A hollow-eyed young woman sits in front of a table. She's only wearing a bra. Her ribs and collarbone press against her skin like kicks from a fetus. Hunched over, she vomits purple spaghetti on to a plate. It's not the effigy of Björk captured by German photographer Juergan Teller, but it could work as homage.
While the red wine is spilled on top of the white tablecloth, Marilina Bertoldi's eyes pose sadly for the cover of 2016's Sexo con modelos (Sex with Models), the third solo album from the Argentine singer and guitar player (she also has two albums with Connor Questa, the group she fronted from 2010 to 2015).
The image conjures rejection and its combination with such a banal title makes you feel uncomfortable. "The word 'models' isn't intended as 'fashion modeling', but actually, as the archetype of something. The title makes reference to people's need for constant enjoyment and their willingness to find it in something superficial. It's a concept of success that I don't agree with, but which I find ridiculous," explains Bertoldi.
If poetry is the eroticization of language, the singer has grasped it. In Sexo con modelos the libido is the core of the lyrics. "Women have desires that don't necessarily relate to romantic love," she says.
The album -- which includes the English-language "Unbreak Me" -- positioned Bertoldi's Nine Inch Nails-like grunge-y riffs style at the center of the country's underground scene. It's alternative rock with a deep and suggestive voice that doesn't feel intimidated at weaving in some pop trails. The outcome: one of the best Argentine albums of 2016.
"Rock is the womb I was born from, but I don't feel part of it any more, even if the renegade, the rebellious and the dirty stylistic features of it can't be left aside," she says. "I don't want to give it up, but it's unavoidable; I have started playing with pop."
With 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Bertoldi is the leading artist on the "Best Latin Alternative Songs of 2016" playlist on the streaming platform. "It surprises me when a quality product is successful in Argentina. In the United States that's very frequent; in Argentina people in the music industry prefer to be on the safe side: only the most famous artists win the awards and are played on the radio," says Bertoldi.
"I was impressed by the repercussion of Sexo… I wasn't expecting so much and I felt like I had vertigo."
Bertoldi is referring to her Latin Grammy 2016 nomination for Best Rock Album, a category which she shared with four other Argentine artists: Luis Alberto Spinetta, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (winner), Andrea Álvarez and Massacre. Also, her track "Y deshacer" was shortlisted by Ford Motor Company among ten Latin songs for the Ford Fusion commercial, which came out on the radio and on TV in all America, as well as on the web worldwide. "I could not believe it until it actually happened. It seemed impossible."
By the end of 2015, she posted the video for "Y deshacer."
"Hey, why don't you shut up and hear me breathe?" she repeats throughout the song, a phrase that would have been a perfect answer for the criticism that would come later. "Near the end of the shoot, my nipples would become visible through the shirt I was wearing. Many people criticized me, claiming that nothing I could do after that would be taken seriously", she says. "It actually made me think I really shouldn't have done that. But I was able to get over it. My message hadn't changed, but my ideas were being condemned because I had exhibited part of my body, my nipples. It's absurd. It's like you can't be sensual and smart at the same time, when it's just the opposite: intelligence is sensual."
She'd rather not define or tie herself to any philosophy. She doesn't acknowledge herself as a feminist, and she finds the question annoying. While she supports the feminist movement and considers it necessary, she says she can't agree with the whole of its ideology. "The more violent we get into trying to make a change, the less probable the change will be accomplished. We have to understand that man is not our enemy. Men who are chauvinists don't choose to be that way, but were raised to be like that. However, they may be to blame when someone tries to open their eyes and they still refuse to adopt a new perspective."
In fact, she says, her career has never been hindered by being a woman.
"Whenever I went onstage to jam, people paid more attention to me than they would a guy. They would tell me I was awesome, even if I was just as good as some other guy," she says. "It might have been because they expected less from a woman, though. What's more, in the rock world, I've never met a man who's against having women around. I would go as far as saying most musicians want a woman in their bands."
Outside the walls of Vorterix -- a well known Argentine music venue -- it's pouring rain. A couple of hours before going onstage, Marilina sits on a couch in her dressing room, shares some chocolate with her band musicians from the electric set and takes a sip of Jägermeister. The theater is almost full, but if Marilina is nervous, it doesn't show. Freedom comes with success, and the songwriter is living proof of that. "When I recorded this album, I still had a lot of prejudice against myself," she says. "To be able to cope with rejection, first you need to build yourself as a person and then as an artist. Once you've overcome all these situations in which you're attacked from all sides, you can start doing whatever you want. Now, after Sexo con modelos, I feel unleashed."
In 2016, Marilina managed to be indifferent to what others say about her. However, some criticism has left scars on her, but it doesn't hurt any more. "At some time I got to think: 'Shall I go on or not?' Then I got to think that it's an issue if there's nobody there to criticize you; I've learned to like and respect myself."
So now, empowered by her acquired strength, Marilina bets on her next release: "A new album is coming out in 2018. The label [Pelo Music] will refuse to let me do it so soon… I know I will have to."