Mexican singer/songwriter Julieta Venegas established initially established herself as a cutting-edge Latin alternative artist during the late '90s, before her career shifted direction significantly with her third album, Sí (2003), a broadly appealing pop/rock effort graced with genuine hits, including a couple chart-toppers. In the wake of her 2003 breakthrough, Venegas didn't look back. Her next album, Limón y Sal (2006), was just as broadly appealing as its predecessor, and it was an even bigger hit, spawning several major hits and finding success in Western Europe as well as the Americas. Moreover, Venegas was as acclaimed as she was popular, customarily earning the praise of critics and winning awards, including numerous Grammys. Her musical abilities were sometimes overlooked, for in addition to writing and singing her own songs, she plays numerous instruments, including guitar, accordion, and keyboard. Venegas also made a name for herself as a collaborator, writing songs for and performing with a range of Latin artists, from Paulina Rubio and Mala Rodríguez to Miguel Bosé and Los Tigres del Norte.
Born Julieta Venegas Percevault on November 24, 1970, in Tijuana, Mexico, Venegas is the daughter of two photographers and is one of five siblings. Her sister, Yvonne Venegas, is a notable photographer whose credits include Ely Guerra and RBD. Julieta embarked on her musical journey at a young age, studying piano from the age of eight. In addition to piano, she also studied musical theory, singing, cello, and violoncello at La Escuela de Música del Noroeste, while she also crossed the U.S. border to study at South Western College in San Diego -- all of this before she even graduated from high school. During her school years she began playing with various bands, including Grupo Chantaje and Tijuana No! (composing one of the latter's more significant hits, "Pobre de Ti").
At age 22 Venegas moved to Mexico City, where she hoped to involve herself with the city's vibrant music scene. Given her talent and beauty, it didn't take her long to make acquaintances, among them Fratta and Café Tacuba. She began writing music for plays around this time, including Calígula Probablemente by Francisco Franco, and she also took up the accordion. Venegas then started a band called La Milagrosa, enlisting Fratta and Rafael González, but when she was offered a contract with BMG, she dropped the idea of forming a band and began work on her solo debut, Aquí (1997), which she recorded in Los Angeles with esteemed producer Gustavo Santaolalla (Café Tacuba, Juanes, Molotov).
In addition to writing the songs on Aquí and singing them, Venegas also played the accordion, piano, and guitar; a number of guests also played on the album, among them brothers Joselo and Enrique Rangel (Café Tacuba), Rafael González (Botellita de Jerez), and Patricio Iglesias (Santa Sabina). BMG released the album in the United States and Spain as well as throughout Latin America, and it won critical acclaim in all corners. Venegas also toured a lot, embarking on the De Viva Voz tour with Ely Guerra and Aurora y la Academia (which stretched across North America) and the Calaveras y Diablitos tour with Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Aterciopelados (which hit the major cities of Spain). During this same late-'90s era, Venegas contributed her talents to a number of albums by other artists (Enrique Bunbury, Mastretta) and to a number of soundtracks, too (En el País de No Pasa Nada, Amores Perros), and she performed at a number of major festivals as well.
During roughly this same period, Venegas found time to write and record her second album, Bueninvento (2000). A bit of a departure from her debut, Bueninvento is a full-fledged rock en español album and features a backing band of veteran session men: Joe Gore (guitar), Fernando Saunders (bass), Joey Waronker (drums), and Rick Boston (sax, flutes). More tours and soundtrack contributions followed: the Revolución tour with Jaguares, Jumbo, La Gusana Ciega, and Lisa Flores; the Fémina Rock tour with Aterciopelados, Maria Gabriela Epumer, and others; and the films Demasiado Amor, El Sueño del Caimán, Asesino en Serio, María Llena Eres de Gracia, and Subterra. She also got her first Latin Grammy nominations: Best Rock Song for "Hoy No Queiro" and Best Rock Album for Bueninvento.
Venegas subsequently settled down in Madrid and Buenos Aires to record her third album, Sí (2003), with producers Coti Sorokin and Cachorro López. Six of the album's ten songs were co-written with Sorokin, and the resulting album was a significant change from her past efforts: a colorful pop/rock album. Every song on Sí clocks in between three and four minutes in length; the hooks are memorable and melodic; the music is generally fun and upbeat; and all of it is broadly appealing rather than confrontational, as her past music had often been. Also unlike her past work, Sí took off commercially, going triple platinum in Mexico, topping the album chart there and breaking into the Top Five on the stateside Latin albums chart, and spawning four big hits ("Andar Conmigo," "Lento," "Algo Está Cambiando," "Oleada"), three of them reaching number one in either Mexico or the United States. The success of Sí led to a Latin Grammy for Best Rock Solo Vocal Album in 2004; plus, there were a trio of MTV Music Video Awards, for Best Solo Artist, Best Artist (Mexico), and Artist of the Year.
For her next album, Limón y Sal (2006), Venegas once again worked with producers Coti Sorokin and Cachorro López, and once again came up with a broadly appealing, hit-laden pop/rock album. The lead single, "Me Voy," spent 12 weeks atop the Mexican singles chart; it also was a number one in Spain, a Top Three hit in Italy, and a Top Ten Latin hit in the U.S. A string of follow-up singles (including "Limón y Sal," "Eres Para Mí," and "Primer Día") followed "Me Voy" up the Latin American and European charts (Limón y Sal itself topped charts in Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Chile, and Central America; plus, it went Top Five in Spain, Top Ten in Switzerland, and Top 200 in the United States). Venegas continued to command heavy airplay for the string of singles from Limón y Sal well into late 2007, at which time a best-of collection, Realmente Lo Mejor, was issued. Meanwhile, the accolades continued: a Grammy in 2007 for Best Latin Pop Album, a Latin Grammy Award in 2006 for Best Alternative Music Album, and an MTV Video Music Award in 2006 for Best Solo Artist. In 2008, Venegas released an MTV Unplugged album and started an international tour for the first time. In 2010 she released Otra Cosa, which received Gold status in Mexico. In August 2010, she gave birth to a daughter and began work on what was to become her sixth studio album Momentos, which was released in 2013. It was the first album by a Latin artist to be released in digital streaming exclusively for Latin America and Spain.
With her daughter, Venegas toured Europe, Latin America, and the United States in support of Momentos. She went on hiatus for over a year. In January of 2015 she began writing and recording a new album with co-producers Cachorro Lopez and Yamil Rezc. The topics of many of its songs reflect childhood and adolescence, inspired by the autobiographical novels of Karl Ove Knausgård. The title track was issued as a first pre-release single with a musical structure that harks back to the Cure. Its second, "Explosion," was written in response to the "desparacidos," -- the disappeared ones -- of Mexico, who include thousands of women. The album was released in August 2015. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi