It’s safe to say that J Balvin leads one charmed life. The Medellín-born artist entered 2020 as a second-time Grammy nominee for 2019’s Oasis, his joint album with Puerto Rican comrade Bad Bunny. At the year’s onset, Balvin’s reggaeton-house single featuring the Black Eyed Peas, “Ritmo (Bad Boys for Life),” had topped several charts across the globe, from the U.S. to Romania. Then at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, where Jennifer Lopez and Shakira proudly flaunted their Latinidad before millions of American viewers, Balvin was there to preach the gospel of the New Latino Gang, or, the next generation of Latin pop geniuses.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Felíz cuarentena, everybody,” Balvin tells Rolling Stone, however sardonically, from his home in Medellín, where he’s been camped out for days. It’s not lost on the 34-year-old that he dropped his fourth studio album, Colores, in the midst of a global health and humanitarian crisis. In lieu of throwing the usual album launch bacchanal expected of a reggaeton star, Balvin has instead invited all 37.6 million of his Instagram followers inside his luxe home in Colombia — but only virtually. In the week since releasing Colores, he’s hosted meditation sessions and video chats with friends via Instagram Live. The day after we speak on the phone, he indulges his “I Like It” co-star Cardi B in a Colombian alt-rock singalong; together, they sing fragmented lines from Juanes’ 2004 rockero anthem, “La Camisa Negra.”
“We have to learn how to promote music in this moment,” he says. “I’ve always been competitive; I want to make records, and sell them. But I’m [saving] that competitive vibe for another time. It’s time to bring more color to the world.”
How have you been spending your quarantine?
Well normally when I drop an album, we’ll throw a huge party, I’ll do all these interviews, I’ll go to Jimmy Fallon. But everything was canceled, you know? I’m doing some Instagram Live [videos], which I think is dope and different. This is what we have, so I’m gonna play with it.
Are you with family?
I’m at my house in Medellín, with the team. My mom and my dad are in their house — I told them not to go anywhere. My dad came over and surprised me with balloons, because of the album launch and everything. I was happy, but at the same time I was like, “What are you doing here, man? ¡Quédate en casa!” Just be precautious. I know they do it for the love of course, and I love them so much. But I want them to be OK, too.
You have become the zen master of reggaeton. What would you recommend people do for their peace of mind right now during this crisis?
I’m just a student learning every day… But I learned that you really have to connect with yourself. I meditate twice a day. I can’t deny that sometimes I get frustrated… But then I’m grateful that I have a place to sleep, food to eat, people to talk to. I’m healthy. So I start from being grateful. When you start by being grateful for every little detail, then you see how blessed you are. Do exercise. I mean, you can also do pushups in your house, just walk around the room. You don’t need a gym. But your body and your mind have to be connected.
Your last solo album, Vibras, sounded so international — it was hard to place. But in Colores, especially in songs like “Azul” and “Gris,” we get the character of Medellín. I think it’s in the guitar sounds.
We recorded mostly in Medellín, but we also took the album to New York and Miami. I want to take reggaeton to new and different places. I want this album to keep making reggaeton more global.
That global mindset came through the strongest in “Arcoíris,” with [Nigerian artist] Mr Eazi. You also collaborated with him on “Como Un Bebé” from Oasis — in these songs you connect Latin music with its African roots.
That’s what we need! That’s why the song’s called “Arcoíris,” because it’s a mix of colors. Mixing Afrobeats and reggaeton. Mr Eazi, myself, Michael Brun on the production… We want to keep refreshing the game. I’m so proud of being Latino, but besides that, we need to take Latino Gang to another level. Hopefully one day people will embrace that. We make music for the world.
You invited a few producers to collaborate in Medellín, including Diplo, Michael Brun and Tainy — but you also had some fun. What did you guys do there?
We went to a friend’s farm to work on the album. We were also playing football, driving motorcycles and four wheelers. After all that came the music. We had to enjoy the process of doing the album, too.
What was one of the craziest moments you guys had together?
We got stuck on the motorcycles for hours. Diplo is definitely crazy, he’s a wild dude. [laughs] We got home and [realized] one of the producers got lost — this producer Dee Mad from Paris — and it took us four hours to find him.
Your most consistent producer, Sky Rompiendo, raps in the song “Verde.” Was this the first time he ever recorded his own vocals?
Absolutely, and he sounds super dope. And the beat is crazy too — in every beat is a different world. You will hear more from Sky real soon.
Can you tell me about making the video for “Rojo”? How did it feel to depict such a traumatic event [as a car crash]?
Everything I do with [director] Colin Tilley is just out of this world, it’s different, it’s fresh. Of course, with the theme being colors, we could play a lot. And when thinking of this video, of red… I saw fire. I’m grateful that [Tilley] connected the video to the way I dreamed it, and that people could feel connected to me when they see it. It’s about more than just the music — I want to make people to really think about what is life.
Would you consider ever acting in a movie?
One-hundred percent! But I know that acting is an art and we’ve got to respect every art — so if I do it, I would have to do it right.