J Balvin in 2018
|Birth name||José Álvaro Osorio Balvín|
|Born||May 7, 1985|
José Álvaro Osorio Balvín (born May 7, 1985) is a Colombian reggaeton singer. He has won five Billboard Latin Music Awards, four Latin Grammy Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards and four Latin American Music Awards and received two Grammy Award nominations. In 2017 the BMI Latin Awards named him the Contemporary Latin Songwriter of the Year for his contribution in Latin music industry. He became the first Latino artist to be a Lollapalooza headliner. Balvin was born in Medellín, Colombia. At age 17, he moved to the United States to learn English, where he lived in both Oklahoma and New York. He then returned to Medellín and gained popularity performing at clubs in the city.
His breakthrough came in 2014 with the single "6 AM" featuring Puerto Rican singer Farruko which peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. In 2016, he released Energia, which included the hit singles "Ginza", "Bobo", "Safari", and "Sigo Extrañándote". In June 2017, J Balvin released the single "Mi Gente" with Willy William. On August 1, 2017, "Mi Gente" topped the Global Top 50 on Spotify, and later reached one billion views on YouTube. In January 2018, he released the hit single "Machika" featuring Jeon and Anitta. He collaborated with Cardi B and Bad Bunny on the US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single "I Like It", which was also nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. J Balvin released his most recent album Colores in March 2020.
Though his music is primarily reggaeton, J Balvin has experimented with a variety of musical genres in his work, including electronica, house music, trap, and R&B. His original musical inspirations included rock groups such as Metallica and Nirvana, and reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee. He has collaborated with Latin American artists such as Ozuna, Nicky Jam, Alejandro Sanz, Bad Bunny and Pitbull. Despite working with many English-speaking artists such as Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, The Black Eyed Peas, Cardi B and Major Lazer, J Balvin continues to sing almost exclusively in Spanish, and hopes to introduce Spanish-language music to a global audience. He is also noted for his eclectic and colorful fashion sense.
Life and career
1985–2013: Early life and career beginnings
J Balvin was born into a middle-class family in Medellín, Colombia on May 7, 1985. His father was an economist and business owner, and he grew up in a large home in the hills outside the city. He grew up listening to rock groups such as Metallica and Nirvana, and states that he incorporates the grunge aesthetic into his personal style, having a Nirvana tattoo on his knee. He developed an interest in reggaeton after listening to Daddy Yankee. He recalls that "I was such a fan that I was copying his style, the way he moved onstage, his flows, his raps," comparing him to the reggaeton equivalent of Jay-Z. His father's business went bankrupt, and the family lost their home and car, requiring the family to move to a poorer neighborhood. On this period of his life, J Balvin notes, "When I would go to the barrio, people saw me as a rich person, but when I’m around rich people they see me as someone from the ghetto. It’s all perceptions. I like moving between worlds. I feel equally comfortable in both."
When J Balvin was 16, he participated in an English-exchange program in Oklahoma, but was disappointed by the experience, saying, "I was expecting the U.S. that everyone knows from Hollywood." Soon after the program, he moved to New York City to further study English and music, living with an aunt on Staten Island and working as a dog walker. During his time in New York, he became fascinated by the business savvy of New York rappers 50 Cent and P. Diddy. J Balvin worked various jobs in New York, Miami, and Medellín, including working illegally in the United States as a roofer and house painter. He ultimately decided to return to Colombia and began performing at various urban clubs in Medellín and increasing his social media following. He enrolled at the prestigious EAFIT University in Medellín for seven semesters, studying international business. At age 19, he began to seriously pursue a career in music and adopted the stage name J Balvin "El Negocio", meaning "The Business" in English.
