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Yes, Sebastián Yatra is having a moment — and 'Encanto' is just the beginning

Ahead of his performance at the Oscars, the Colombian singer tells TODAY he hopes to "give people a beautiful message" through his music.
94th Annual Academy Awards - Show
Sebastián YatraNeilson Barnard / Getty Images

Three months in, and it's looking like 2022 is Sebastián Yatra's year. The Colombian singer has recently achieved many career firsts — with more on the way.

To recap, Yatra’s third studio album, “Dharma,” was released in January, with an accompanying world tour that kicked off a month later.

In March, Yatra landed his first cover of Billboard magazine; dropped a bilingual version of his new song “Tacones Rojos” with John Legend; appeared on U.S. late night shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!;” and made his acting debut in the fairy tale-inspired Spanish-language Netflix series “Érase una vez ... pero ya no” (“Once Upon a Time ... But Not Anymore”). 

The opportunities that have come his way in 2022, Yatra tells TODAY over the phone, have been both “surreal” and “very, very real” at the same time. “We are enjoying them all and having a great time,” he says.

As a capstone to this surreal month, Yatra will perform “Dos Oruguitas,” an Oscar-nominated song from “Encanto,” at the upcoming Academy Awards, taking the stage along with artists Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, and Reba McEntire.

While the “Encanto” song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” went on to become a viral hit, songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda told Variety he chose to submit the song he felt exemplified “the spirit of the movie” for official Oscars consideration, and that was "Dos Oruguitas."

The Spanish lyrics of “Dos Oruguitas” tell the story of two caterpillars who must let each other go in order to transform and grow into butterflies. Within “Encanto,” the song functions as an origin story, explaining how Abuela — heartbroken over the death of her husband — created an enchanted refuge for her family. 

“I’m trying not to think about the magnitude of what it is or anticipate it,” Yatra says of his upcoming Oscars performance. “I’ve never been the most nervous person. I think it’s all about enjoying it.”

While not anxious, Yatra is aware of the gravity of the moment. He says he has a “lot of respect” for the Academy Awards, and wants to get the performance right.

“You have a certain amount of nerves, especially since it’s your first time doing it and you have an opportunity to give people a beautiful message through music. For me, it’s more of those nerves of, ‘I want to do my best so people can get something nice out of this,’” he says.

Oscar viewers will be treated to more “Encanto," beyond "Dos Oruguitas:" Cast members Adassa, Stephanie Beatriz, Mauro Castillo, Carolina Gaitan and Diane Guerrero, along with pop stars Becky G and Luis Fonsi, will perform “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” during the telecast. 

Ahead of the performance, Yatra is working with his vocal coach in Colombia and perfecting his look for the big night. His plans to pay homage to his roots. “I want to represent my country, Colombia,” Yatra says.

The singer embarked on a world tour in February.
The singer embarked on a world tour in February.Erick Fernando

Yatra may be having a moment on the heels of “Encanto” and his collaboration with Legend, but he’s already a household name in his native Colombia and throughout Latin America. The singer-songwriter charms listeners with his swoon-worthy voice and genre-blending sounds, which have notes of reggaeton, pop and vallenato for years.

Born in Medellín, Colombia in 1994 and raised in Miami, Yatra knew he wanted to be an entertainer from a young age. 

“It was just something natural. I feel like I was acting all the time and being dramatic all day. One of my mom’s best friends, when I was a little kid, she would call me Hollywood,” he recalls. “They also called me payasito, when I was a kid, or ‘little clown,’” Yatra says.

From starring in a middle school production of “High School Musical,” Yatra realized that his love for acting and singing could actually become a career. In short, he found his calling. “I was like, 

‘OK, this is what I love. I’m going to do it,’” he says.

After a brief stint at Boston University, Yatra moved back to Colombia with the intention of launching his career — and that, he did. In 2016, his song “Traicionera” became a hit, and he has had 18 songs on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart since 2018, when his debut album "Mantra" came out. “Dos Oruguitas” is his highest charting hit to date.

Pulling from different genres, his songs are united by emotional openness. “As a songwriter, I’m just trying to be as honest and transparent as possible. You don’t have to be writing a ballad to be honest. You can write a big dance song, electronic song, and still be honest with the message that you are bringing across through your interpretation and  the instruments,” he says.

"You don’t have to be writing a ballad to be honest."

Now, with the bilingual version of “Tacones Rojos” that dropped on March 23, Yatra is crossing over to a more global audience. Yatra reflected on his filming the music video for “Tacones Rojos” with Legend, who he says is “such a nice guy,” in Los Angeles.

“What we filmed was magical. He has the best attitude. We have a lot of things in common, and I admire John deeply,” he says.

Yatra doesn’t call the song a "remix." Instead, he describes it as a song for English speakers to enjoy and call their own. While it has the same feel-good, happy-go-lucky essence as the original, he says Legend brings something “so magical and different” to this song that it feels like a new single entirely. “It brings so much joy to the world,” he says.

The outcome aligns with Yatra’s goals as an artist: To use music as a means to bring joy, and even enlightenment, to people — himself included. He purposefully called his album "Dharma," which he explains is the idea of “accepting reality and all of our emotions for what they are.”

Yatra embraces practices like Kundalini yoga and therapy to stay balanced. To stay motivated, he uses the art of manifestation: Naming your desires in the hopes that expressing them will help you achieve them. 

“We don’t have to be scared to say the things we want to do.”

Sebstian Yatra

“We don’t have to be scared to say the things we want to do,” he says. “Don’t be scared to say (it) if it comes out naturally, because it means you’re putting your energy towards that, and that you want to do it.”

This attitude keeps him grounded in a turbulent industry. “If it doesn’t end up happening, it’s not the end of the world. Your happiness cannot be in an award show or in a song being a huge hit or not,” he says. 

Yatra sees his eventful 2022 proof of him living out his life purpose — which would remain the same, success or not. “My biggest goal in life is to grow inside day by day, and to be at a point that, even if they took everything away from me, I would still have a purpose.”

“This all led me to where I’m at. I’m where I have to be,” he says.