When two of the biggest Latina superstars, Shakira and Karol G, joined forces for “TQG,” something shifted in the pop universe. The track was an instant hit, making it onto the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and making waves across the industry. So much of its success had to do with the star power of the two Colombian artists, but there was another important figure who helped get “TQG” off the ground: one of Shakira and Karol’s close confidants, the Colombian songwriter Keityn.
He’s been having a massive moment since the success of the song. “This year has started out explosively,” Keityn tells Rolling Stone over Zoom from his home in Medellín. “I’m just trying to enjoy this moment that God has given me and bring out the best of myself so that people can connect with what I write.”
Before becoming the go-to Latin songwriter, Keityn was born Kevyn Mauricio Cruz Moreno in Cali, Colombia. Four years ago, the music that he was making in the neighboring city of Palmira caught the attention of his manager, Juan Camilo Vargas, who encouraged him to move to Medellín. As part of Vargas’ La Crème collective, Keityn started working with J Balvin, Maluma, and Karol G. His pen game would go global in 2019 with the smash hit “Tusa” by Karol G and Nicki Minaj. “’Tusa’ was like the confirmation that this new songwriter had arrived,” Keityn recalls. “It earned me the respect that has helped a lot on this journey.”
Keityn later scored another global hit with Maluma’s “Hawái,” which The Weeknd later jumped on. He continued to work closely with Karol G on her career-defining songs and later struck up a friendship with Shakira. The Colombian pop icon has trusted him to help her work through her very public breakup from Gerard Piqué in her recent hits.
“Shakira has taken the Colombian flag to places that no one has before,” he says. “Today we have a lot of Colombian representatives because she opened the doors. Shakira was the first one and the strongest one. It makes me happy and proud to continue that legacy with her.”
After co-writing other global hits for Shakira and Karol G, including “BZRP Music Sessions, Vol. 53” and “Provenza,” he was recently honored by 2023 ASCAP Latin Music Awards as Songwriter of the Year. In the midst of his banner year, Keityn spoke to Rolling Stone about what it’s been like to work on 2023’s biggest, most empowering hits and shared the stories behind working with Shakira and Karol G.
How did you get to know Karol G?
I got to know her because she’s a very close friend of Juan. Thanks to Juan, he started showing her my music and she was very happy with it. She was the first one that listened to me and gave me a hand. She was the first artist to discover what I could offer.
How did you cross paths with Shakira?
Shakira’s team was always looking for me awhile back. Obviously I was very honored that Shakira was looking for me, but I was with other plans and doing other things until we had time to work together. That was love at first sight musically. The first time that we met and talked with each other, we connected very well in her home studio.
You had written “Monotonía” before her breakup with Piqué, but what did you think when she changed the lyric to: “You left me because of your narcissism”?
Truthfully, the word “narcissism” is a bit mature. It’s very her. It’s something that she could come up with. I let her do what she wanted. An artist who contributes, gives their opinion, and feels comfortable with the song, I love that. I didn’t stop her. If she felt comfortable with the word, I let her go for it.
How would you describe the experience of working with Shakira on the delicate topic of her breakup in “BZRP Music Sessions, Vol. 53?”
It was very difficult because she was going through a very hard moment in her life in which she wanted to express a lot of things. I understood her. I also understood there was something high-profile about this that was coming from a personal place. It was difficult trying to walk that line. Obviously, she’s human. She’s also an artist who makes art. Her art has to reflect what she’s feeling. [Bizarrap and I] tried to help her without going too much out of context.
I was a writer and psychologist at the same time when we were working on the song. At that moment, I talked a lot with her. I tried to handle with care what she needed to get out in words. After that song with Biza, she felt different. She called me after seeing everything that had happened with the song and told me it was a much-needed release for her. When I was with her again not too long ago, I noticed she was very different. It was her birthday and she was very happy.
Who wrote the “clara-mente” part in the song?
That was between me and her. We were looking for the right wordplay.
What about these lyrics: “Women don’t cry / they make money.”
That was me. I knew that part would really empower women and that’s what I like to do. That’s why I like to work with women. Right now the main artists with my lyrics are Karol and Shakira. I like that a lot because I believe women feel the music more than men.
How did Karol G come to you with the idea for “TQG”?
We had that song for over a year. We didn’t have all of it done obviously. We did the main part in Los Angeles with the producer and Shakira. We had that one stored because Karol didn’t want to keep going with the controversy [of her breakup from Anuel AA] that was happening at the time. The moment arrived when we added Shakira.
How did you get Karol G and Shakira together for this collaboration?
That’s the thing people asked me for the most, through Twitter and Instagram, to bring them together. I told Karol that we have to do it. I told Shakira that we have to do it. We didn’t have a union at first. It was always the record labels sending songs. I always say the music works better when it’s one-on-one. It connects better when it’s that way. We did the call and they hit it off like friends. They got together, talked, and exchanged numbers, and that’s how it worked. It had to be the way for them to become friends first, but it was difficult and took a lot of time for that to happen.
Who wrote the part “más buena, más dura, más level” in the song?
I had that in my head for a while. I think it was another time in Los Angeles when Karol came to work on the second part of the chanteo to show to Shakira. Shakira also put her hand in it after we did it.
What do you hope to accomplish next as Keityn?
I’m letting life surprise me. I will keep writing as I do with love. I hope to leave a legacy. To change the rules of the game a bit because I feel like writers are very oppressed. The rights for writers are very oppressive. I feel like this opportunity life is giving me will also help the writers coming up next. To open doors for them and make things easier for them in terms of what they earn and their rights. The writer’s part is very oppressed and very undervalued.