Before Karol G hit the stage to a sold-out crowd at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium on Friday night, Morgan Freeman’s gravelly voice lulled audiences into storytime. His narration, paired with an animated short using the same cartoon characters found on the cover of her fourth studio album “Mañana Será Bonito,” was about a mermaid named Carolina (Karol’s real name) who was to begin a journey to rediscover her most bichota self after losing her spark and suffering from a frozen heart.
For the three hours that followed, Karol delivered a powerful performance with that purpose in mind. In the audience, generations of Latinas — from young girls in oversized pink wigs to large groups of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s — received her songs of empowerment and femininity as a sermon to sing their hearts out to. The history-making success of “Mañana Será Bonito,” the first female-sung Spanish-language album to top the Billboard albums chart, transformed into a tangible, live experience.
Karol seemed to grasp that concept clearly. She launched with her’s and Shakira’s firey “TQG,” a hard-hitting reggaeton song with ferocious lyrics about getting over an ex and getting hotter in the process. She also shredded through a performance of “Besties,” the perfect soundtrack to a girl’s night out, and dedicated the Nicki Minaj-featuring “Tusa” to the sea of Angelenos. Karol’s control of this massively scaled audience also makes it feel like a total party — even when she pulled out much more emotive songs like 2019’s “Ocean,” which she dedicated to fans, or “Mercurio,” which got a bossa-nova twist at the hands of her all-female band.
She also fully embraced her newly released “Bichota Season” — the follow-up to her February release, which included remixes as well as brand-new songs. The album arrived just last week, on the same day her tour launched in Las Vegas on Aug. 11, but that didn’t stop fans from singing along with every word. Among them, she sang “Oki Doki,” “Qlona,” and “Dispo” with rising rapper Young Miko, who enthusiastically opened the show. Karol also played “Mi Ex Tenía Razon,” a cumbia that she dedicated to the Queen of Tejano, Selena Quintanilla. It was a part of the segment dedicated to her Mexican discography, which includes “200 Copas” and “Gucci los Paños,” the latter a tuba-driven banda-style song coming from “Mañana.” She was joined by many young female musicians of the genre including Mexican accordionist Irany Divad Martínez.
“This is the first show that sold out,” Karol told the crowd early in Friday’s concert, her Colombian sing-songy accent slipping through her toothy smile. “It made us believe that apart from one date here, we could do two nights here.”
Although Karol is fresh from her 30-date 2022 “$trip Love Tour,” this stadium run is her first on this scale in the U.S. The evening prior to Friday’s show, Karol had posted a black-and-white image of the empty stadium to her Instagram: “Between tomorrow and the day after, we will be 120 million souls vibing together here… it feels like a dream… it always was… but after so many years, it’s reality,” she wrote as a caption.
Just before the show’s ending, Karol fell to her knees, and in the few seconds before she covered her face, fans could see her nose scrunch up and tears start to swell. With the mic back to her lips, knees still on the floor, she explained: “Many years ago, when I was home, watching all of my favorite artists [perform]… I would ask myself how I was going to get there. And I know they call me a crybaby, but I don’t care.” Lifting her hand up to gesture to the crowd, she said “Look at this.”
It was a lot to take in: Tiny multi-colored lights filled the Bowl, but next to me was a pair of young sisters swaying at their mother’s side, and above us, clusters of people displaying their flags — Chile, Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and more, all in the house. Before standing back up, Karol laughed and blamed the shot of alcohol she took after “200 Copas” for her overflowing emotions. She exited the stage as fireworks erupted to “Provenza,” with Bichota Season in full effect.