It's J Balvin's World and We're All Just Living in It

It all began when Blue Ivy became obsessed with this one song.

“That’s how it started,” singer J Balvin explains when I call him up to find out how he came to collaborate with Beyoncé on the remix of his hit song with Willy William, “Mi Gente.” The famously catchy single had found a superfan in Beyoncé’s 5-year-old daughter. “She listened to it so much, at one point, Beyoncé was like, ‘Okay, what’s up? Que pasa aqui?’ ” recounts Balvin.

Fast-forward to one day in the studio, not so long ago, when one of Beyoncé’s “right-hand people” shows up during Balvin’s recording session to tell him how much the reigning queen of the music industry likes his song. Flattered, he proposed she do the remix “as a total offhand remark,” he says, “I never expected it to happen.” But happen it did: On September 28, a new version of “Mi Gente,” featuring Beyoncé singing in Spanish, was released along with a joyful music video featuring YouTube-sourced clips of people from all over the world dancing along. Today, “Mi Gente” is sitting at number three on the Billboard charts—finally dethroning “Despacito,” the last Latin sensation to take over music.

“Mi Gente,” which translates as “My People,” is not only Balvin’s first song to make it onto the Billboard top 10, it’s also the first time many American listeners have heard his name. But the Colombian singer, née José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, is nothing short of a global superstar. He’s currently the third most streamed artist on Spotify in the world, behind only Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. He has 18 million followers on Instagram, and his most watched music video on YouTube (for “Ay Vamos”) has clocked in more than 1.4 billion views. Balvin has also collaborated with Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Pitbull, and Pharrell, who made a surprise appearance at his concert in Los Angeles last Sunday. Now he’s been given the seal of approval from Queen Bey, which leads us to ask: Is this finally J Balvin’s moment?

“I don’t want to make music only for Latinos,” Balvin says; his songs tends to be a mixture of reggaeton, dancehall, R&B, a little trap, a little bachata, some pop. “The idea is always to make a global sound.” So far, he’s succeeding: His latest tour, for his album Energía, had him playing shows all around Latin America, but also in Munich, Paris, and Amsterdam—cities where Spanish-language music doesn’t usually register, but where Balvin’s “Ginza” became last year’s unofficial song of summer.

Breaking down barriers is an important cause for Balvin, who has said on many occasions he wants to help banish the negative stereotypes that often surround Latinos. “Not just in the U.S., but around the world,” he says. “I want to improve our image in everything: in our behavior, in our style, in art, in culture, everything. It’s a really cool culture.” In 2015, he notably pulled out of a planned performance on the televised Miss USA pageant after hearing Donald Trump’s insensitive remarks toward Mexicans in a speech announcing his candidacy. (Back then, the presidential candidate was still a partial owner of the beauty pageant.) It would have been Balvin’s first nationally televised performance in the U.S., and a major shot at the mainstream. “I’m no savior and I’m no Robin Hood,” Balvin said to Billboard at the time. “But in this case, I feel totally comfortable and responsible with my decision.”

It seems almost karmic that during the first summer of Donald Trump’s presidency, the number one song in the U.S. (for a record-breaking 16 weeks) was Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Spanish language club banger “Despacito.” Now, “Mi Gente” seems poised to make an equal mark on the charts. But what’s interesting about this latest boom in Latin music, and of Balvin’s rise, is that while other Latino singers, such as Enrique Iglesias and Shakira, have had to release songs in English in order to achieve crossover success, Balvin has managed to achieve global popularity while sticking to his native tongue. “It really shows the power of music,” says Balvin. (And perhaps the power of the 42 million Spanish-speaking people in the country over the music business.) “Music goes further than any border, any language.” That’s not to say he’s never going to sing in English. In fact, he hinted new songs might be on the way sooner than you think, but on his terms: “I’m doing it because I want to,” Balvin says, “Not because I think it will help me earn a bigger following.”

In the meantime, Balvin continues to tour around the country, and is focused on learning more about the fashion industry. In the past year, Balvin graced the front row at Chanel’s couture show, and was named an ambassador to Men’s Fashion Week by the CFDA. “I just love it,” he says. “I enjoy it as much as music. I really couldn’t tell you which one I like more.” A look at his Instagram account reveals he’s a brand junkie, with a daring, chameleonic style: One day, he’s posing in basketball shorts, Nike sneaks, and Off-White socks; another day, he’s photographed in Saint Laurent’s furry heart-shaped cape; for a while, his hair changed from purple to green to rainbow hued. “I don’t plan anything—I just let myself go with the flow,” he says. “I think it’s important to show people, especially young people, that it’s okay to have a personality, and that they can express themselves however they like.”

His interest in fashion has already led to a limited-edition designed hoodie with Esteban Cortazar for Colette, and, like other style-obsessed singers, a line of quick-selling merch at pop-ups in places like Chicago and Los Angeles. “Music is one way of expressing yourself, and fashion is another,” he says as we start wrapping up our conversation. “One is through song and the other is through attitude,” he adds: “This is only the beginning.”


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Cross Cultural Centers recent event, Relationship Talk: Lemonade Vs. 4:44, addresses the difficulties of relationships and what defines lasting bonds from short term lust.


Students listened to music from Jay-Z's 4:44 album in correlation to the discussion of relationships

Joshua Mejia

Joshua Mejia

Students listened to music from Jay-Z's 4:44 album in correlation to the discussion of relationships

Omolola Odeniyi, Contributor
October 20, 2017
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On Oct. 12, Chaz Cruz, Assistant Director of the Cross Cultural Centers (CCC), hosted “Relationship Talk: Lemonade Vs. 4:44” in the Pasadena room of the University Student Union (U-SU). The event addressed myths about relationships, particularly in African American culture, and used recent albums, Beyonce's Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44 as examples.

The event featured special guest, Thea Winkler, a Counselor at the Psychological Services Students Health Center at Cal State LA, who addressed specific relationship issues.

As the discussion began between the two albums, attendees acknowledged that the commentary of each album revolved around relationships and the fragile nature that they possess. For relationships to work, speakers addressed the variables that define their strength and longevity. Specifically, according to Winkler, “communication, compatibility and desire are of uttermost importance.”

Throughout the talk, clips from both albums were played that highlighted points such as: cheating, blame placement, the need for growth, father figures, personalities and differences between spouses.

According to the speakers, society tends to attribute certain behaviors to a gender or sex which do not accurately reflect the reality of situations, serving as nothing more than speculation and unsupported assumption.

Choice was also annotated during the discussion because it gives room for a better picture of a person, while also noting the surrounding issue in order to know when and how to clear the air.

Beyoncé's lyric in the song “Sandcastles” addresses this concept: “If we going to heal, let it be glorious.”

Moving forward, concerns of how a promising and providing partner in a relationship still has the substance to cheat was raised by the audience, prompting a focused discussion. From this, the majority of responses gathered were: insecurity, the unfair use of “I” when it's intended to be “we”, imbalance, family background, history, cultural perspectives and stereotypes.

“Cheating is a sort of coping mechanism for some unheard needs; it's important to drop the individual pride (seen and unseen) and talk things out, through and through,” said Winkler.

Regardless, addressing difficult emotions in a relationship is an important aspect of promoting healthy communication.

“Knowing the love language of your partner (and vice-versa) as well as being aware that it changes over different phases of life keeps the relationship in good shape,” said Winkler.

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