He met his DJ and business partner David Rivera Mazo in a freestyle battle on the street in Medellín. The two became fast friends and started producing and promoting their own music without a record label. J Balvin's early songs were described as "basically poor imitations of commercial reggaeton from Puerto Rico," but he soon adopted a more relaxed, minimalist style in his music. He signed to EMI Colombia in 2009 and soon after released the single "Ella Me Cautivó," which charted at number 35 on the Billboard Tropical Songs chart. He released his debut album, Real, in 2009. In 2012, J Balvin released a mixtape featuring many of his early hits in Colombia, including "En Lo Oscuro" and "Como un Animal." His first international hit was the one-night-stand-themed "Yo Te Lo Dije", and signed with Universal subsidiary Capitol Latin a year later.
2014–16: "6AM" success and La Familia
In February 2014, J Balvin released a new track entitled "6 AM," featuring Puerto Rican singer Farruko. J Balvin described the lyrical content of the song as the "Latin version of The Hangover," where the two singers attempt to remember what happened during a night of partying. The song debuted at number 43 on the Billboard Latin Airplay chart in February and reached number one in May. His album La Familia reached number ten on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, spending 122 weeks on the chart in total.
Shortly after, J Balvin released his second track in the United States, "Ay Vamos," which solidified his mark in the Latin urban market. It won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Urban Song. This was a bonus track on the deluxe edition of J Balvin's album La Familia B-Sides The music video is one of the most watched Latin music videos of all time, at over one billion views. The song went to number one on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart in 2015. The remix, featuring Nicky Jam and French Montana was used in the soundtrack to the film Furious 7. J Balvin performed the track at the 2015 Premios Lo Nuestro and the Billboard Latin Music Awards. J Balvin has been featured on remixes of "Sorry" by Justin Bieber, "The Way" and "Problem" by Ariana Grande, "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, "Maps" by Maroon 5, and "Stuck on a Feeling" by Prince Royce. J Balvin was the first Colombian singer to record with "The Prince of Bachata" and establishing itself as an international artist.
J Balvin swept the urban category at the 2015 Premios Lo Nuestro, including "Urban Artist of the Year," "Urban Album of the Year," "Urban Song of the Year" and "Urban Collaboration of the Year." On February 12, the nominees for the Billboard Latin Music Awards were announced, and J Balvin was nominated 13 times, of these nominations, eight were in the same category twice "Ay Vamos" and "6 AM," being the most nominated Colombian and the first urban artist from Colombia. J Balvin won New Artist, Latin Rhythm Song of the Year, and Latin Rhythm Song Artist of the Year, where he dedicated the award to his home country of Colombia.
In June 2015, it was announced that J Balvin had cancelled his performance on Miss USA 2015 to protest Donald Trump's inflammatory comments insulting illegal immigrants, saying, "During [Trump's] presidential campaign kickoff speech last week [June 2015], Trump accused illegal immigrants of bringing drugs, crime and rapists to the U.S." His live performance had been scheduled for July 12, 2015 in Louisiana, which would have been J Balvin's first performance on national mainstream television.
On January 16, 2016, J Balvin premiered his new single "Ginza" from his upcoming album, at the Premios Juventud. Later that week, he premiered the music video on Vevo. The music video broke the record for the most views for a Latin music video in the first 24 hours, at over two million views. Since then, the video has racked up over 807 million views. The song reached number one on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart for the week of October 17, 2015. The song also set a new Guinness World Record for the longest stay at number one on the chart. J Balvin became the first artist to receive a diamond certification in the Latin field from the Recording Industry Association of America, denoting digital sales of 600,000 units for his songs "6 AM" and "Ay Vamos." Andrew Casillas of Rolling Stone wrote that "with its deliciously liquid beat, ["Ginza"] among the finest three minutes in reggaetón history."
