As soon as the lights dimmed at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday night, the screaming began. And it lasted — at varying levels — for practically the entire two-hour run of J Balvin’s sold-out show.
The Colombian reggaeton supernova is a household name over much of the Western Hemisphere. But even if you don’t know him by name, you likely have heard his voice. Perhaps on this year’s danceable single “Hey Ma,” featuring Pitbull and Camila Cabello, which appears on the soundtrack for the blockbuster racing flick “The Fate of the Furious.”
And then there’s that small matter of Balvin’s collaboration with Beyoncé on a remixed version of his hit single “Mi Gente” — now at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (Beyoncé drew even more attention to the collaboration when she announced she was donating her proceeds from the single to hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean.)
The news of the collaboration quickly had U.S. audiences breathlessly discussing “Beyoncé’s new song.” Except Beyoncé’s “new” song is actually a J Balvin song (created with French DJ and producer Willy William) that had already been on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Hot Latin Songs charts for months. The original mix, posted to YouTube in June, has racked up close to a billion views.
If Beyoncé’s remix of “Mi Gente” helped light a fire for Balvin among some corners of the U.S. market, Balvin is doing much the same for her — helping raise her profile among the vast audience for Latin music, especially wildly popular reggaeton.
And when it comes to reggaeton, J Balvin is one of the genre’s reigning monarchs.
From the moment he hit the stage Sunday, in camouflage pants, red bandanna tucked jauntily in the back pocket, to the final choruses of “Mi Gente” in the final encore, Balvin ruled the theater — delivering some of his stickiest hits to his adoring subjects. (Did I mention the screaming?)
While performing “Snapchat,” a song that wryly alludes to sexy messaging, he demanded “manos arriba” — and all hands went up on cue. For “Otra Vez,” he extended a mike into the audience, and the swaying crowd sang the opening lyrics passionately and obediently: “Después de tanto me buscas / Por qué será” (After so long, you come looking for me / Why is that).
And for his smash “6AM,” a naughty tune about waking up with an unidentified party girl in his bed, the audience mimicked his hand gestures with every beat of the “pa pa pa” in the chorus.
Balvin rewarded this loyalty early on with a surprise guest appearance by Pharell Williams and Latina rapper Bia. Together, the trio performed their hit tune “Safari,” which is on Balvin’s most recent studio album, “Energía.”
With its moody piano chords and slow-burn lyrics, the song, first released in 2016, has sat atop charts in Latin America, Europe and the U.S. During Sunday’s show, all three performers seemed to be in impeccable, joyous sync as they sang about want and desire against an LED backdrop that showed a wild forest in bloom.
Certainly, a large part of Balvin’s broad appeal is the way he has fused the dembow beat of reggaeton with elements of romantic pop balladeering — thereby transforming a hard-driving musical form into something more languid and seductive.
And for his live show, Balvin was happy to play the role of Prince Charming to the heavily female audience.
He delivered a bouncing rendition of “Hey Ma” with flirty dance moves that drew such a roar of approval that he pulled out his ear piece to take it all in. And, in the middle of “Bobo” — a song in which a man tells a heartbroken woman not to cry for a lout — he told the men in the room that if they behaved like bobos, he would steal their girlfriends away. Deafening cheering ensued.
Balvin is a better rapper than he is a pop singer — most comfortable with rat-a-tat rhymes than sultry crooning. But he’s also an extraordinary showman, knowing how and when to play a smile and a wink.
And the exceptional stage design added to the experience. The band stood on a raised platform above the singer. This left much of the stage open for massive LED monitors that, over the course of the show, displayed dazzling light patterns, burning flames, roiling water and Japanese-inspired neon (the latter, during his popular song “Ginza”).
The show, in some ways, was a paean to pan-Latin multi-culturalism: a Colombian star singing reggaeton, a musical style that emerged out of Panama and was popularized in Puerto Rico, performing to a largely Mexican audience.
“This show is dedicated to the people of Mexico and Puerto Rico,” Balvin said early in the show, “because we need to be more united.”
And for two hours, Balvin did just that — bringing together every dancing soul in the theater with spectacle, song and plenty of coy strutting.