In our obscure existence of over-saturation and wrought commercialism, where it’s standard practice to pay for streams and followers, and the perception of a notion is more important than its reality, how do we measure success? Well, J Balvin is a good place to start.
Emerging from Colombia at the beginning of the previous decade, it didn’t take long for Balvin’s soaring talent and natural effervescence to turn heads and raise excitement. Ensuing a well received debut mixtape, his 2013 LP, La Familia, saw the singer catapulted into the global mainstream. Influenced by the South Amer-ican pioneers that shaped the continent’s musical direction before him, Balvin brought the sounds of Reggaeton to a widespread audience, who welcomed the vivacious spirit and charismatic gusto of the artist into their playlists, radio sta-tions and festival slots with opening arms.
Fast forward 10 years and Balvin’s position within the history of Latino and pop music is cemented. He remains one of the highest streamed artists in the world, has achieved a breathtaking 35 No.1 Billboard Chart Hits, released a multitude of game-changing singles and bodies of work, as well as performing on many of the superlative stages across the globe. He’s collaborated with a collection of titans across the mainstream music stratosphere – from Beyonce to Ed Sheeran, DJ Khaled to Burna Boy – proving a quintessential feature for a surefire hit in the modern industry.
Balvin has paved the way for Latino music, disrupting the status quo of pop whilst never swaying from his artistic values, sculpting the genre of music that runs through his blood into the limelight of the mainstream, continuing to shape the scene that he first helped usher into popularity.
Despite his staggering success, the story of Balvin is far from fully written. He looks forward, sailing beyond the waters of accomplishment and into the empyre-an of evolution. Over recent years, Balvin has moved beyond just the music indus-try. Nurturing a love for fashion – an aspect of his individualism and creativity that he views as equal to music – he is known for his unique style and as a frequenter of front rows at the year’s marque fashion shows.
Balvin has also been augmenting his position as a cultural icon as well as a mu-sical trailblazer, building groundbreaking partnerships with a motley array of brands across vast disciplines, such as Air Jordan, Fortnite and Monopoly, rewrit-ing the rule book of artist limitations in the process.
Talking to Rollacoaster, Balvin takes us back to his origins, dissecting the incep-tion of a career that skyrocketed and surpassed all expectations. He delves into his past achievements, present endeavours and future goals, highlighting the im-portance of fashion, self-belief and collaboration as he unravels the secrets of his aforementioned success.
BEN TIBBITS: Where did your love of music first stem from, and how did it build into something that you wanted to pursue as a career?
JBALVIN: I was very lucky to have grown up in a time when music acts were considered a big deal. I remember listening to bands like Nirvana, Metallica, Sepultura; and even Latin Rock bands like Gustavo Cerati or Heroes del Silencio, and really connecting not just with the music, but the art and lifestyle behind it. My biggest references for global Latino musicians were Lavoe [Hector] and Fania All-Stars until this monster named Daddy Yankee arrived on the scene and started blasting through my radio. His musical presence felt larger than life and it spoke of things that were happening in the streets of Colombia and every Latino neigh-bourhood I imagined too. I listened to artists like Jay Z, NAS and now someone was doing it in Spanish, straight outta Puerto Rico, like an evolution of Panamanian Reggae that was on the rise too. It felt like something I could do and do very well.
BT: Looking back at when you first began, did you think at that point that you would have the levels of success that you have now achieved?
J: I always dreamed about it, from day one when we were performing at clubs in the hood, we knew why we were doing this, we wanted to break the world. We probably didn’t think too much about how long it would take me or the things I would see, but had my mind set on changing the world.
BT: What do you think it is about you as an artist and person that resonates so far and wide to listeners and fans?
J: I just try to be myself and present the most honest version of that to the world, with my music and who I am in the streets, to my fans. I am constantly raising the bar compared to what I have done in the past, trying to find innova-tive ways that will keep pushing our culture forward. I’m passionate about music, design, art, and fashion, I want to kick down doors for Latinos to be part of those worlds, it matters to me.
BT: As someone who has achieved multitudes of awards and consistent acclaim, where does the passion to continue to create come from?
J: There is still so much to be done, particularly for Latinos in this game. I wake up every morning and feel this deep hunger to do things that nobody has ever done before. I want to use my platform to give others behind me a voice. As Latinos we still have a long way to go to take our culture all over the world. I don't think anyone wants to be the best “Latino” at something, but the best. Period. That’s what I want.
BT: As one of the key figures in Latin music history, how do you feel about the current direction of the movement and its position within the wider popular music landscape?
J: I’m excited about every inch that Latinos are gaining every minute. When I started, there were only a few names like Yankee who were known outside of Spanish-speaking countries. We are fortunate to be part of the generation that has paved the way for Latino urban artists everywhere, and now you can see how massive the Latino music scene is growing across multiple genres. Reggaeton is extremely hot right now but now you’ll start to see the charts and Regional Mex-ican artists have also taken over and blurred the lines of what the genre is. For example, Peso Pluma has a hit corrido, another one which is cumbia, a reggaeton track and a Dembow single with El Alfa. We’re reminding the world that Latinos can do anything!
BT: Having collaborated with some of the biggest artists and producers in world music, what is the key to a success-ful collaboration?
