After nearly a decade in entertainment, Isabela Merced empowers herself first and foremost on her debut EP, the better half of me [Republic Records]. Rather than looking outward, the 18-year-old singer, songwriter, and performer turns her gaze inward and emerges with five bilingual anthems that boldly break boundaries between cultures and genres.
“When you’re in a relationship, you often refer to your significant other as your ‘Better half’,” she explains. “I’ve found the balance and the better side in myself over the past year. I was sitting on the beach with my aunt, and she asked me if I’d ever been alone. I realized I had never really sat with my thoughts with no distractions, no phones, and no ulterior motives. When this isolation started, I was finally able to think about my life. I realized how important it was to love who I am.”
There’s certainly a lot to love. Growing up in Ohio of Peruvian and American descent, she made it to Broadway in Evita at just ten-years-old. As an actress, she appeared in acclaimed films, including Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Instant Family, Transformers: The Last Knight, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold as the iconic title character. Not to mention, she starred in the NETFLIX favorite Let It Snow. Along the way, she simultaneously established herself as a musical force. She teamed up with Sebastian Yatra for “My Only One (No Hay Nadie Más),” generating nearly 50 million Spotify streams. In 2019, her formal solo debut single “Papi” eclipsed 5 million Spotify streams, the official music video was viewed over 12 million times on YouTube, and the song drew acclaim from Refinery29, Billboard, Teen Vogue, and many more.
Isabela also made major creative strides in 2019. She took piano lessons for the first time. Expanding her chops, she also hosted a series of songwriting camps in Los Angeles with superstar songwriter Justin Tranter [Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber].
“I wanted to challenge myself,” she admits. “I wrote as much as possible and learned a ton. I tried to build a story while exploring authentic sounds that reflect who I am and where I come from. Being in this industry, it’s easy to feel defined by your exterior and get sucked up into what everyone is telling you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else says. I have to live with myself, so I became unapologetic.”
Throughout the year, she worked on what would become the better half of me. It showcased her writing and voice on a new level, emphasizing growth and unfiltered honesty across the entire body of work. As the global pandemic forced the world into isolation, Isabela made good on a promise to fans “to release new music this year.” Sonically, she perfected a signature balance between the Latin and Peruvian sounds that played through her home as a child and the rhythmic bounce of the R&B, hip-hop, and soul she discovered later on.
She adds, “the better half of me is my bilingual baby. It encompasses the highs and lows I’ve felt in 2019 and especially during quarantine. It’s a moment of self-reflection as I embrace the lust, the growth, the anxiety, and the parts of my personality that I’m afraid to show. Ultimately, it’s called the better half me, because I finally have the balls to show it.”
The song “lovin kind” was notably co-written with Tranter, Kennedi [Jonas Brothers, Ariana Grande], Nick Monson [Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez], Skyler Stonestreet [The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa], and produced and co-written by Andrés Torres and Mauricio Rengifo (the duo behind “Despacito”). The song swings from verses in Spanish backed by organic acoustic guitar awash in flamenco tones into a sassy and slick percussion-driven hook in English as she warns, “I don’t want to waste my time, if you’re not the loving kind.”
“I’ve dealt with situations with boys my age who are just immature and act as if they have their whole lives to live,” she sighs. “I wrote a poem for this one guy after six years. I didn’t think I’d ever show it to him. We were better off as friends, but I thought it might potentially be something else. There are moments where I catch myself daydreaming of us together, but I fear I’m seen as nothing more than a friend. Trying to tell a Scorpio how you feel and expecting anything back is nearly impossible though,” she laughs. “I essentially wrote the poem to get these feelings off my chest. I was ready to confess, but by then, he was dating my friend! It forced me to grow up. So, I decided I wasn’t going to let anyone waste my time anymore, afraid to go for what they want. That’s what ‘lovin kind is about.”
On the other end of the spectrum, “chocolate” bounces between boisterous salsa-style horns, Latin grooves, and a chorus rich in confidence. “This song is fun, because it’s literally about a person whose scent made me think of chocolate,” she laughs. “It was cute. He always smelled nice, delicious, and all-around beautiful.”
Then, there’s “todo esta bien.” It saunters through a sultry beat as the Spanish vocals culminate on a hummable hook. Bringing various sonic vibes together, Zach Skelton [Jonas Brothers] lent his inimitable production to the closing track “the chase” as Isabela’s lyrics immediately captivate. It emanates a different kind of energy through its sample of the classic “toro mata.”
“In the art of bullfighting, it’s a dance between the matador and the bull,” she states. “The human tries to attract and lure the bull. The bull gives chase. The song is about the game of lust and the similarities it has to bullfighting. No matter how much you think you like someone, would you still feel the same excitement and thrills, if it weren’t for the chase?”
“apocalipsis” would be the final track written and recorded. Upon finishing it, she realized the complete vision for the five-song EP and decided to release it from quarantine at home. She crafted the song alongside her younger brother and producer, Gyovanni Moner, known as Good Lunch. “This is the first song my brother and I released together. It’s so great having music in common here at home, especially during this time. He’s so talented, it’s been great spending time with him creating in our home studio,” she added.
“I initially wrote ‘apocalipsis’ freshly out of a relationship,” she recalls. “This relationship was very unfulfilling, and upon reflection, most have been. We had a good time, but it was either toxic, or I was cheated on. When it ended, I was focused more on my train of thoughts than what he had done to me. I reviewed where I was at. It was my healing process. In the rebound, I learned to change what my relationships were about. Sometimes, the most toxic relationship is the one you have with yourself. You’re your own crutch and worst enemy. The more I reflect, the more I see my part in how it derailed. This song is about what it would be like if the rest of the world, and you were stuck with your version of ‘Me, myself, and I’. It expresses and encompasses the whole concept of the EP. It’s about finding your power.”
In the end, she realizes this power and lets it shine on the better half of me.
“I’d love for everyone to really listen to the lyrics and enjoy the beautiful infusion of Peruvian and Latin sounds,” she leaves off. “I hope there’s a lot to identify with, especially lyrically. I’ve learned so much in the past year, and I’m putting who I am out there as a person, writer, and musician. I’m also reminding myself I’m growing and enjoying it.”