If The Marías’ debut album Cinema would fit into any film genre, lead singer María Zardoya thinks it would be a dramedy. But it’s nothing like the kitschy, rose-tinted world of movies like 500 Days Of Summer or teen-centered dramas like Juno. Instead, the album lives in a cinematic universe that’s dripping in glamour and romance, swathed in lush red velvet that’s dimly illuminated by moody lighting.
As someone who grew up in a small town outside of Atlanta to Spanish and Puerto Rican parents, Zardoya became a film buff at a young age as a way of imagining her life outside a town whose only cultural events revolved around the church. Cinema pays tribute to the films Zardoya watched in her youth, drawing inspiration from the artistically-inspiring works by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, many of which revolve around strong female characters. “Watching his films felt like a rebirth,” Zardoya said about Almodovar’s films over a Zoom call. “It felt like a cultural reset of sexual freedom and artistic freedom that I was really craving as a young adult living in this small town that lacked all of that.”
Cinema is as romantic yet less campy than Almodovar’s films. It’s fully-instrumental album opener “Just A Feeling” acts as an exposition, setting the scene for the remainder of the album with swirling, orchestral violins and a languid guitar. Zardoya’s hushed vocals then cut through with buzzing synths on the following laid-back pop number “Calling U Back,” showing off The Marías’ knack for loungey and beguiling psych-pop numbers that originally built the band’s fanbase and introduced them as indie-pop innovators on their first two EPs, Superclean Vol. I and Superclean Vol. II.
When it comes to her own taste in music, Zardoya appreciates musicians who aren’t afraid of experimenting with genres. “I like that concept of music right now that you don’t have to fit into this mold or just do one thing,” she said. “And you can tell in Cinema, we’ve got a Reggaeton-inspired song, but then we have a more acoustic song with harps and strings.” When it comes to her lyrics, Zardoya definitely doesn’t fit the indie-pop mold. With many of her songs, on Cinema as well as other releases, Zardoya moves fluidly between delivering her lyrics in Spanish and English. “The feeling that I get from singing a song in Spanish is different from the feeling I get from singing a song in English. It comes from a different part of you and your emotions. When I sing in Spanish, it’s just more nostalgic and a bit more romantic.”
While Zardoya draws inspiration from a wide variety of genres, she’s a true Britney Spears fan at heart. She previously transformed Spears’ hit track “Baby One More Time” into a simmering dark-pop anthem and even labeled Cinema’s buoyant song “Hush” The Marías’ “Britney moment.” “I just loved her as an artist and looked up to her so much,” Zardoya said about Spears’ influence on her songwriting. “She’s such a strong force and such a strong woman. That, I think, intimidates a lot of people on her team and a lot of people just in general in the industry.”
Zardoya also noted she’s personally inspired by innovative women musicians, which is why she curated a playlist for Uproxx of her favorite rising female pop stars. “I grew up listening to a lot of female musicians and artists, both Latin and non-Latin,” she said. To Zardoya, listening to music is a means of escape and relaxation, which is why she listens to “a lot of chill music.” Sleepy chords and drawn-out synths can be heard throughout her curated playlist with artists like the dreamy group Men I Trust and tropical synth-pop duo Buscabella. But it also features some more dancey numbers, like breakout pop artist Remi Wolf’s jazzy number “Liz” and French electro-pop band L’Imperitrice’s funk-forward song “Peur Des Filles.”
Check out Zardoya’s full playlist below, along with her explanation for why she opted to highlight each track.
Biig Piig — “Oh No”
“The Biig Piig ‘Oh No’ song, I love the vocal production and the layers of this song, I think. And just the overall, it’s kind of dark and moody, but it’s still dreamy and edgy, and I love the lyrics as well. I can relate to the lyrics.”
Maye — “Yours”
“And the Maye song, Maye’s a friend of mine, and I just love this song. It’s such a feel-good song. And the music video is her in a roller skating rink, and that’s like the perfect visual for this song. It’s just, it just feels good.”
Arlo Parks — “Black Dog”
“The Arlo Parks song ‘Black Dog,’ it’s a song kind of that deals with mental health, and I can relate to it a lot. And I think a lot of people during quarantine and post-quarantine can relate to the feeling of anxiety, and having this dark sort of force sort of present in your life, and how it feels to deal with that. So I can relate a lot to this song, and I really like the message that she sort of encapsulated in that song.”
Men I Trust — “Before Dawn”
“The Men I Trust song, ‘Before Dawn,’ this is on their newest album, and the first time I listened to this song, I just, I fell in love with it. The beat, the tones of the synths, even the tone of her voice, which is kind of in the back, it’s almost its own instrument in the song. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song. I can turn it on whenever, and it just transports me.”
L’Imperatrice — “Peur Des Filles”
“The L’Imperatrice song, this is a French band that I love, that I discovered during quarantine. And this song in particular is just a feel good dancey song. Just get up and dance. I have no idea what she’s saying, but it doesn’t matter because it takes me to the mood, and that’s kind of the most important thing.”
Lav — “Wavvy”
“And this love song ‘Wavvy,’ I discovered it during quarantine as well. And I kind of had it on repeat. It was just the feeling of the song. It’s like a slow jam, a song that gives the emotions of longing and sort of heartbreak. But it’s a beautiful song. And the bass, the tone of the bass is amazing.”
Remi Wolf — “Liz”
“This Remi Wolf song, ‘Liz,’ is amazing. It’s one of my favorite Remi Wolf songs. The melody is just so good. It’s so catchy. And yeah, it’s just like a feel-good song. And I love like the tones that they use, and her vocal inflections, and the dynamics of her vocals as well, is really good.”
Raveena — “Headaches”
“This Raveena song I’ve loved for a long time. I love the way that it starts as one song and then sort of takes you to a different part, almost like a different song, but it happens so seamlessly. And it’s just a beautiful song. I love her voice. It’s like just very healing and relaxing to listen to. I love all of her music.”
Luna Li — “Cloud Castles”
“I love Luna Lee. She is just a force, she plays all the instruments on her, on her songs. And just this project was, it was amazing. Again, like the tones of like the bass and the guitar and how she like is able to weave all of these instruments together in the most seamless ways. It’s so good. She actually played harp on one of our songs on the album and strings on a couple of them as well.”
Buscabulla — “Nydia”
“I love, it just feels like an old Bailara, but in an amazing, modern way it’s, it’s feel is so nostalgic. Feeling of the song is just, it takes me back to a time and place from my past. But it’s just a beautiful song and I love the band and I love the project.”
Cinema is out now via Atlantic. Get it here.
The Marías are a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.