This episode was recorded back in May of 2020, following the release of J Balvin’s Colores.
Link to Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2CbYfcdLARdCyol8HUMmYL?si=63tDfgxGQMif9cl647g69Q
[“Reggaeton,” by J Balvin]
Maria: Welcome to Guatever! Social distancing edition!
Natalia: So, Maria and I are currently almost 3,000 miles away. I am in the state of Michigan – sadly – and Maria is in the Dominican Republic.
Maria: We are doing this over Zoom. So, we want to acknowledge that the audio might not be the best quality.
Natalia: I'm sorry if that hurts your ears. So, today we're talking about J Balvin, who is one of the biggest Latino artists in the music industry.
Maria: Yes, we've talked about him multiple times, but not really focused on who he is as an artist.
Natalia: So, you’ve probably heard J Balvin’s name before since, like Maria mentioned, we've talked about him when we talked about “I Like It”. He also performed in the Superbowl back in February. He also headlined Coachella, Tomorrowland, and Lollapalooza. And actually performed with Beyonce at – I think it was Coachella?
Natalia: In 2018.
Maria: He was also given the title of artist of the decade by Spotify with Ariana Grande.
Natalia: But even though he's had like 327 nominations and winning 82 awards, a lot of people still don't know who he is. Especially, I think, in the United States because I think globally his name is a lot more recognized but here it still isn't.
Maria: Yes, definitely. I agree.
Natalia: So, who is he?
Maria: So, his full name is José Álvaro Osorio Balvin and he's from Medellin, Colombia.
Natalia: Yeah. So, he originally first started performing at urban clubs in Medellin, slowly increasing his social media following. So, he actually even went to university and studied international business. So, some of you guys probably have heard some of his songs where he goes for the stage name El Negocio, meaning the business. That's where it comes from. Because he studied international business. Just a fun fact.
Maria: So one of the reasons why J Balvin is also such a big icon is because he's one of those artists that has always tried to globalize Latin music. He's fluent in English, but he also makes a point to always make his music in Spanish because what he wants to do is to make reggaeton a globally popular genre without having to sing in English...which most Latin artists that have made it big in the US have done.
Natalia: For sure. Like, if you think about like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, or Ricky Martin they all had to release albums in English in order to be successful. But J Balvin has acquired the success he has without really ever singing in English.
Maria: Even Pitbull! Oh, no.
Natalia: Even Pitbull.
Maria: Oh, no.
Natalia: Critics have even called J Balvin one of the greatest global contemporary songwriters and artists in any genre because of this. Because he just globalized music. Because, like, in his album Vibras he knows that his audience, a lot of them don't necessarily speak Spanish, but that they can still enjoy his music just by the vibes they get from it and how he doesn't necessarily...like...he thinks music is a global language. That language in itself doesn't need to be what deters people from listening to him.
Maria: Yes, and I think that's also why he made a point to call his album Vibras. Also, I think that if you know J Balvin it's probably because of his song “Mi Gente”. And the entire point of the song “Mi Gente” is to express that feeling that you might not know the language, but music really makes other people from other countries and like, from whatever culture you're from, really bond. And I think that's one of the messages he really tries to emphasize with his music.
Natalia: “Mi Gente”, J Balvin described it, how it was kind of a criticism against the music industry and how it discriminates against music that is all in Spanish. I think if you, like, swipe up on Spotify and read the little genius description or whatever on the song you can see it. But also the song itself is produced with a French DJ. And then the remix is with Beyonce. So, in itself, the song is already so global. Plus his global platform just made it a universal song that everyone can enjoy.
Maria: Yes. I think also the message that J Balvin tries to spread a lot of the time is that – we talked about this – but like, he really emphasizes that you shouldn't have to make that transition from your native language to another one just to fit whatever people want to hear. I think what he really strives for with his music is to have his own unique sound that anyone can enjoy, despite not being able to understand whatever he says.
Natalia: Yeah. And I think also he understands what happens when songs are translated or like the English remix. We've all heard those like English remix of Spanish songs, which are just not good. They're not good at all. They just don't work because the meaning of the song is literally lost in translation.
Natalia: Like, it's not. It's not what the music was supposed to be like. It was supposed to be in Spanish.
Maria: Yeah, it's not like what the artist intended in the end.
Maria: I agree. I mean, have you ever heard the version of “Loba” by Shakira, and then “She Wolf” by Shakira? It's not the same!
Natalia: What other song? There was another song.
Maria: We were talking about one of them one day, I think. Let me try and see.
Natalia: Was that the CNCO song?
Maria: Any CNCO song that is translated into English I hate and you know this.
Natalia: The Meghan Trainor...this is...this is diverging. This is not J Balvin, but the CNCO remix with Meghan Trainor? Trash. It's so bad. But yes.
