Becky G has been up for 17 hours and already cried her eyes out (after scalding her foot with boiling-hot water during a tea-making mishap) by the time we meet up late one night in New York. She’s in town to perform at the launch party for The Museum of Feelings, an interactive exhibit from Glade exploring the intersection of scents and emotions, and she’s been looking forward to the distraction. “I was like, ‘All I want to do is just go to the museum and have fun, and then I went in there and totally forgot about everything bad that happened today,” she tells TIME.
Not there’s any shortage of good news for the “Shower” singer to distract herself with: Becky G (born Rebecca Gomez) was just cast as the Yellow Ranger in the upcoming Power Rangers movie that starts filming early next year; she recently completed a guest arc on the hit Fox series Empire; and she’s been steadily releasing new music in support of her upcoming debut album, including the heart-pumping single “Break a Sweat.”
Below, Gomez chats with TIME about her work with the museum (open at Brookfield Place until Dec. 15), her dream girl group and what makes this class of Power Rangers different.
TIME: How did you get involved with The Museum of Feelings?
Becky G: My friend Alex over there was talking about the museum and how they were looking for somebody to perform. She was like, “You know it’s about feelings and emotions,” and I’ve been all up in my emotions lately. I’ve just been working, working, working. I’ve been so inspired by life and was like, “I’m so down to be there. This would be so cool.” When she was breaking down each room and all the creative concepts behind it, I was super on it. It’s definitely something that I’ll never forget because when you go in there, not only do you get really cute Instagram pictures, it’s just inspiring. It’s different.
Instead of your usual stage show, you performed stripped-down versions of your songs. Why do that here?
I feel like it’s a side of me that people don’t get to see very often, and it’s one of my favorite ways to perform. It’s very intimate. I like to make people feel things, and this is what [the Museum] stands for. What better way to do that than be able to sit there and look at somebody in the eyes and be like, “You hear what I’m saying right now?” I might give them a little smile, make eye contact—that, to me, is super cool. It’s more vibe-y, and this is all about vibe. It’s all about, “What are you feeling right now?”
Okay, let’s get down to business: When is your album coming out?
That is my favorite question in the whole world, because my favorite answer to give is, “Soon!” No, honestly, it’s been a long process from being signed when I was 14 years old. Now I’m going to be turning 19, and it’s been a journey. It’s been a long journey. I still haven’t released an album, but there’s no specific reason for it. Timing is everything, and I do not want to sacrifice my creativity for the sake of a deadline.
I feel like I still do other things to entertain my fans and give them music along the way, but now we’re in a place where we’re making really great music. I’m so excited to put together a track list and find a day and put it out there. We’re probably looking at, like, top of next year, first quarter.
Yeah, and you have to juggle that with the Power Rangers movie, which you start filming early next year.
That’s so cool. I know, I was super geeking out, like legitimately. I didn’t even know what I was auditioning for. I had no idea it was Power Rangers.
No, I got some sides sent to me from my agent while I was on tour. I was like, “Girl, I ain’t got time for this! I’m on a tour bus, I’m doing shows every single night, I’m tired!” I didn’t even read them. I was just like, “Timing right now is not good.”
My agent’s like, “Look, it doesn’t go away. The opportunity’s still here, and it’s been like a week now. Can you just film it so I can send it to the director and we can just be done?” I read the sides and was like, “Oh, this girl’s cool, for sure.” Literally, like in one take, I just set up my phone, had my cousin read the other character, and then was done.
There weren’t any context clues?
It was more personality scenes that I was doing. It was really weird, because then they told me what it was for, and I was like, “No way!”
Were you a Power Rangers kid growing up?
For sure. I think for some people, they’re like, “Isn’t Power Rangers cheesy?” No! What’s so cool about being a part of this is we’re going to give it a whole new identity. It’s going to be so much more creative and so much more relevant to now. I feel like a lot of kids, and even people older, too, are really going to be able to relate to it.
That’s what I’m interested in—why now? What does a Power Rangers reboot have to offer the world in 2017?
I can’t say much about it, but like I said, I feel like it’s going to be so relatable. It’s not just, “Morphin’ time!” [Gomez puts her hands together and acts out the old morphing sequence.] Literally you’re going to see these kids grow up in front of your eyes. That to me is going to be so cool to play because this is my first movie ever. I was just in Vancouver, where we’re going to be shooting, and apartment-hunting—I’ve never lived on my own! This is a whole new experience for me, and this character is also experiencing something new for her as well.