On June 24, 2016, J Balvin released his fourth studio album Energia. Energia debuted at number one on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, signifying his first time topping that chart. It had the third-best debut sales of any Latin artist in 2016, after Juan Gabriel's Los Duo 2 and Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizarraga's Que Bendicion. It also debuted at number 38 on the all-genre Billboard 200. The album featured collaborations with Daddy Yankee, Juanes, Pharrell, and Yandel. He launched 3 hit singles from the album, "Bobo," "Safari," and "Sigo Extranandote," which all reached the top 10 of the Latin charts. "Bobo" spent a week at the top of the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. Mario Prunes of Allmusic described Energia as "an album that knew it was going to be an international blockbuster almost a year before its release," due to the success of "Ginza". Rolling Stone ranked the album number four on the magazine's list of the 10 Best Latin Albums of 2016.
In promotion of the album, J Balvin embarked on the Energia Tour, traveling with several special guests including French Montana, Zion & Lennox, Bad Bunny, and Steve Aoki, the latter of which appeared as a surprise for fans during the last stop of the tour in Miami. That same year, J Balvin featured on "Cuando Seas Grande" by Spanish musician Alejandro Sanz and American singer Sofia Carson´s "Love is the Name." He launched a partnership with SoundCloud and Buchanan's Whiskey in a project called Es Nuestro Momento, where fans can access J Balvin's previously unreleased a capella vocals and create personalized remixes of his songs. Buchanan's Whisky also served as a sponsor for the Energia Tour in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
2017–2018: International success: "Mi Gente" & Vibras
On June 30, 2017, J Balvin released his new single along with the official music video "Mi Gente" featuring Willy William. On August 1, 2017, "Mi Gente" became the number one song in the world according to Global Top 50 on Spotify. It soon reached 1 billion views on YouTube. In September 2017, the song was remixed with American artist Beyoncé. The remix reached number three in the United States, giving Balvin his first USA top ten single. J Balvin and Willy William released six more "Mi Gente" remixes with Steve Aoki, Alesso, Cedric Gervais, Dillon Francis, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, and Henry Fong. Despite the song's success, "Mi Gente" did not win any awards at the 2017 Latin Grammy Awards, with many awards going to Luis Fonsi's hit "Despacito". At the ceremony, he performed "Mi Gente" as well as "Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola" alongside Bad Bunny and his remix of "Unforgettable" with French Montana.
On January 19, 2018, J Balvin released his new single along with the official music video "Machika" featuring Jeon and Anitta. His collaboration with Nicky Jam, "X," was released on March 1, 2018 and the music video received 288 million views on YouTube in less than a month. Nicky Jam stated that he attributes the success of "X" to J Balvin's contribution. He also appeared on Cardi B´s Invasion of Privacy album, with Bad Bunny on the song "I Like It." It became Balvin's first number one single on the US Billboard Hot 100.
J Balvin released the album Vibras on May 25, 2018. The two lead singles from the album were "Machika" and "Ahora." On April 23, 2018, J Balvin announced the dates for his Vibras tour revealing the 27 cities where he will be performing. Vibras claimed the record for the most-streamed Latin album in 24 hours on the streaming platform for 2018. In the United States, it debuted at number one on the Top Latin Albums chart for the issue dated 9 June 2018. According to Nielsen Music, the record sold 22,000 album-equivalent units and became Balvin's second number-one album on the chart, following Energia in 2016. Additionally, Vibras scored the largest streaming week ever for a Latin album by an artist; its songs were streamed 16.1 million times. Subsequently, it debuted at number 15 on the US Billboard 200 and became his highest-charting album on the chart.
In an interview with Ebro Darden for Beats 1 Radio on Apple Music in April 2018, Balvin described the sound of the record as 33% dancehall, 33% R&B, and 33% reggaeton. Balvin further elaborated that much love was put into the album's work and that contains different vibes, hence the name, Vibras, "The real meaning of this album was what's going on with Spanish music that's going so global, the fact that we did an album that the beats are so amazing that you don't have to understand what we say, you just have to love the songs."