J: Curiosity is big I think, being able to go into un-charted territories is cool but I also think there has to be a vibe, a certain chemistry and mutual respect. When there is ego in the room we don’t get too far; but when everyone has the same mindset of bringing it, and having fun, that’s when the best things happen. I also like to collaborate with artists that aren’t as big but have a connection to the cul-ture that’s stronger than anything, even if they’re still work-ing on their big break. I have been very lucky to work with some artists early on in their careers and to see where they are now, charting worldwide, makes me happy.
BT: Have there been any shows in particular that have stood out as highlights in your career?
J: I love performing live! When I’m in my day-to-day, I am going from one place to another, to the studio, gym, travelling, etc. But when I’m on stage, it’s like it’s me talking to each one of the fans out there, one on one. I don’t get to do it every day so when I do, I really enjoy it and that gets the best out of me.I like the shows that have been the first of their kind, like Coachella, where I not only performed solo but also joined Beyonce onstage, or Lollapalooza where I was the first headlining act from the Latino world. But I also remem-ber my first show outside the barber shop in the hood, and how a few years later I was playing the biggest stadium in Medellin.
BT: Where does your love of fashion stem from? How did you embark on moving from the music world to the fashion world also?
J: Music and fashion are connected; they are both ways of expression and trades where you can achieve and witness greatness from the tastemakers pushing new nar-ratives and innovation. I never thought about it as a job, but I have always liked to design and draw. And even though I am still learning, I can spend hours putting together things that I think would look cool to wear, or thinking about how pieces I own could be simply modified for a new look. Fashion events are great places to meet like-minded peo-ple. Last fashion week [Paris] I was sitting next to one of my idols, and I told him that one of his hit records had left a lasting impression on my life. Now, a new version of that song is one of the singles off my new album, along with him and DJ Khaled featured on it.
BT: Why is fashion such an important aspect of individual-ism and creativity to you?
J: To me fashion is like music, it’s another avenue for creative expres-sion and at least for me, it allows me to channel ideas that I can’t through music or other means. I am fascinated by how fashion is created, manufactured and how through the seasons once a look leaves the runway, three years later it can be found at a store, for everyone to buy. For me it’s all about expression. I don’t plan what I’m going to wear the next day or the next hour. It flows. Sometimes I feel like layering and accessorising; other days I want to be in all black and maybe a balaclava to cover my face, it’s a thing of attitude. Right now, for example, I am really feeling monochrome vibes... The way one same colour in the same tone can convey such a strong message, as if you were wearing a loud suit in every colour.Fashion has also allowed me to meet incredible people who have influenced me deeply. I always looked up to Pharrell and the sensitivity he has to make everything work in perfect harmony, there is nobody in the world that makes such bold state-ments in everything he touches, especially fashion. It’s not shocking that he is about to present a collection with LV, it’s more like the natural way of things. Like how I want music to help elevate Latino culture, I want the same thing for fashion. Our stories have a place on the big stage, not as Latino stories, but global ones that have earned the respect through constant hard work.
BT: You’ve partnered with huge brands across different cultural scenes, from Air Jordan to McDonald’s to Fortnite. Why is synergy important across creative areas to you?
J: The brands that I have had the privilege of partnering with are brands that I connect with on a personal level. Everything we set our mind to has the purpose of pushing culture forward. Every partnership I’ve had in my career has served that purpose of connecting with my fans in unexpected ways, while boosting the Latino community. When my Jordan 1s came out, there wasn’t another Latino with a seat at that table. It was about the ability to make my mark and have kids dream and know that those dreams can come true. I’d like to think that those moments cut through the noise and touch humans on a personal level.
BT: Why is mental health an important issue for you to work in?
J: I don’t think working on my mental health is something unique to myself. Everyone works on maintaining balance and keeping a peaceful mind and soul in different ways. I meditate every morning, and it helps me to stay more mindful during the day, not just with music and work but with my family, to be a better dad and partner.
BT: Having achieved so much already, what are your goals and hopes for the future?
J: Keep pushing Latinos forward in music, art, community, and everything we do. I want to keep impacting lives and to take our culture across the world. There is so much I haven’t done, I still need to do big things in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and maybe even Antarctica.I also want to see my son grow into a good human being, and build something he is proud to show his friends at school even when he is at that age where he doesn’t like his parents that much. I want my art to be relevant when he’s old enough to appreciate it.
BT: What’s next for you in the short term?
J: We’ve been quiet for a long time. I took my time to focus on my family and my son, but I was also working and creating what arguably is my best work yet. You’ll listen to the album and know exactly what I meant about my internal need to create something that sounds ultra-forward but connects to OG reggaeton roots. There are a couple of big surprises in there too, especially the one I mentioned that was conceived during a fashion event.I am about to go on tour, my first show will be in Paris on June 24th and then we will be hitting cities all throughout Europe before going to Australia and maybe a stop in Asia. That show in Australia sold out within seconds! Remember how I was saying I loved being part of these “first-ever” moments? That’s a good one! Things like that help keep me focused to bring our flavour to the world and see that peo-ple on the other side of the world dig it, it makes everything worth it.
Fashion by @jamie__ortega
Words by @tibbitsben
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Editorial Director @charlottejmorton
Art Director @Harry_conor
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