Maluma knows that sex sells. One need only refer to his last full-length effort, 2020’s Papi Juancho, which returned the Colombian singer and bonafide superstar to smutty form following the arena ambitions of the preceding 11:11. His ability to pivot between the after hours sinful pleasure seeking of “Felices Los 4” and the Hollywood-polished rom-com accessibility of this year J. Lo starrer Marry Me shows that he’s a successful smooth operator in the music industry.
In the roughly two years since Papi Juancho, the Latin pop landscape has somehow both broadened and narrowed. Dwarfed by the supernova-esque ascent of Bad Bunny and the temporized rise of Karol G, late 2010s stars like J Balvin and Ozuna now visibly struggle to maintain their prominence if not their relevance. Concurrently, the field of competitors continues to widen, with R&B heartthrob Rauw Alejandro and apparent upstarts like Maria Becerra and Mora gaining more and more ground. These newer, fresher entrants tend to push things in different sonic directions than their immediate predecessors, increasingly favoring broader styles and genre touchpoints over the familiar, arguably stagnating sound of reggaetón.
To his credit, Maluma seems at least somewhat cognizant of these proverbial winds of change on The Love & Sex Tape. Clocking in at just under a half hour, about as long as his 2021 reggae escapade #7DJ (7 Days In Jamaica), this relatively conservative stopgap EP mixes in a few strategic collaborations that speak to what’s happening now. He taps singer Jay Wheeler for the explicit “Sexo Sin Título” and seizes upon the current Chenco Corleone resurgence with the tumultuously torrid “Nos Comemos Vivos.” An obvious single replete with popwise turns, the jaw-dropping “Mojando Asientos” with fellow Medellín native Feid leaves relatively little to the imagination.
Yet the project scarcely diverges from the predictable dynamic of his 2015 LP Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy, no doubt a product of its reliance on longtime production partners the Rude Boyz. Though “Cositas De La USA” and the tracks mentioned above still deliver the reliably raunchy and romantic charms relished by Maluma fans, the Afrobeats-informed and emotionally resonant closer “Happy Birthday” leaves a stronger impression. Furthermore, he does himself relatively few favors by bringing Arcángel and De La Ghetto together for the middling “Tsunami,” the novelty of reuniting that seminal reggaeton duo on record having largely worn off by now. (Quite frankly, this trick was executed far more effectively by De La Ghetto himself on 2020’s underrated Los Chulitos).
As a result of these orthodox choices, The Love & Sex Tape proves something altogether too safe for an artist sporting a discography a decade deep. Already headlining massive venues worldwide and regularly selling them out, as he did on his recent Papi Juancho world tour, Maluma has seemingly little to fear about losing the audience. But as with Balvin and Ozuna, the threat of lost luster as a recording artist should not be taken for granted, especially for Latin music’s most lustful practitioner. He was still a teenager when his debut Magia dropped in 2012, yet the looming prospect of becoming a de facto legacy act before turning 30 should instill some existential dread into his hedonistic heart. One hopes this bite-sized collection is like a tray of passed canapés in advance of a more extravagant album-length feast.