(Photo: Kadar R. Small for HuffPost; Hair and Makeup: Claudia Lake for Chanel)
This profile is part of our Culture Shifters series, which highlights people who are changing the way we think about the world around us. Read about film archivist Maya Cade, internet stars Keyon Elkins and Drew Afualo, rapper Latashá, music historian Katelina Eccleston, filmmaker Alika Tengan, author Alex Aster, artists Kay Rufai and Ani Liu, and actors Rhoyle Ivy King and Nicco Annan.
Ambar Lucid is going to be the greatest artist of her generation. It’s not a question of if, but rather when. She describes her rise to fame as a lifelong journey, one she’d spoken into existence as a young child playing with toy pianos and plastic microphones. Just 21 years old, she has completed her first headlining tour, redefined her entire musical sound and entered a new phase in both her career and life.
She is 20 days sober the day we meet at a nondescript Mexican restaurant in the Flatiron District in New York City. Lucid is wearing a fluorescent green Pink Floyd shirt, gray shorts, bright blue Beatles socks and a pair of custom Air Force 1s with the name of her alter ego, Estrella, sprayed in royal purple on the side of each shoe. She also has on a pentagram necklace (“The meaning has absolutely nothing to do with the devil; it symbolizes all the elements and being connected to the Earth”) with a lapis lazuli pendant around her neck. Her chin-length hair is tucked behind her ears, and two dyed blond strips add dimension and edge to her appearance. Aside from some smudge liner, she is bare-faced, almost incognito among the hordes of New York Fashion Week attendees that pass behind her through our next hour together.
Singer Ambar Lucid posted her first song, “Letting Go,” on SoundCloud five years ago. (Photo: Kadar R. Small for HuffPost; Hair and Makeup: Claudia Lake for Chanel)
Lucid is the epitome of a Gen Z artist. She consults her tarot cards during her songwriting sessions, she uses Pinterest to inspire her music videos, and she’s always trusted her intuition when it comes to her music career. At 15, she started posting original songs to her SoundCloud. They were often recorded in the (un)comfort of her bathroom “for the reverb” with wired headphones and a guitar. She says posting these songs, which her cousin produced, was the only option to open doors in the music industry for herself.
“Music was the only thing that made me feel alive and made me feel connected to a higher power,” Lucid says as she takes a sip of her piña agua fresca. Despite having zero connections in the music industry, success came rather easily for the then 15-year-old songwriter. Five years ago, she worked through her negative self-talk and posted her first song, “Letting Go.” The nearly three-minute song featured haunting lyrics and painfully accurate lyrics about healing and vulnerability in a new relationship. After a few months of consistently posting new songs, Lucid began to gain traction among the #indie music fans who pushed her to release her debut album, “Dreaming Lucid,” with “Letting Go” becoming the sixth track.
Two years later, after her mom told her she was on her own for college, Lucid made the decision to finish high school online and move across the country, from her hometown in New Jersey to Los Angeles, to pursue her dream.
“I just really don’t care about what anybody has to say,” Lucid said. “It’s just easier to fully embrace who I am because, if I’m honest with myself, there’s nothing holding me back.”
It’s this attitude she’s carried with her throughout her career, and it has informed each of her musical decisions. After recording her most recent summer hit, “girl ur so pretty,” in a grimy recording studio with cigarette burns on the mixing board and a mic that smelled like tooth decay, she decided this was the year she was going to level up. No more sketchy studios with disgusting stained walls. No more doubting herself.
Ambar Lucid, who moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to pursue her music career, has released a new single, "Timeless." (Photo: Kadar R. Small for HuffPost; Hair and Makeup: Claudia Lake for Chanel)
The first step in doing this was releasing the “Euphoria”-inspired music video for “girl ur so pretty,” complete with tons of Lucid-approved glitter makeup. It’s an eff-you banger that Lucid hopes inspires others to feel comfortable being themselves despite how they were raised. The second step was releasing her new single, “Timeless,” with soulful melodies and a catchy pop vibe to prove once and for all that she’s here to stay.
“Once I make up my mind, nobody can tell me no; I will find any way possible to make what I want happen,” she said.
It’s a bold statement from an unapologetic Capricorn who single-handedly raised her monthly Spotify listeners to nearly 600,000 in just a few short years, but visualizing the success of her future didn’t necessarily make her solo journey across the country any easier. Lucid spent the first few months of her stay on the West Coast locked in her room for weeks at a time. It wasn’t just her Cancer rising that kept her hidden away from the rest of the world, it was a fierce and undeniable depression that’s followed her since she was a little girl. Lucid pinpoints the beginning of this unshakeable sadness at around 8 years old, when her father was deported to Mexico.
“I think throughout my childhood, I just felt really alone. I felt very isolated. Like it literally felt like I was on an island all by myself, because I didn’t really have many people that I could relate to. I wasn’t very open about the things that I was experiencing at home as a kid … I didn’t really know any kids growing up who had a family member deported.”
A first-generation child of immigrants, Lucid ended up raising her two younger siblings while learning to deal with her depression.
“I didn’t grow up having anybody that supported me … my mom was very distant, and I was emotionally neglected. There was nobody, so that affected my mental health for a long time. I just felt very disconnected.”
