In the years since the collapse of One Direction, there’s been a surge of boy bands all over the world — among them groups like BTS, PrettyMuch and Why Don’t We. Now with all-Latino group CNCO entering the fray, the Spanish-language music industry has an opportunity to show its mettle amid a new wave of pop superstars. Diverging from the fandom of predominantly white boy band lineups of the 1990s and 2000s, fans seem no longer content with the anglophone boy bands of yesteryear; which makes CNCO, whose members come from different backgrounds in the Latinx community, primed for a global takeover.
In some ways, the band’s crossover potential begins with its name: “CNCO,” which stands for “cinco,” isn’t pronounced as such. It’s C-N-C-O. “We wanted to say ‘C-N-C-O’ so it could be more like a universal, global type of name, where people can get it very fast, and [it’s] pretty easy to pronounce,” explains band member Joel Pimental.
Comprised of Pimentel (20), Richard Camacho (22), Erick Brian Colón (18), Christopher Vélez, and Zabdiel De Jesús (21), CNCO have been steadily expanding their footprint since the group’s formation in 2015, during the Simon Cowell-created and Ricky Martin-produced Spanish-language singing competition, La Banda. Like One Direction, the Latin five-piece met and came together as a group through the reality TV competition; yet while One Direction ultimately came in third place on The X Factor, CNCO won.
With four years as a band under their belts and little push from anglophone music press, CNCO began selling out venues stateside earlier this year. Their first two albums, 2016’s Primera Cita and 2018’s CNCO, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. Earlier this year, CNCO won in all three categories they were nominated in at the Billboard Latin Music Awards: “Latin Pop Artist of the Year, Duo or Group,” “Latin Pop Album of the Year,” and “Latin Rhythm Artist of the Year, Duo or Group.”
While CNCO became a sensation in Spanish-language countries very early on, it wasn’t until 2017 that they first dabbled in Spanglish with a remix of their single, “Reggaetón Lento (Bailemos),” featuring Little Mix; then again with a Meghan Trainor- and Sean Paul-assisted remix of “Hey DJ” in 2018. According to CNCO, the Spanglish in their music needed to sound “genuine” and “not forced”; so they took things a step further in February, with the release of “Pretend” — their very own first Spanglish single — a move that seemed to signal an obvious shift toward the English-language market.
“It was more to just to test the waters because we have so many non-Spanish speaking fans,” Camacho says of the track. The song happens to sample “Rhythm of the Night” from DeBarge, which referenced the band members’ childhoods, recalling their family members singing the song in the living room. But CNCO didn’t want to abandon the Spanish language in their track. “To be recording it just in English, it didn’t feel like [you could] dance to it, so we had to add our Spanish into it. It just became very Spanglish as we’re all kind of Spanglish now,” he adds.
CNCO kicked off their next foray into Spanglish songwriting with their latest single, “De Cero” — a track that details starting from scratch with a girl and making it work. And with its release, the band is inching closer to a full-on global crossover. They’ve even approached the sound differently than with their other songs and albums; CNCO enlisted Colombian producers Icon Music, with whom they wrote and recorded three songs on their latest album: “No Me Sueltes,” “Mamita” and “Bonita.”
Of course, on the surface, it would be easy to compare CNCO to Menudo, but the quintet has taken cues from a gamut of boy bands that reach beyond the 1980s Puerto Rican group. From One Direction, CNCO has been inspired by the way that they act on stage and interact with their fans; they’ve also been heavily influenced by ‘NSync’s dancing skills. “We take little tips in the way that [these bands] handle themselves so that we can adapt to how the music industry is now, and where our roads go,” says Camacho. CNCO even acknowledges that previous works by Backstreet Boys and ‘Nsync helped inform their 2018 track, “Fiesta en Mi Casa.” The group, however, maintains that their harmony just naturally comes from being a boy band.
Though CNCO has found inspiration from boy bands of the past, their shared Latinidad has been central to establishing themselves as a group of their own; and with all band members coming from completely different cultures and backgrounds, they bring more widespread Latino representation to the mainstream pop landscape. De Jesús is from Puerto Rico; Vélez is from Ecuador; Colón is from Cuba; born in New York, Camacho grew up in the Dominican Republic, and Pimental, who was raised in California, is of Mexican descent. “That has been like a mark of CNCO—we’re [a] boy band that has different cultures, different nationalities, so I think that has an effect on a lot of our fans because everybody can relate,” says Camacho. Most importantly, he thinks their band also helps unite the Latin community as a whole: “I see that as what we do and who we are.”