If you’re a music lover looking for what’s new and hot, look no further than J Balvin. The 32-year-old Colombian musician (and member of the 2017 ComplexCon host committee) is dominating the Latin music world and, by extension, much of the international music market. He’s coming for your eardrums next with his idiosyncratic reggaeton sound. We’re living in the days of “Despacito,” and Spanish-language music is the future. J Balvin’s world takeover is imminent and we want you to be prepared.
“Mi Gente” is the new “Despacito,” and the music industry is watching...
Believe the hype—that is, if you’ve heard the hype. “Mi Gente” (“My People” in English) is gearing up to be Balvin’s biggest single to date. With some help from French artist Willy William, it’s the first fully Spanish sung song to top Spotify’s Global Top 50 chart by dethroning, you guessed it, “Despacito.” As of publication, it’s at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing steadily (a seven-spot jump in just a week and a half.)
…and most of the world already loves him for it.
They really do! Beyond the joy the track elicits (and the streaming numbers don’t lie—the official video has over 479 million views on YouTube,) as of last week, the track was the most Shazaam'ed song in the world—meaning it’s getting played, and people want to know what they’re hearing. “Mi Gente” is a conversation about equality. He sings in the first verse, “Mi música no discrimina a nadie,” which translates to “My music discriminates against nobody.” In an uncertain political climate, he’s choosing empathy.
The biggest names in the business are already working alongside him.
This one is a laundry list of superstars, so buckle up: J Balvin has worked alongside Pharrell (who just shouted him out in his guest appearance on Lil Uzi Vert’s “Neon Guts”), Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Major Lazer, French Montana, and more. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of killer Latin artist collabos (both musicians in the Latin genre and those of Latinx background): Pitbull, Camila Cabello, Nicky Jam, Sean Paul, Daddy Yankee, Prince Royce, and so many others. Oh, and while we’re naming accomplishments: he has a song on The Fate and the Furious soundtrack. Even if you think you don’t know this guy, you probably do.
His remixes are killer.
His take on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” might be better than the original (at the very least, it doesn’t feel as cringe-y). His Spanglish remixes of Ariana Grande’s “The Way” and “Problem” are something to write home about. If you’re a popular U.S. artist looking to enter a Latin music climate, Balvin is a good guide.
He’s toured with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias.
Musicians are the best A&Rs (you know, the folks who make all the big decisions on who is hot and who is not.) It’s an industry cliché for a reason—if you want to find the best and brightest new talent, ask the guys who are killing the game already. Balvin hit the road with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias a few years ago, confirming his future fame. The opening slot of that tour often acts as a turning point for up-and-coming Latin artists: Prince Royce has done it, the Latino boy band CNCO is doing it now. Hitting the road and having the blessing of these veteran acts is a stamp of approval, and Balvin is reaping the benefits now.
He approaches music with undeniable hybridity.
There are many reasons Balvin is popular internationally—it isn’t just that smooth voice. If you’re inclined towards delicate guitar sounds, he’s got you covered. If hip-hop is more your thing, there’s a place for you. But there’s one type of music he’s quickly dominating…
He’s been dubbed reggaeton’s biggest new voice, and rightfully so.
Tracks like “Ay Vamos” and “6 AM” are breathing new life into reggaeton, reaffirming its place as a popular music genre in and outside of Latin America. He’s been at it for a while, too—his 2015 smash hit “Ginza” sat at No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin chart for 22 weeks, a record that has placed him in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest stay atop that particular chart by a single artist.
His goals are global.
Conversations about “crossing over” are delicate—do international artists need to lean into the desires of English-speaking audiences to become successful all over the globe? There’s a different answer for every musician, but for Balvin his growth is just a question of when, not how. Rather than adapt and appease, he’s seeking to bring his brand of reggaeton to the masses, and it’s working. America is a step in the right direction, but he’s looking to exist everywhere: reggaeton with pop sensibilities, rap with Spanish-language sentimentality.
He’s not the phony popstar (dare we say it, Katy Perry) woke, but is sincerely active, and has proved it time and time again. For example: in 2015, while still on the rise, J Balvin elected not to perform at the 2015 Miss USA Pageant after Trump made fucked-up comments about Latinx people. He ditched the gig and instead issued a statement: “This isn’t about being punitive, but about showing leadership through social responsibility. His comments weren’t just about Mexicans but about all Latins in general.” It was at a time when Balvin could’ve probably benefitted from the platform but instead said no, staying true to his morals.
His social media accounts don’t lie.
Friends, he’s already huge! The numbers reflect that: he has 10 million YouTube subscribers (and a few billion views between only a handful of videos,) 18.4 million Instagram followers, 4.82 million Twitter followers, 20 million Facebook likes. Watching J Balvin is watching a global cultural shift in real time. He best reflects our future and present reality: an international artist who crosses genre and border lines. It’s time we all get smart to it.