2019–present: Oasis and Colores
On June 27, 2019, J Balvin released his new album in collaboration with Bad Bunny titled Oasis. The record was released overnight and was deemed a "surprise" release. The two artists first met at a J Balvin concert in Puerto Rico, when Bad Bunny was working on releasing music on SoundCloud, and then collaborated on the 2017 track "Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola". The chemistry between the two was so strong that they came up with the idea to release a joint album. Oasis peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200, and topped the Billboard US Latin Albums chart. The album was nominated for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards and was named one of Rolling Stone‘s Best Latin Albums of 2019.
In August 2019, J Balvin and Bad Bunny headlined the Uforia Latino Mix Live concert series to raise money for victims of the shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. The concert series consisted of two performances in Texas, one in Dallas and one in Houston, and featured openers Wisin y Yandel, Reik, Sech, Ozuna, Natti Natasha, Pedro Capo, Sebastian Yatra, Tito El Bambino. J Balvin's collaboration with Spanish singer Rosalía "Con altura" won Best Urban Song at the 2019 Latin Grammy Awards. The song received positive reviews from critics and Billboard ranked it 5th on their list of 100 Best Songs of 2019. J Balvin was a guest performer in the Super Bowl LIV halftime show headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. He also collaborated with Major Lazer and Dominican dembow singer El Alfa on the single "Que Calor" in September 2019.
In November 2019, J Balvin released the music video for the single "Blanco", which introduced a "futuristic, all-white environment filled with hypnotic dancers and flying cats". On March 20, 2020, J Balvin released the album Colores, in which every song is named after a color except the song "Arcoíris" (the Spanish word for rainbow). The album contains influences from dancehall, R&B, and electronica, and features Nigerian afrobeats artist Mr Eazi on the song "Arcoíris". Suzy Exposito of Rolling Stone called the album "sophisticated show of Balvin’s sonic palette". The album artwork was created by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Balvin collaborated with Murakami for the music videos and album and single artwork, which notably feature Murakami's flowers, as well as American clothing brand Guess on a capsule collection inspired by the album.
Musical style and influences
Critics have contrasted J Balvin's musical style from the first internationally popular wave of reggaeton led by Daddy Yankee. Marlon Bishop of The Fader described his vocal delivery as a "gentle drawl", differing greatly from the rapid-fire, aggressive delivery of earlier reggaeton acts. He generally sings over his beats as opposed to rapping, and favors a more melodic, pop-influenced style. Describing his music's production, Bishop writes, "Instead of the hard-edged, maximalist beats of the first wave, Balvin’s tracks are moody and spaced out". He frequently works with Medellin-based writer/producers Alejandro "Sky" Ramirez and Carlo Alejandro "Mosty" Patiño, whom he often name-drops in his songs. He has been credited with popularizing a new style of reggaeton based in Medellin, along with Maluma and Puerto Ricans who have relocated to the city to become involved in the reggaeton scene, such as Nicky Jam and Farruko.
Though he cites Daddy Yankee as his biggest musical inspiration, J Balvin's earliest influences were rock bands such as Metallica and Nirvana, as well as salsa legend Hector Lavoe. He has covered Nirvana's hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in live performances. As a teenager, he listened to hip-hop artists such as 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Onyx. He also cites albums by Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd and Puerto Rican reggae band Cultura Profética as his "desert island albums." Pop singer Camila Cabello has cited J Balvin as a musical influence.
Public image and lyrics
His public image was described by Bishop by saying, "J Balvin’s not a bad boy, he’s a good guy with a well-tended naughty side." He often interacts with fans on social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram, and cites these platforms as essential for his success. His musical partner Mazo explained, "We wanted to make music that was clean enough for your grandma to like, but sensual enough that the streets would like it too." His lyrics have been described as more vulnerable than typical reggaeton lyrics, discussing interpersonal relationships, exemplified by the single "Ay Vamos". For this reason, he has been compared to Canadian artist Drake, a comparison with which J Balvin agrees.
