Review: Budding Latin-Pop Superstar Ozuna’s Buoyant, Eclectic ‘Aura’
The “Te Bote” remix, by Nio Garcia, Casper Magico, Darrell, Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam and Ozuna, is one of the most indispensable songs released this year in any genre — a hit in both old-fashioned media like radio as well as the warp-speed world of YouTube, where it has more than twice as many views as Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s “I Like It.” Suffice it to say that this is not a nice song; these boys are seething with resentment, their pride wounded by a woman who loved and left. Except one of the vocalists doesn’t seem to get the message, singing tender couplets — roughly translated as, “I know that you’re not just anyone/ I will spend my entire life asking about you” — in a bright tone.
That’s Ozuna, the 26-year-old Puerto Rican singer and occasional rapper who may be the most important young artist in Spanish-language pop. His voice is slim but slicing, precise and hard to imitate. Most important, it’s adaptable; at a time when musical ubiquity is an essential component of modern stardom, Ozuna can find a home anywhere, in reggaeton, cumbia, trap, bachata, dancehall, salsa and whatever it is that Post Malone does. That’s why he is the only person who had more hits (16) than Bad Bunny last year on the Latin singles chart, and his 2017 debut, Odisea, has been the top Latin album for 45 weeks, already the second-most of all time. If he sang in English, he’d be on the cover of every magazine in America.
Odisea included several insta-classics like “Se Preparó” and “Siguelo Bailando;” Aura has no trouble matching these. Immediately the ears are drawn to “Besos Mojados,” a collaboration with veterans RKM & Ken-Y on which Ken-Y threatens to out-sing Ozuna, and “Ibiza,” which appears to get prettier every time it gets played. Trap-heads will be pleased with “Pasado y Presente,” a magnetic collaboration with Latin trap forefather Anuel AA that follows in the footsteps of J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola” and “Sensualidad.” (Cardi B drew from the same well on “Be Careful.”)
But Aura is also a step beyond the reggaeton and trap that Ozuna is known for. Nestled right in the middle of the album is “Aunque Me Porte Mal,” a wonderfully brassy cumbia full of mischievous assertions of loyalty. (Odisea‘s “Egoísta” hinted at cumbia; “Aunque Me Porte Mal” goes all in.) “Monotonia” is pure schmaltz, a magnificently dejected eulogy packed with lines like, “I miss you wearing my coat at Christmas.” “Coméntale” is a straight-up bilingual pop record; you should hear it on Top 40 radio, even though you won’t. The same could be said of the charming Cardi B collaboration “La Modelo,” which came out in December but reappears here; had this song been released after Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, instead of before, it would have gotten the reception it deserved.
Aura has just one weakness — at 20 songs, it’s more drawn out than it needs to be. But with an inventive singer like Ozuna at the helm, even when Aura drags, it never loses its buoyancy for long.