You seem to have grown up in the public eye in a way that feels very natural and gradual. “Break A Sweat” is really different from “Shower,” but you didn’t have a “shocking” coming out moment as, like, Adult R-Rated Becky G.
No, and that’s something I like to be very, very conscious of. At the end of the day, I want to make myself happy as an artist, because I have to sit down at these radio stations and talk about the song that I’m singing. I have to go on stage and perform it. If I don’t love the song, if I don’t relate to it, then what am I doing? This generation, we can tell when something’s too thought-out or too manufactured, and I don’t want to be that. I feel like what’s so respectable as an artist, when I see other people, is when they’re honest and an open book. That’s how I was raised to be.
Even nowadays, girls will be like, “Why is your outfit showing a lot?” And I was like, “Because I’m confident in my body, okay? It’s not necessarily that I want to promote that sexuality is awesome and great and “Show your body!” No, but be proud of who you are, and if you have a part of you that you love the most, of course show it off.
How has the working version of the album changed between the “Shower” era and now?
I’ve grown up. I’ve definitely grown up a lot. At that moment in my life, the only thing I really had gone through was hanging out with my family and listening to other music. Now I’m at this age when I’m really living. I’m traveling, I’m in relationships and I’m feeling things—that’s so inspiring to me. Now I’m in a whole new head space. I’m a woman now, you know what I mean? I can dress differently, I can speak differently, I can make different kinds of music now. It gives me a lot of freedom as an artist.
I’ve gotten to tour, I’ve gotten to work with other artists, [I’ve gotten to] take what I’ve learned from them and apply it to what I’m doing now and let my music evolve. Not that my music wasn’t ready then, but I just feel like there was no strategy behind it. Again, I don’t want to sacrifice my creativity for the sake of a deadline ever. I’d rather take a little bit more time for it to be perfect than to just put something out so it can make money. Like, no! That’s not what I stand for at all.
With the album, it’s more grown, it’s more honest. There’s definitely a lot of things that I went through growing up that I’m learning have really have affected me as a person. My parents are high school sweethearts, for instance. I feel like everything always comes back to love. Being Latina, we’re very passionate people, and I love to love. The way that they love and all the things they’ve gone through, I learned to love that way. But I can’t really apply it to my career because I’m never going to have time to be with anybody. As a teenage girl, I want to have a cute boyfriend! But I don’t got time for one. When you do have one, it’s great, but then you’re in this tug between [work and your relationship]. I’m taking that inspiration, being super honest about it and applying it to my music. It’s so relatable.
Your character on Empire was briefly in a girl group. If you had to form a girl group right now with two other living artists, which ones would you pick?
I would love to do a modern-day TLC. I grew up listening to a lot of ’90s music and early 2000s music, so I would love to like pay tribute to that. For sure the other person I would love to have in the group, because she’s like a homie of mine, would be Kehlani. I love her, and she is also inspired by that era as well. We take that and apply it to our music now. And then I think Zendaya would be really awesome too.
(Read next: Zendaya on Body Image, Being an Influential Teen and How Scandal Got Her Into Politics)
Okay, so now that you’ve been on Empire, when are you going to be on Jane the Virgin?
Oh my God. The opportunity’s been there but again, schedule-wise, it never really works out. I got to do a remix of one of my songs for the show, which was used in a lot of the promotions. When the commercials would come on and you could hear my song, I’d be like, “Oh my God, Jane the Virgin and my song, this is crazy!” That I super fan-girl’d over. It’s such a great show. I’ve known Gina [Rodriguez] since before the show even happened.
(Read next: Gina Rodriguez Talks Jane the Virgin Finale, Emmy Buzz and Her New Movie)
One last thing: as we approach the holidays, what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t think there’s anything in the physical that I could think of.
It doesn’t have to be physical a thing.
Okay, I would say the gift that I was given to be able to inspire other people. That, to me, is really, really awesome. I see the impact that I make on people’s lives and don’t know how to react sometimes because I’m like, “I’m just me!” I’m just doing what I love to do, and there’s this girl my age in front of me crying, saying I saved her life. I don’t know how I did that, but then I realize I did that simply by being myself, because that’s my message: encourage other people to be themselves. That gift, not many people can do that. Like when I see my fans, it’s not like, “Hey, nice to meet you”—I hug them. I feel connected to them, and I don’t feel like a lot of people have that in them. I’m just naturally a people’s person.
I like the taco necklace you’re wearing, by the way—that would be the best gift I’ve ever received if someone gave it to me.
Thank you. Well, I’ve been trying to eat healthy because I have to be a Power Ranger, and if I can’t eat the food, I want to wear it.
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