On the issue of misogyny in reggaeton, J Balvin notes, "[I] have mothers, sisters, relatives. Part of what we did is change that misconception that reggaetón is machista and misogynist. On the contrary, women are our biggest fans, and they inspire us." He also refrains from singing about his country's violent past, saying that doing that exacerbates stereotypes about Colombians and that the country has made vast improvements since the days of Pablo Escobar. Instead, he discusses everyday life in his songs. Luis Estrada of Universal Music Latino and Capitol Latin says of Balvin, "He breaks every rule of what people think reggaeton is, and they love him for that...He doesn’t take himself too seriously." J Balvin is unique also in that his dance crew on his videos and concerts are all male.
Despite being fluent in English and frequently collaborating with English-speaking artists, J Balvin plans to only sing in Spanish. His goal is to make reggaeton a globally popular genre without having to sing in English to attain crossover success. He explains, "I want to keep making history in Spanish. I want to invite the mainstream into my world, and to my sound, and to what I’m doing. And I want mainstream artists to respect me, and accept Latino artists as equals, without us having to sing in English. I want them to know that I can compete globally with whomever, in Spanish." American artist Pharrell instead sings the hook in Spanish on "Safari", and J Balvin described having more American musicians singing in Spanish as one of his "biggest dreams". However, he recorded his first all-English song with Pitbull and Camila Cabello for the 2017 soundtrack to The Fate of the Furious, and explained that he is open to the idea of singing in English if the opportunity presents itself.
J Balvin has called fashion "his life’s passion, on the same level as music." He appeared as an ambassador during the 2017 New York Fashion Week, and has called for greater representation of Latinos in the fashion world. He utilizes eccentric accessories such as cowboy hats, colorful tracksuits, and ripped jeans. Isabela Raygoza described his aesthetic at the 2017 Latin Grammys as a "Latin raver Eminem" due to his neon blonde hair and brightly colored athletic clothing. His style often combines streetwear traditionally associated with reggaeton artists and classic luxury brands. J Balvin is influenced by musicians such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams who have made forays into fashion. Discussing Pharrell's influence, J Balvin explained, "I don't dress exactly like him, but I want to be like him in the cultural way. He opens the doors for a lot of new fashion designers and creates his own style. It's all about love with him and he's the culture."
The musician appeared in Ovadia and Sons' Spring 2017 catalogue. He debuted pieces that he designed in the Colombiamoda Fashion Week show in Medellin in July 2018, where he presented his collaboration with the clothing brand Gef France. The collection was inspired by the colorful, bright aesthetic of his 2018 album, Vibras. In January 2019 Balvin launched another Vibras-inspired clothing campaign with the Guess x J Balvin clothing collection, becoming the first Latin man to collaborate with the brand. J Balvin explained that he "grew up with the Guess brand" and "always respected and identified with the Marciano brothers’ history of taking influence from the country and culture of their heritage, and fusing it with the spirit of the United States".
J Balvin has spoken out about the Venezuelan economical crisis and the situation occurring at the country's border with Colombia, where thousands of Colombians have been forcibly deported. He called the situation "deplorable" and created the social media campaign #LatinosSomosFamilia (We Latinos are Family), encouraging fans to sign a petition to support the displaced victims. The petition was soon signed by other prominent Latin artists including Colombian singer Maluma. J Balvin's campaign was launched shortly after cancelling his performance on Miss USA 2015 in protest of Donald Trump. He supports LGBT rights, explaining "It’s all about love. A lot of my closest friends are gay", and dyed his hair rainbow colors to show support for Pride 2019.
In August 2016, the singer was involved in a plane crash while leaving the Bahamas. While returning from a vacation with his family, the plane failed to take off properly and crash landed shortly after departing from the runway. He posted a photo on Instagram of the small private plane after having landed in the bushes. Nobody was injured in the accident, and J Balvin called it "a miracle."