“Taking care of yourself is priceless," Lucid says. "It affects every aspect of your life. My whole experience of life is so different than it was a year ago, two years ago." (Photo: Kadar R. Small for HuffPost; Hair and Makeup: Claudia Lake for Chanel)
She dealt with a lot of self-shaming and negative thoughts during her formative teenage years, but it wasn’t until she was older that she reached out to start unpacking the “chaos” of her childhood.
“Therapy saved my life. I don’t think I would be where I am right now if I didn’t go to therapy. I was able to understand my childhood experience on a different level; I was able to understand that a lot of the stuff I experienced was abuse. [Therapy] was the first time somebody actually validated what I felt; somebody listened to me and walked me through the negative feelings I felt for a long time.”
Still, it wasn’t until she started medication that she began to feel alive again. “My brain was sharper; it was like there was a dark cloud in my head and then most of the cloud went away,” she said.
It made her anxiety and depression more manageable and inspired her to continue investing in her own mental health.
“Taking care of yourself is priceless. It affects every aspect of your life. My whole experience of life is so different than it was a year ago, two years ago. Like I never thought that I would be fully sober, and my therapist helped me realize how much it would change my life. I didn’t think that it would be possible for me to feel this way. I put a lot of energy into overcoming the things that I [experienced] in my childhood because I was set up for failure, and I am very proud of myself [for] dedicating so much of my time and energy to allowing myself to live a happy life.”
Now she makes music for others like her, expressing her pain and solitude through harmonic melodies and gut-punching lyrics. “I want to be open about it because I want anybody who feels like they’re on that little island to know that they’re not alone.”
Now that she’s older, she said, it’s comforting knowing she wasn’t totally isolated in this experience. It’s why she’s so vocal about her past trauma. She previously recorded a documentary, “Llegaron las Flores,” about the separation and reunification of her family. She is also an immigrants rights advocate and performed at the “Selena for Sanctuary” fundraising concert in 2019.
Once I make up my mind, nobody can tell me no; I will find any way possible to make what I want happen.Ambar Lucid
“Music makes me feel alive, so the fact that doing what I love has a positive impact on people who grew up like me, people who feel alone like that, just makes what I do so much bigger than I ever thought,” she said.
There’s a generation of young artists whose music speaks to other children of immigrants. There’s award-winning singer Kali Uchis, who performed with Lucid at “Selena for Sanctuary,” rising alternative R&B star Omar Apollo, who toured with Lucid in 2019, and Mexican American artist and record producer Cuco, among many others. They’re crafting music for the masses without erasing their heritage or experiences.
For Lucid, this is especially important. While she’s passionate about her heritage and proud to represent the Latinx community, she stresses the importance of being referred to as a singer, sans ethnic identifiers (seriously, you don’t refer to Ariana Grande or Lady Gaga as Italian American singers in articles).
“I’m just going to give my all to the art and let the art speak for itself because like, yep, I’m Latina, but I also do these things. It’s not the only thing that’s special about me.”
She also refuses to adhere to the music industry’s push for her to sing in one language. Growing up, Lucid was used to switching between English and Spanish at home and in school. Spanglish has always been a part of her life, and after someone told her to pivot to Spanish music, it cemented her commitment to singing in both languages all of the time.
“They told me that I only had to [sing in] Spanish, but I knew that I could do both and it wouldn’t affect how people respond to me. I just knew from a very young age that what really mattered was what I was saying and, like, the energy of what I was, like, putting into my music. I’m not gonna go with one [language] or the other, I’m always gonna tap into both. I wanted to prove those people wrong.”
Though Lucid’s earlier music is perhaps best described as sad indie bops, she’s leaning into a new era for herself.
Ambar Lucid has rebranded as her alter ego: Estrella. (Photo: Kadar R. Small for HuffPost; Hair and Makeup: Claudia Lake for Chanel)
“I really started living life at 20, maybe 21, actually, because that’s when I got out of the fog that I was in. [I’d been] in the industry for two years and realized that I had already created a reputation for myself at 17. Imagine people perceiving you as your 17-year-old self. That’s so embarrassing. That’s not me anymore.”
Instead, Lucid embraced the transformation and rebranded as her alter ego, Estrella. Vibrant and colorful, the name is yet another verbal manifestation of Lucid’s ultimate goal in life: to be a star. As Estrella, Lucid no longer holds herself to any unrealistic standards or pressures herself when she goes into the studio. Now she’s having pure, unadulterated fun.
While her music is still sometimes steeped in sadness, she’s choosing to embrace her authentic self in every aspect of her life. A bisexual-polyamorous icon, Lucid isn’t shying away from her identity anymore. For a long time, Lucid lived in a “mental prison,” worried about upsetting her family, but she decided if she was on her deathbed tomorrow, she wanted to be happy with the way she’d been living life.
“The only way to live a happy fulfilling life is to come to terms with who you are because then nobody can bring you down. Once you accept yourself for who you are, it also makes it easier for you to find people that think like you.”
So now Lucid is armed with her Rider-Waite tarot deck on a mission to create music that speaks to people on a spiritual level. To touch their soul and make them feel more connected in this messy, often isolating universe. As she enters this next phase in her music career, she’s pivoting to a timelessness that will be around decades after her physical body has left the earth, much like her music icon Syd Barrett.
“I’m on my way,” she said. “I will be legendary.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.