a conversation with Putochinomaricón
by Tyler Matthew Oyer
Chenta Tsai is a 26-year-old Sagittarius living in Madrid. Performing as Putochinomaricón, they have quickly becoming one of Spain’s coolest and most important pop stars. We met for coffee some days after their sold out show where the audience, with hands above their heads, sang along with every lyric. Drawn to their electric stage presence, athletic-candy-pop aesthetic, and stories of their political interventions, I was curious to learn more about how Putochinomaricón came to this moment.
Tyler: How did you start making music? Did you study music or come from a performance family?
Chenta: I started playing the piano when I was five years old and I graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Madrid as a violinist and composition major. I realized I didn’t want to interpret, I wanted to create. Innocent or naïve of me, I entered university to study architecture. I finished my architecture degree five months ago. I realized this was too serious for me so I started this music project by trying to find an intermediate space between academia, art, and trash.
Tyler: How did you name yourself?
Chenta: Putochinomaricón is an appropriation of what they called me as an insult in my school. In reality it’s an insult that’s assigned to East Asian immigrants in Spain. I wanted to take something that is an insult assigned to a community and turn it into something positive. It’s similar to how the word queer or fag have been re-appropriated.
Tyler: Who are some of your musical and artistic inspirations?
Chenta: I always say I am like a badly made collage because I am attracted to polar opposites. The melodies in my music are extremely mainstream. They are influenced by Grimes, Charli XCX, and PC Music.
I’ve always found a disconnect between pop music and it’s content. The content of most pop music is banal and vacuous; it doesn’t speak to actualities. It’s funny how I am categorized as a trash artist because in reality I think it is trashier to sing with misogynist lyrics. I see mainstream musicians that portray misogynistic ideals as trash artists while people call us trash because we talk about wifi, toxic people, and topics inside the realm of activism.
I’m inspired by a Spanish artist called Esty Quesada. She uses the negative attributes society has assigned to her and turns them into her shield. Samantha Hudson is amazing as well. They are well known for their song “Soy Maricón” which was their project for their final year of high school. The teacher gave them a perfect score and the teacher was fired because she is critiquing religion in the song and video.
I also love Girli. She is a punk artist who mixes PC Music aesthetics with a Bikini Kill vibe. She represents girl power and I find her work and project very interesting as she also decontextualizes heteronormative structures and uses it in her favor. It is much more profound. I feel identify strongly with what she represents and does, but embodied as an East Asian fag.
Tyler: You have a song known as an activist song. Do you consider yourself an activist?
Chenta: Calling yourself an activist is very perverted now. Almost everyone considers themselves an activist. I rather say I am an active member of several communities. Some people think you’re not an activist if you don’t financially support organizations. For me, it’s as simple as taking ideals and principals and applying them to your public and private lives. The private is political. The personal is political.
I am a member of 12N which is an antiracist organization in Spain. This group formed as the result of strike on the 12th of November 2017 when immigrants and marginalized people protested for equal rights. They protested against the CIEs which are Spanish internment centers amongst many other issues. These centers jail individuals who have administrative issues for up to 70 days. They don’t assure you of your release and they could relocate you from one center to another, often ending with a deportation. These centers are controlled by police and there is much brutality. People die from illness because there are no medical facilities. The CIE in Aluche was once a jail. 12N is defending the rights of these immigrants and calling for the abolition of these centers.
I have experienced systemic racism in Spain but I am conscious of my privileges. I am an immigrant and homosexual but I have documents, a flat, a passport, I’m cis male, able bodied… so I use my platform to expose the injustices of things like CIE, not just for myself. I am pro documenting these actions and issues and uploading them to Instagram and Facebook. People criticize me because I am against pink capitalism but then I use these platforms. We are living, inevitably, in a capitalist structure. If we want or need to spread information the most effective way is with these platforms.
There was a slogan at the World Pride that was “whoever you love, Madrid loves you”. I completed the slogan with “whenever they want to”, meaning, when they can benefit from you. I like that protests are becoming more mainstream but it irritates me when I see a person wearing a t-shirt that says I am a feminist. It’s become a signature of what’s cool with pink capitalism, an aesthetic, because they remove the politicized context of the activism.
Tyler: This is my issue with Beyoncé feminism; women are powerful because they are equal to men in money and visibility. But the feminism I admire is one that doesn’t base success off the man’s status but rather calls for the destruction or reimagining of the patriarchal system of power as we know it.
Chenta: To paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir: we should not try to put women into power, we should abolish the idea of power.
photo Javier Ruiz
photo Javier Ruiz
Tyler: I heard there was a venue in Spain that asked you to remove Maricón from your name in order to play a gig. Does this happen often? How do you handle that?
