Houston native Alaina Castillo in the Houston Chronicle studio on Monday, May 9, 2022. Castillo opened for Coldplay on Sunday, May 8 at NRG Stadium.
Photo: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle/Staff Photographer
The day after she opened for Coldplay – in front of over 50,000 people at NRG Stadium – Alaina Castillo was still trying to wrap her up in the vastness of it all.
“You can’t process it,” says Castillo, 22. “The crowd is there. The energy is there. It’s so surreal. I’m just grateful that I can do it. This is all just my dream.
The top spot was even more special because Castillo, whose dreamy tunes have reached millions of listeners, is a Houston native and a huge Coldplay fan. She proudly admits that she is among the top 1% of the group’s listeners on Spotify. (The streaming service sends a notification to fans who reach this goal.) His set included a cover of Coldplay’s “Parachutes.”
Castillo first connected with Coldplay through the band’s song “Viva la Vida” in 2008. His older brother performed it for a high school choir program. The whole family was amazed by his musical talent.
“When I saw him sing, I realized, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ He showed me the way to music. For me, that was a really big starting point,” she says. “Coldplay has shaped a lot of my life. My relationships, just like that.
Four more with Alaina Castillo
Musical goals: I just want to keep doing things that you can listen to when you’re sad, but there will be a little vibe that you can dance to, move to. A sad girl dance, basically, that’s what I’m looking for. I want to build this community of people who, no matter what they feel, can come into this safe space.
To grow: I was listening to Usher, Rihanna, Drake I was 14, singing songs like people hurt me and some (expletive). I think that’s where the deeper meanings came in. Next was Jhene Aiko.
Go home: Gotta get (Raising) Cane. It is so good. We have it in LA but it’s 45 minutes from my house. There’s a part in Seabrook, I was doing cross-country, and I went there every morning and I ran. In the end, I would always go to this little dock overlooking the water near Kemah. I was just listening to music and relaxing before I had to go home and take care of everything else.
Chopped and screwed into his music: I’m all about the weird stuff. Every time you add the vocoder, reverb, vocals that are reversed or chopped or lower notes, it adds so much depth.
The May 8 show was long overdue for many fans. It was originally canceled in 2017 due to Hurricane Harvey, then postponed due to COVID-19. Castillo says she has “no idea” how she ended up starring alongside R&B singer and guitarist HER Her producer surprised her with the news earlier this year.
She rehearsed for months with her band, all the while battling nerves and finalizing a setlist that included eight or nine songs. Castillo has released several bilingual EPs and singles since 2019.
“I always think that where there is good, there must be bad. But I learned that everyone is there to have a good time, everyone wants you to succeed,” she says.
Still, the thought of being on stage in the same place where she attended the RodeoHouston concerts of Lady Antebellum, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber a few years earlier was surreal. And that was a far cry from Castillo’s last show in Houston in 2019, upstairs at White Oak Music Hall, where the maximum capacity is less than 300 people.
“I think I ate lunch and the nerves were starting to build. ‘What if I get sick or something?’ But as soon as we got there, I thought, ‘No, it’s beautiful, it’s amazing,” Castillo says. “We were walking through these big doors that the crew and production go through. I used to sit in the bleachers and be like, ‘One day I want to be on this stage. I want to run backstage, get dressed. It was a full-loop moment.
The past year has been an impressive time before this moment. Castillo performed at the Latin American Music Awards, “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and both Coachella weekends. Her new single “Sad Girls Always Finish First” was released digitally this month and as NFT music in April.
She wrote the song in January after a return trip. It’s the kickoff of what she calls her “sad girl” era, acknowledging all her emotions instead of locking them away.
“Coming back to Houston, seeing my purple walls where I made my YouTube videos, it just clicked for me. I needed to get back to who I was when I was making those videos,” she says.
Castillo started posting YouTube covers as a high school student. A 2018 video titled “Sing to sleep [ASMR] – Billie Eilish Style (look, boy, I don’t want you anymore)” went viral and turned her into a social media star. It features Castillo singing just above a whisper, tapping his nails on a cellphone and a glass bottle.
“This whole era is about not faking anything. Be who you are, whether happy or sad. And just recognizing that you’re going to be a confident, stronger person in the end,” she says. “I don’t want to be that eccentric person who has to smile. Ninety percent of the time, that’s not my personality at all.
This includes May 8, when his emotions were naturally all over the place. But just before Castillo took the stage, she got one last push from the man who made it all possible.
“Chris Martin came over and pulled me aside. He’s so cool. He was so nice,” Castillo says. “He was like, ‘Are you okay? Are you ready for today? We just talked about how much he shaped my life. It was the perfect little lucky thing.