Roughly a month ago, Anuel AA and Karol G’s “Secreto” — a pop-reggaeton duet about a torrid but hidden romance — leaked online. “We were upset,” says Ezequiel Rivera, who co-produced the single with Henry De La Prida. “It was like the track was just dead. I didn’t think Anuel and Karol would come out and put major promotion behind it because it got leaked.”
But his worries proved to be unfounded: The singers released “Secreto” last week in conjunction with a video that packs an entire rom-com’s worth of PDA — Anuel brushes Karol’s teeth, licks her face and throws snowballs at her — into roughly four minutes. The singers’ relationship was not really a secret; they had kissed onstage at a concert in New York City in November. But pulling back the veil on their romance in such an aggressive fashion worked wonders for “Secreto,” which accumulated almost 100 million views on YouTube in 10 days, good enough for a Top Five debut on the platform’s global chart.
The success of this single is the latest coup for Anuel, who was released from prison last summer after a stint for possession of firearms and ammunition. In roughly six months, he released an album, Real Hasta La Muerte, and he was the lead or featured vocalist on 11 different charting singles, including the glinting “Ella Quiere Beber” remix, which leapfrogged from Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart to the Hot 100. Anuel has generated more troubling headlines as well: In September, he released a vicious homophobic track that attacked the rapper Cosculluela and also entangled the openly gay Latin trap artist Kevin Fret, who was recently murdered. The song was widely condemned; after a Puerto Rican promoter cancelled a planned Anuel concert, the rapper called the track “my biggest mistake.”
Rivera met Anuel in 2016 right before he went to prison. At the time, the producer needed the rapper’s vocals for “Liberace,” a Farruko track that was an early Latin trap hit in Puerto Rico. Rivera and Anuel reconnected last year in the fall, a few months after the rapper was released from jail.
Part of the reason for Anuel’s post-prison commercial success has been savvy repositioning. “He’s known for his hard trap, but he has a lot of melody,” Rivera says. Anuel has emphasized that second quality on hits like “Ella Quiere Beber,” “Adictiva” and “Amanece,” which also trade slow, battering trap beats for reggaeton instrumentals that have been sanded down until they’re smooth and weightless.
This is a smart trade to make if you’re looking for mainstream hits. That’s because, “[Latin] radio is the only barrier we haven’t broken with trap,” according to Rivera. “Go anywhere in the U.S., you’re going to hear a hip-hop station, and they’re going to play Lil Baby or Migos or whatever hardcore artist,” the producer adds. “In Spanish society, we haven’t accepted hearing that on the radio.”
During Anuel’s second night in the studio with Rivera and De La Prida, the rapper asked if they had any reggaeton tracks. They cued up the instrumental for “Secreto,” which knowingly echoes “Ella Quiere Beber.” Anuel recorded his part in roughly 15 minutes — so fast that Rivera wondered if the rapper had composed the lyrics ahead of time. “What he was talking about was everything that was going on with [Karol],” the producer says. “You knew he liked her — you saw him posting on Instagram throwing kisses at her, and she wouldn’t reply. Then you’d see the concerts: He’d try to kiss her on stage, and she’d turn his face away. Before everybody knew what was going on, the situation was already going down, they just wanted to keep it as a secret.”
Anuel later requested the track files from Rivera so that Karol could add her part separately. “They switched some stuff — the original version is a lot dirtier,” Rivera says. Thanks to the clean production and lyrics, he continues, “we knew we had a mega-hit.”
Rivera still doesn’t know who leaked the track, but he was disappointed when the single made its way online. “When you do productions like this — especially with Anuel being one of the hardest out right now, and Karol G [being] one of the biggest female artists — you want the right release as a producer so a song can be big,” he says. “You don’t want something to get leaked. [When that happens,] most companies don’t put muscle behind it no more.”
But in the end, the leak proved to be just a minor speed bump, thanks largely to the “Secreto” video, which completed an effectively executed relationship rollout. “[Fans] are looking at them as the Jay-Z and Beyoncé couple,” Rivera explains. “Latin urban goes back more than 15 years, and there’s never been a relationship between two artists like that.” (There have been power couples in Latin music before though — see Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.) There are commercial advantages for singers who are publicly smitten: Anuel and Karol G are planning a 15-date tour starting in March.
While the couple films more toothbrushing escapades in major Latin American cities, Rivera and De La Prida will look to continue their own quiet hot streak. The two producers were credited on Bad Bunny’s “Ser Bichote,” which appeared on his surprise Christmas Eve release X100Pre. They are helping Farruko finish an upcoming album. And they will presumably contribute to Anuel’s next full-length as well. “People keep telling me, ‘you ended the year with a bang!'” the Rivera says happily. “And then you started again with another bang!”