Maria: The CNCO remix with like Little Mix…
Natalia: Also bad.
Maria: Also terrible. Nat is an avid CNCO fan. This is why we mention this.
Natalia: I do not need to be exposed like that. But I did take a train from Michigan to Chicago senior year to go to a CNCO concert. So…
Maria: But um...
Natalia: Back to J Balvin.
Natalia: Yeah. So J Balvin also, kind of like how we talked about at the beginning, he grew his social media presence. And he did this through YouTube back when YouTube was first starting out. And YouTube recognized this, and his fame and all his success, and they actually made it a YouTube documentary, which I really encourage everyone to watch. It's really interesting. It shows how he rose to fame and how he's actually a pretty humble guy.
Natalia: Which is really interesting.
Maria: Oh, and also he has a podcast that Nat introduced me to, and in that podcast, and also I think he makes a point out of it also in his YouTube documentary, he talks a lot about how he feels like J Balvin is this like presence? What would you kind of phrase that Nat? Like a...?
Natalia: Like a...it’s a character.
Maria: Yeah, that he uses and it's not NOT him. But in the end, the person – like, HIMSELF – is José.
Natalia: And that it’s not the same. Yeah, he kind of explained that like him José is not the same person that everyone sees perform live, that everyone sees in his music videos, or singing a song. That's J Balvin. That's a different person. And yeah, they might have both originated at the same place, but now they're very different people. Also, what was really interesting about the podcast is he talked a lot about mental health, which is not talked about in Latino communities.
Natalia: It is not talked about.
Maria: It is a very taboo topic.
Natalia: And him with his really big platform talking about that. It's really interesting for like...I don't know, I personally really liked someone of the Latino community to really put that forward and talk about that.
Maria: Yeah, I totally agree. Also, we can't talk about J Balvin without talking about fashion, because he is a fashion icon.
Natalia: Yes. So he actually had a like, what was it? Like a collab with Guess?
Natalia: And I remember going into an Urban Outfitters with my friend and she was like, “Oh, this shirt is really cool.” And then I would look at it and I was like, “Oh, this is part of J Balvin’s collection!” And she's like, “What?” Because she didn't know who J Balvin was. But, it's just like, really cool to see him be able to influence and really have the global presence also in fashion. Like he's just a global person.
Maria: Yeah. Like there's this video of him going to the Dior men's fashion show. He also goes to a lot of fashion week's and like, just seeing the outfits that he pulls are amazing. Something that I really commend him for all the time is that he uses everything. Like everything as an accessory. He uses his hair as an accessory. First of all…
Natalia: He bleaches that.
Natalia: He bleaches that.
Maria: He constantly bleaches his hair and I am concerned for his scalp. Like, that man. His album Colores is all about colors and so he has dyed his hair for every performance of each color, the color for the song. And, bro, how's your hair holding up? Like, for real. I gotta know. What does his hair stylist think? I am concerned.
Natalia: I feel like it’s not even his hairstylist, it should just be like a doctor. Or like a dermatologist who's just like, “So, your scalp…”
Maria: Also, I think what makes him such a standout guy in fashion for me is just how he uses color. And even if you check out the Jordans he came out with as a collab with Nike, they're so colorful. They're just explosive with color. And he dyed his hair to match the Jordans! I mean...
Natalia: I think also...it’s almost childish, like, how much color he uses.
Natalia: But it's not at the same time. It just works really well.
Maria: Yeah, and like his creative choices I honestly admire a lot.
Natalia: Also, his style is kind of..it’s more like an urban...not even urban, but like...I don't know how to describe it. Like a very reggaetonero...old, Latino reggaeton style. That's like what his style is. He didn't lose that after rising to fame. He kind of held on to that. And that's what makes it so unique.
Maria: But also, definitely has improved. Have you seen him in “Ginza”? And like everything else, like from before…
Natalia: Yeah, he’s also evolved.
Maria: He’s evolved. But yes.
Natalia: He’s evolved to our global king.
Maria: Yes. I mean, at least he didn’t wear the aluminum foil outfit Bad Bunny wore at the Super Bowl…
Natalia: Do not come for Bad Bunny like that. Do not. Do not. I have no words. So yes, that was our take on the global phenomenon that is J Balvin.
Natalia: Also, side note, we just want to give a big shoutout to our editors, Prabhav and Sofia.
Maria: They are really great. They have also let us do this podcast, so…
Natalia: Shoutout to them!
Natalia: Also, shoutout to everyone who's listened and the hundreds of streams we've gotten on all our podcasts.
Maria: Yes, thank you to everyone who’s listened to it. We appreciate you so much.
Natalia: Thank you.
Maria: Yes. And so with that…
Natalia: This has been Natalia Camino.
Maria: And Maria Caamaño.
Natalia: For NBN.
[“Reggaeton,” by J Balvin]