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Kali Uchis makes astrological pop music, but she’s the star to watch

The Colombian American singer kept her feet on the ground at a sold-out homecoming show in Washington

Kali Uchis performs at the Anthem in D.C. Her third studio album, “Red Moon in Venus,” was released in March. (Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)
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By choosing to name her splendid new album “Red Moon in Venus,” Kali Uchis freighted her most luscious love songs with blurry astrological implications — which, whether you read your daily horoscope or not, feels something like a misstep. Now three albums into her career, Uchis has never sounded more assertive, more nuanced, more detail-minded, more decisive. Why cede all that volition to twinkles in the sky?

Maybe she hasn’t. Plenty of today’s pop singers seem happy to divine their fates in the woo-woo Jacuzzi of star signs and tarot cards, and on this increasingly unstable planet of ours, the notion of destiny is apparently a grounding one. But Uchis is different. In interviews, she has hinted at a belief in spiritual manifestation, and almost six years ago, she described her designs on pop stardom as a refusal to acknowledge any other outcome: “I felt like if I had a backup plan, it was like saying to the universe that I didn’t believe in myself.”

On Tuesday night, the universe seemingly had nothing to do with it. During a sold-out homecoming show at the Anthem in Washington (Uchis split her childhood between Colombia and Northern Virginia), the 28-year-old sang in a voice that was cool and willful, delivering one song that had earned her a Grammy (“10%”) and another that has clocked more than a billion streams and counting (“Telepatía”). But, ultimately, it was the sound of the few thousand voices singing along that ratified Uchis’s stardom more conclusively than any trophy, any sales stat or any other music biz résumé bullet ever could.

Much of her songbook’s sing-along-able nature has to do with the flexibility of her voice, which continues to increase in elasticity and plushness. The achy melodic curves of “Melting” nodded to her adolescent fascination with jazz and Billie Holiday. The syrup-drippy phrasing of “Worth the Wait” proved her deepening fluency in neo-soul. And during a woozy “Fue Mejor,” her stealth toggling between English and Spanish felt as exciting as it did breezily conversational.

Yet, as weightless as Uchis made all of that sound, her multidirectionality always had a quiet undercurrent of intentionality and discipline — especially during “Loner,” one of the oldest songs in the set, and certainly one of the heaviest. “I don’t want to be your cigarette, I don’t want to be your ashtray,” she sang, delivering firm words in a dreamy timbre. “I don’t want to be your doormat, don’t want to be ignored, all of a sudden you’re not into me.”

Fully clear on who she does and doesn’t want to be, the next question is probably, “What to manifest now?” Her most generous answer came toward the end of the show, with “I Wish You Roses,” a standout from “Red Moon in Venus” that allowed Uchis to repeatedly sing the word “roses” in such breathy detail you could practically smell the sweetness in your mind’s schnoz.

On the face of it, “I Wish You Roses” is a pacifist breakup ballad about civility, forgiveness, closure and renewal, presumably aimed at some phantom ex. But if you allowed your mind to get as loose as Uchis’s voice sounded in that moment, you might have heard the singer manifesting a more peaceful world, offering “roses and roses and roses and roses and roses” to anyone willing to stop and smell them.