ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Omar Banos, best known by his stage name Cuco, is a teen idol in the making. The singer's dreamy bedroom pop has earned him many young fans. They are drawn as much to his wistful lyrics as to the way he's embraced his Chicano roots.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO BETTER")
CUCO: (Singing) I want to wake up next to you.
SHAPIRO: Now he's playing songs from his debut album "Para Mi" at shows across the country. Our reviewer Miguel Perez says the new record and Cuco's early success are challenging notions of what a pop heartthrob can sound and look like.
MIGUEL PEREZ, BYLINE: "Para Mi" is bathed in a wavy, psychedelic haze. The album unfurls slowly with the help of a drowsy symphony of 808 drum machines, guitars and swirling synths.
(SOUNDBITE OF CUCO'S "PERIHELION")
PEREZ: There's no doubt psych rock has had an influence on Cuco, but the Southern California native has many sides. Growing up, he taught himself how to play the trumpet, bass, keys and French horn, so there are also brilliant shades of smooth jazz, trap and even bossa nova on his debut.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOSSA NO SE")
CUCO: (Singing) They hit me up and told me that you were with my homie. How could you ever help me? I never been so lonely. Can't take you back - oh, no, no. Think that it's time to go, go. You left me all on my own.
PEREZ: That's just the music. The man behind the mic is a total heartthrob in the eyes of his fans. Cuco is unlike the perfectly coiffed and usually white teen idols of yesteryear. He sports a wispy mustache, a gold chain and unruly black hair. His delivery is tender with a touch of millennial humor. And that's resonating with his teenage audience for whom love and hate, ennui and euphoria, sincerity and sarcasm are all constantly butting up against one another.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAR AWAY FROM HOME")
CUCO: (Singing) So lonely. Will somebody come and help? I'm rotting in the image of my head.
PEREZ: Cuco is also keenly aware of what it means to be a young Mexican American musician on the rise. He says he wants to be a face and a voice for first-generation Chicanos. He talks often about his immigrant parents, and he pays tribute to his South Bay roots in his music and in his visuals. Glossy tracks dipped in old-school R&B call to mind the Chicano rappers of his childhood.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KEEPING TABS")
CUCO: (Singing) And if you need me, then you'll know where to find me. I'm feeling lost. I just need someone to guide me. Don't want to feel left out. Please, understand me now. But if you can't, then it's all right. I'll always be around.
PEREZ: Later this year, he'll perform at a concert in New York that'll benefit immigrant families at risk of deportation. He'll play alongside other fresh-faced Latinx artists making waves, unapologetic in their politics and their brownness. So maybe "Para Mi" isn't exactly a big political statement on paper, but in an era when young Chicanos are constantly having their sense of belonging challenged, the mere idea of one of us - uno de nosotros - making it big on his own terms feels revolutionary.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST FRIEND")
CUCO: (Singing) Why you still with me still beats me. But I'm thankful that you still see me. My brain is killing me and it eats me. I don't deserve you.
SHAPIRO: The debut album from Cuco is called "Para Mi." Our reviewer Miguel Perez is a producer for KERA in Dallas.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST FRIEND")
CUCO: (Singing) Until my very death, I'll love you with my heart. And if this has to end, I'll have to understand. I know I've been quite dumb, but, baby, we're quite young.
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