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How Latin Grammy winner Paopao, 26, is forging her own musical path

The 26-year-old singer is ready to take the spotlight after working behind the scenes for years.
Paopao, Paola Nicole Marrero Rodríguez, on a fun backbground
The singer has already earned praise from artists like Bad Bunny.TODAY Illustration / Daniel Bomb
/ Source: TODAY

From a young age, paopao always dreamed of one day becoming a professional musician. Now, she's making it happen.

The 26-year-old singer, born Paola Nicole Marrero Rodríguez, has been working behind the scenes for quite some time, writing for artists like CNCO and Chiquis, the latter’s song “Ticket de Salida” earned her a Latin Grammy. These days, paopao, who styles her name with all lowercase letters, is making her name known as an artist with her recent song “algo así (remix)” featuring Mora and a Bad Bunny shout-out supporting her music.

paopao grew up living between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with a psychologist mom and doctor dad. While most of her family was in the medical field, her passion for music led her to study at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music where she majored in media writing and production and got her master’s degree in music business. Her schooling, she told TODAY via Zoom, is a big part of her journey as an artist.

“When I was a kid, the music I remember listening to growing up was all very singer-songwriter. A lot of them were Puerto Rican because there was a big singer-songwriter Puerto Rican culture over there when I was living there,” paopao said. “Kany García, Tommy Torres, Luis Fonsi, Juanes (who is Colombian) (and) Juan Luis Guerra (who is Dominican), I listened to too. That’s the music I kind of grew up listening to and that’s what my mom listened to — either that or Aerosmith on Saturdays for cleaning.” 

Calling the artists’ songs “lyric driven,” she started paying attention to the words and composition, wanting to replicate it with her own music. Putting the songwriter aspect into practice while at school, paopao knew that it was her strength but it wasn't her end goal.

“It was always like, ‘I’m doing this but this isn’t my sound.’ I’m discovering it. Until I got to where I am today,” she said. “But it’s been a journey of self expression, experimentation, listening to a bunch of different genres as well ... stuff that I hadn’t been exposed to as a kid.”

paopao is ready to make an impact in Latin music.
paopao is ready to make an impact in Latin music.Daniel Bomb

paopao got her foot in the door while first interning at Crescent Moon Studios — which are owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan — which led her to two other internships that she devoted herself to day and night.

“I saw so much movement there, I was like, ‘This is where I need to be,’” she said of her publishing internship she had while getting her master’s. Through her internship connections, she landed her first job and began writing songs for other artists.

Through songwriting sessions with them, she also fine-tuned her own personal sound, which she said took about eight years to discover.

“I was writing for other people and I was like, ‘I wrote this but it’s not me. So who am I?’” she said. “I started experimenting with different genres and adding more alternative elements until I found something that was like, ‘OK, this is what I have to offer.’”

“A lot of my songwriting is just me being, like, blunt. And I think that’s what people recognize when they hear my music and they hear my lyrics,” she explained. “I write and I’m really passionate about lyrics.”

That sound is a mix of reggaetón and alternative pop, which also translates to her personal style — wearing baggy clothes, heavy metal chains, sneakers and oversized t-shirts or hoodies with minimal makeup, funky hairstyles and over-the-top manicures.

For paopao, going to college for music helped her understand the business side and her way around the industry. But she knows it’s a “double-edged sword.”

“It was definitely my right path, but I don’t recommend it to everyone. Like, you don’t have to spend $60,000 on private education to be successful in music,” she said.

It was in October 2021 when she launched her artistic career and was signed as RichMusic’s first female artist. Since then, she's released three EPs. The first was a collaborative all-female project, “hembrismo,” with Villano Antillano, La Gabi, Aria Vega, and Cami Da Baby released in March. “hembrismo” was one of the first times a group of Latinas in the urban genre got together for a project, all playing an equal part in each song.

paopao then collaborated with musician iZaak on “relaciones tóxicas” and in August she released her third EP and first solo EP, “diamantes y espinas.” 

While she’s just getting started as an artist, she says she's aware of and has felt the pressures of being a female in the industry. Whether people criticize her lyrics and style, paopao stands by who she is because she is passionate about her work.

“And I get emotional about it because I don’t have a plan B, like this is it for me” she said, stressing the importance of supporting one another, especially Latinas. She also hopes that people in the industry start seeking out more up-and-coming artists because “there’s a lot more subcultures of new music.”

“There’s a bunch of really really talented, interesting women doing a bunch of different sub-genres of not only urban music, but alternative and singer-songwriter, and rock and pop,” she said, naming artists like RaiNao, Young Miko and Villano Antillano. “There’s so much out there and not enough of that is coming to light.”

In the meantime, paopao continues to promote her music and has upcoming shows in Puerto Rico — where she has family and will be relocating from Miami. She called the last few months “insane” and filled with plenty of pinch-me moments. 

“I’m just really happy that people are getting to know my sound and me as an artist and I’m getting to do this full time,” she said. “It’s just something that I feel as a kid you always dream about and see it as a reality. But until it happens, it’s like, ‘Maybe, maybe, maybe,’ and then yeah, (it happens). That’s where I’m at right now, it’s cool and I’m enjoying the process of it.”

During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.