J Balvin experiences panic attacks and states that "meditation saved [his] life". When his anxiety was at its worst, he recalled that "I forgot about my happiness. I forgot about José (J Balvin's given name)." He is known for his tattoos and got his first tattoo when he was twelve years old. His mother suffers from the rare genetic condition acute intermittent porphyria, which causes seizures, chronic pain, and mental health difficulties. He has the word "Familia" tattooed on his chest in her honor.
Unlike many popular reggaeton singers who move to the United States upon gaining popularity, J Balvin continues to live in his hometown of Medellin, explaining, "It keeps me real. I'm gonna be real everywhere I go, but I'm with my people, I'm connected to my roots – I'm in my country! I don't need to live somewhere else. I respect the ones who make it and leave their home base, but I'm good in Colombia.".
J Balvin's global success with his Spanish recordings has been praised by music critics. Billboard described him as "the biggest breakout act Latin music has seen in many years". Nicole Acevedo of NBC News said that although Latin artists such as Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Shakira achieved crossover success by recording English-language albums, "Balvin is reinventing the way Latin music artists cross over to the U.S. music scene" with musical productions recorded entirely in Spanish. Similarly, August Brown of Los Angeles Times commented that "Balvin's ideas felt like an inevitable future" and is part of a new wave of several Latin artists representing the "future of Latin and global pop where language is less a barrier than a invitation".
J Balvin participation in the reggaeton scene has been noted, a genre previously associated primarily with Puerto Rican and Panamanian artists. He uses reggeaton as a vehicle to "expose ideas, identities" and other social messages, and is "perhaps the genre's most visible star" according to American journalist Jon Caramanica. Elias Leight of Rolling Stone included him along Karol G and Ozuna as "global hit-makers" with reggaeton and trap songs. When Joan Scutia from Mexican Vogue reviewed Balvin's career and success, noted that reggaeton is part of Simon Reynolds' theory about globalization in music: "Nothing is foreign in an internet age". Evan Lamberg, UMPG's president commented: "I consider J Balvin one of the greatest global contemporary songwriters/artists in any genre".
In a general perspective, Sofia Rocher from Guinness World Records stated J Balvin became "leader of a second-generation reggaeton revolution propelling Urban music back to the forefront of Latin music worldwide". Univision presented him as "Latin Music’s most popular and influential international artist". He was the first Latino to headline world-musical events such as Coachella, Tomorrowland, and Lollapalooza. Iman Amrani from The Guardian felt that Balvin is "now arguably Colombia’s biggest cultural export" and described him as example on "how embracing national pride can be a force for cultural good".
Awards and achievements
J Balvin has won numerous awards and achievements. He became the first recipient of the Global Icon Award given by Lo Nuestro Awards, in recognition of his contribution to spread Latin music worldwide, and the first recipient of the inaugural Contemporary Song of the Year at the BMI Latin Awards with "Ay Vamos". His single "Ginza" was recognized by Guinness World Records for the longest stay at number 1 on Hot Latin Songs chart ever by a single artist, and is the second artist with the most number one on Latin Rhythm Airplay, behind only Daddy Yankee as of 2019.
His music videos have billions of views, and had a consecutive record-setting of 100 million views on VEVO with "Tranquila", 6 A.M.", "Ay Vamos" and "Ginza", which marked the most viewed Spanish video debut in history. "Ay Vamos" became the first reggeaton song to exceed one billion views on YouTube. In addition, VEVO named Balvin "most watched Latin artist of 2015" and he became the "most viewed artist on YouTube Global" as of 2019. Balvin has multiple streaming records. "Mi Gente" became first Spanish language song to be number one on Spotify's Global Top 50 Chart, and Balvin became the most streamed artist on Spotify as of 2018, overtaking previous Drake's record. He remains on Top 5 as of April 2020. With his album Colores set a new record with all his songs occupying the Top 10 on Spotify.
- Studio albums
- Collaborative albums
- La Familia Tour with Becky G (2015)
- Energía Tour (2016–2018)
- Vibras Tour (2018)
- Arcoiris Tour (2019)
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