Chenta: It happens to me all the time. This February they promoted a concert with Chenta, not my artist name.
Tyler: Without your permission?
Chenta: Yes! A few days ago I was invited to Vodafone Yu which is a new millennial platform, like MTV, but Spanish. Soy una Pringada and Jedet are the Spanish icons of the trash movement. I was invited to speak about empowerment and LGBTQI issues. They know my name empowers me. There was a public program on Spanish TV hosted by José Mota, a comedian, who dedicated one and a half hours to make fun of East Asian community of Spain. He said things like “oh, they will steal our jobs”… So I decided to take the opportunity on Vodafone Yu to say José Mota is a fucking racist. I said it. They censored it and they censored my name. They asked me to speak about empowerment and then they censored me. This is a problem.
This program supports racism. Alaska went on the program and laughed at the East Asian program. They made slanted eye gestures and mocked the languages. It’s possible to make people laugh without using racist resources.
They have censured me from day one, from my first concert. They asked me not to play a few songs, which I played anyway. It’s fucked up but I’m noticing that I am having an effect inside the structure. The people who censor my name are the same people who would call me “chink fag” in the streets. So maybe instead of censoring me, they should think about why I choose to call myself Putochinomaricón. I don’t call myself this as a joke, I do it to provoke. It makes me think of Madonna in the 1980’s taking religious iconography and mixed it with erotics. To take the taboo and put in on the faces of actual people. I am a maricón and I want people to think about deconstructing the slur in order to build a better future.
Tyler: It brings to mind the films of John Waters and how he depicts American “normality” as so absurd that audiences who are actually stranded in heternormative behaviors and thoughts suddenly feel more bizarre or other than Divine. In other words, the people who typically feel safe in society are confronted with that by being made fun of for their normalities. This is why I asked you about how you locate your activism. I think it’s clever of you to articulate the different ways and places activism happens, but I feel your name, your music, and how you perform are all activism. I don’t think entertainment has to be separate from activism. We are used to pop stars performing activism at award shows or in support of a political candidate or after a mass shooting. You speak from your lived experience not from a place of extreme wealth and global attention with marketing demands. What you’re doing feels punk-internet-2.0. It feels like it comes from the city, from your life, not from a P.R. team.
Chenta: Totally. I wrote “Gente de Mierda” out of anger. I think the best works come from a place of anger. That day I was so irritated. I decided I could not live feeling less human because people laugh at me. Many first generation immigrants feel they deserve these behaviors because they are made to feel as though they are invading a space that is not theirs, so they stay quiet out of respect. We are a different generation. I don’t think this way, my sister and friends don’t think this way. Yes I am a dissident identity but I am not colonizing space because I have the same rights as any other Spanish citizen.
Growing up there were no East Asian, queer or dissident representatives in the media. I think it’s important to have this counter culture and to change the mainstream. I consider what I do punk because I am here to provoke. That’s my first objective. I don’t care about fame. I hate going to programs to talk about my life because I realize most interviews in the mainstream media what to politicize your narrative as a caricature; pseudo racist, United Colors of Benetton … They use you as a token East Asian in order to say their program is inclusive, but they only want your image not your discourse.
University has educated me to have a critical approach to society and creativity. If I started this project without that knowledge I don’t think I would be able to distinguish when an opportunity is going to de-politicize me and when they actually want to promote my platforms.
Tyler: All of your songs are sung in Spanish. Do you plan to tour other Spanish speaking regions like South and Central America? Come to Los Angeles?
Chenta: I would love to go on tour! In some ways I think I can have an impact there. It is more normalized to be gay or queer in Spain than in certain parts of Latin America.
When I was young I listened to the Spice Girls because there wasn’t an out, gay, dissident pop star who was empowered in the mainstream. The only ones who come to mind are Ru Paul and La Veneno.
Tyler: I think it’s very queer to imagine relationships to people who inspire us; to confirm or embrace the space between actual and virtual fandom. Who, living or dead, musician or artist, would be a dream Putochinomaricón collaboration?
Chenta: I would love to collaborate with Sylvia Rivera. That would be so radical! She could shout the whole song and I’m singing… like Rihanna featuring Eminiem but Putochinomaricón featuring Sylvia Rivera! And obviously, the Spice Girls.
Tyler: What’s next for you and this project?
Chenta: I’m going to release an EP with Elephant Records. I’m working on a second EP that’s much more electronic. I like how David Bowie changed every era.
Tyler: Do you produce all your tracks?
Chenta: Yes. Everything. It’s very important for me. I want to show people that if you have a computer, microphone, and some time you can auto-produce your music… you don’t need to depend on the music industry.
I want to be more and more mainstream. I want to erase the negative connotation of mainstream media and artists and spread my message. I’m obsessed with mainstream media and I always fuck it up.