Colombian Singer Elsa y Elmar’s “Spiritual Pop” Welcomes Our Multitudes

Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images.
Before you meet Elsa y Elmar, it’s understandable if you assume you’ll encounter a musical duo or perhaps a gender-switching artist. But Elsa y Elmar is one person, the Colombian singer-songwriter Elsa Carvajal. She adopted the double stage name to honor the entirety of the team behind her artistic output. “It's just so overwhelming to me, the sensation that this is bigger than just me, and I really wanted to bring that to life in terms of leading a musical project,” Elsa y Elmar says. “I didn't want the weight and also the feeling of being the typical one-name pop star, you know what I mean? I remember feeling like I need something that includes me, but isn’t all about me.”
So Elsa started playing with her full name, Elsa Margarita Carvajal, and arrived at “Elmar,” a combination of her first and middle names. It’s a reminder that her career is the result of a team of people’s labor and the support of her fans. “Whenever I refer to the project, I never say ‘I,’ I always say ‘we,’” she says. “And I also think about my public — it's literally impossible to be a musician without your public and it feels kind of beautiful to acknowledge that in the name, so it's always ‘we.’" Elsa y Elmar wants to be a very big pop star, but she’s unwilling to let go of the collectivity she believes is essential to her art.

"Whenever I refer to the project, I never say ‘I,’ I always say ‘we.’ And I also think about my public — it's literally impossible to be a musician without your public and it feels kind of beautiful to acknowledge that in the name, so it's always ‘we.’"

Elsa y Elmar
Speaking to Refinery29 Somos over video call from Mexico City, where Elsa has lived since 2018, the singer-songwriter has her dark, shiny hair tied back. She wears an oversized T-shirt, in a casual but put-together look that only a cool girl would wear. She overflows with charm as she answers each question. Originally from Bucaramanga, Colombia, Elsa, who was “that weird girl who [was] obsessed with music from an early age,” doesn’t think of pop stardom like many pop stars do. At the beginning of her career, a Colombian music producer said she was pretty and could probably make it if she sang the commercial songs he had lined up. Elsa turned it down — she wanted to sing the music she wrote herself and feared that signing her talents over to a big producer would compromise the work she wanted to do. Her parents — her mom, an electrical engineer, and her dad, a contractor — didn’t know how to help young Elsa build an autonomous music career.
After her fateful meeting with the producer, Elsa figured she should leave Bucaramanga to pursue her dreams of becoming a musician. Though she loved her city, which houses just over half a million people, there was barely a cultural scene that she could enter and make something of herself. Elsa applied to the Berkeley College of Music in Boston without having visited. After her audition, she received news that she had gotten a full-ride scholarship. Elsa, who had only ever traveled outside of Bucaramanga for less than a week, packed her bags and moved to the Northeast U.S.. 
Photo: Juan Pablo Pino/AFP.
But in Boston, Elsa encountered another problem. “I’m not made for structure,” she says. Elsa’s first attempt at learning music as a child — the flute at 9 — wasn’t successful because she dislikes structured rehearsals. “But I had a scholarship so I decided I was going to pursue music therapy,” she adds. Music therapy was the antidote to her aversion to rehearsing existing music because it incorporated her preference for creating new things. Studying this major for three years taught her that music can be a generous offering for those who need it. 
“I would go to nursing homes or homes for people with special needs or to hospices and offer music [to them],” she says. “That's where I learned that the public is not there to see me. I am here to give them something: music.” 
Despite how much it changed her worldview, Elsa’s distaste for order reared its head again at the end of those three years when she dropped out of college. It’s not a regrettable  decision. Soon after, she recorded her first studio album, Rey, released in 2015 through Stereo Global. Then in 2019, freshly living in Mexico City, she released Eres Diamante, which earned Elsa y Elmar a Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. In 2022, Elsa y Elmar’s album, ya no somos los mismos, received three Latin Grammy nominations: Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop/Rock Song. Though she has historically struggled to fit into a genre, Elsa describes her music as “spiritual pop.” 

"My family and my lineage are all matriarcas, so I am a feminist by nature."

In 2024, Elsa y Elmar released her first single as an independent artist, a pop-rock song about menstruation called “entre las piernas.” She struggled to write it because she feared being too political, too outwardly feminist, despite believing in the message of the song.  
“My family and my lineage are all matriarcas, so I am a feminist by nature, but [my mother and grandmother] are the most anti-feminist feminists,” Elsa explains. “They do not like to be called feminists because my mom says I do not want to be considered successful [only] because I am a woman. So they carry a very interesting burden, and I think I had that in the back of my mind so I never wanted to say anything feminist, [but] I wanted to live as a feminist.”
The song is about the blood women bleed every month in a material sense but also metaphorically. It’s about the pressures women are up against in their everyday lives — and how much more oppressive that feels when you are, according to Elsa, “PMS-y.” “I realized that I was so afraid of making a song that was political, so afraid of making a song that talked about my experience and the expectations society puts on me,” Elsa says. “And I had an urge. I just remember a moment where I said, ‘I should talk about this.’”
There are many standout lines in the Spanish-language song, but one of the most memorable is at the end of the chorus when Elsa sings: “Sólo quiero respirar. Siento si eso te molesta” (“I just want to breathe. I’m sorry if that bothers you.”) This line has multiple meanings for Elsa. The first level is about the very real experience of wanting to be left alone while PMSing. The second is about being a woman in a sexist society and feeling unsafe, at risk of sexual violence and femicide.
“It’s like, stop judging me. As women, we are always worried about how we dress, how we look, how we are, how we speak, how we are talked about and it's like, ‘I don't give a shit.  I'm just breathing here,’” she says. “And the deeper, deeper level, which is mentioned in two moments of the song, is that it’s so hard to walk in the streets being a woman compared to a man. Sorry if that bothers you, but I just want to be alive and not get killed.”
Photo: Medios y Media/Getty Images.
For the song, The Crux, a production company based in the country of Georgia, created an accompanying animated video. The animation draws from Elsa’s vision for the video, and the main character, who shows up naked, is a reflection of the singer-songwriter’s own body and insecurities. “They sent me a very cool heroine, and they proposed her to be naked and I thought that was so beautiful,” she says. “I sent them pictures of my body, and I said, ‘Make her titties like mine because I'm super insecure about my titties.’” 
The video itself isn’t raunchy or offensive — Elsa even made sure there were no visible nipples and genitals to make it YouTube-friendly — but the video platform recently demonetized the music video. “I forgot that YouTube doesn’t like menstruation videos,” Elsa says.
This new independent era of Elsa y Elmar is continuing the pop artist’s search for autonomy in the music industry. It’s clear she feels energized by the ability to put everything together herself rather than depending on an executive who doesn’t quite understand her art. “I know I'm fucking crazy to want to be doing the exact opposite things that need to be done to become a pop star and expect to be one,” she says. “I feel that as an independent artist, I can build my dream team. I can be working with the people who truly want to be working with me.”

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