While Juanes is the world’s most popular Spanish-language rock musician — he's sold an estimated 15 million albums — the Medellín-raised crooner is yet to capture the attention of English-speaking U.S. audiences. This is likely to change.
On July 28, the Colombian rocker kicks off the U.S. leg of his Loco de Amor tour. The eagerly-awaited 13 date tour will include stops at Madison Square Garden, Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE, and a year-end show at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. Juanes is on track to usher in a new wave of Latin music, his infectious power-pop raining down on American soil.
During his appearance at The 57th annual Grammy Awards this year, Juanes struck a chord. He made history as the first solo artist to perform a song completely in Spanish at the show. The last Latin artists to sing at the Grammys were former couple Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez who performed the song “Escapémonos” over a decade ago.
Following the success of his performance, Juanes's music immediately saw a significant boost in sales. According to Nielsen, after the upwards of 25 million viewers heard “Juntos” — an original song he wrote for Disney’s McFarland USA starring Kevin Costner — the superstar's overall spins increased by 3.5% on Latin radio and more than 20% on Mexican radio. Worldwide, his sales and streams also received a serious bump. It's what's known as the Grammy effect.
Could Juanes's presence on the telecast, his second to date (in 2013 he sang an English-Spanish rendition of Elton John's "Your Song”), along with "Juntos" and his upcoming U.S. tour, signal the beginning of his American pop music invasion? Hell yes it could. But these are moves he's been preparing for the better part of his over 15-year solo career. “I've been waiting for this moment for many years,” he told the Associated Press days before the Grammys.
Previously the frontman for the rock band Ekhymosis, Juanes rose to solo fame in 2000 with his debut Fijate Bien. The album resonated with critics and fans around the world for its catchy rhythms and brooding lyrical content. Now, with a half a dozen releases to speak of, including an MTV Unplugged recording, Juanes is on the brink of something legendary. His sound, which has been compared to Bono and Bruce Springsteen, is exposed to a growing base of listeners in the United States. And while his sensibility is unmistakably Latin, seasoned with the concentrated flavors of cumbia and tango, his energetic tunes have still won over people from different demographics. And that's without straying far from his roots. "Colombian music is in my blood, in my DNA," Juanes told Billboard last year.
While the two-time Grammy and 20-time Latin Grammy winner has seen immense success in the Latin market, it's fair to say Juanes hasn't been completely embraced stateside — and surely not to the extent as has fellow Colombian singer Shakira and her thirst-inducing gyrations.
There's no question that Juanes has a universal appeal. From being a certified hitmaker to boasting stupid good looks and boyish likability, it has always been just a matter of time before more people took notice.
Yet there are certain factors that make the prospect of Juanes's stateside assault seem iffy. Mostly it's a question of language: Can Juanes cross over to the general market while singing almost exclusively in español?
Over the years we've seen physical specimens like Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias (mole and all) and, of course, Shakira strike it big in America. But they've done so with English-language albums. Juanes, similar to what “The King of Bachata” Romeo Santos is shooting for, is breaking molds while flexing in his mother tongue. No one can deny that what he's managed up to now has been spectacular.
As entertainment journalist Jack Rico wrote in an article for NBC, Juanes is already creating a sort of linguistic and cultural disruption. And let's face it, we live in an era that's ripe for experimentation, one where old rules and glass ceilings are slowly cracking — where what's considered successful is not just determined by some hack with an arresting hold on Top 40. Instead, because our musical tastes are constantly redefined by digital trends and an ever-shifting intellectual periphery, it's about simply connecting with people. And that's what Juanes is doing by his own design. The question, then, is not whether a connection can be achieved with a language barrier, but rather if it can be attained based on the quality of the music alone.
Latin music is and always has been a reductive label. But as the Spanish language, which is the second most popular in the world just behind Mandarin, continues to spread, its musical torchbearers will keep gaining ground. More than anything, it's a testament to the uniting power of song.
As Juanes, in the vein of other single-named stars like Bono and Sting and Prince, steadily outgrows the limitations set to trap him, music — and the people who love music — will be all the better for it. We can sit back and watch the man shine.
Juan Vidal is a writer and critic for NPR and a contributor to Esquire, VIBE, and The Daily Beast. He's on Twitter: @itsjuanlove