fans] as much as I can because it doesn’t take much time and they’re supporting me, I just wanna give that support back.”
Everything that Alaina tells me links back to her fanbase, and it’s clear that they are at the centre
of her world. At the end of our conversation, she seems to refer back to the inevitable change we
discussed earlier. “I want them to know who I am as a person. There’s a lot of things changing but
I want them to know that I’m still Alaina, I’m still just as weird as before.” She almost sings this,
doing a little shoulder roll as she does. “Now there’s just aspects I always wanted there to be –
creating music, doing all these different shoots, having all this content I can finally give them.”
“I want [my fans] to know who I am as a person. There’s a lot of things changing but I want them to know that I’m still Alaina, I’m still just as weird as before.”Alaina Castillo
Alaina Castillo’s debut album will be out later this year. Latest single ‘stfu (i got you)’ is out now!
Photographer Brandon Jameson
Interview by Pippa Simmonds
Styling & Concept Jyoti Matoo
Styling Assistant Millie Pollok
Hair & Makeup Natalia Bien
Retoucher Fani Martin