NEW YORK — Steps from the gleaming lights of Times Square, acclaimed singer/songwriter Juanes was enthusiastic to discuss two new projects dear and near to him — his new documentary, “The Juanes Effect,” and his new ambitious visual album “Mis Planes Son Amarte.” Both projects come at a time of major change in the Latin music business as it attempts to adapt to new consumer habits such as reggaeton replacing traditional pop, the popularity of streaming platforms, the inevitable demise of the CD and how YouTube is becoming the new radio. With so much to assess, where does Juanes’s rock sound and image fit in this new era?
In a recent interview, one of Colombia's most beloved icons spoke of the cathartic effects of his new documentary and the ambitious expectations behind his new album,
But Juanes spoke frankly and gave us surprising answers on why he has never collaborated with fellow Colombian artist Shakira, his defiance about singing reggaeton and the reasons he will not do an English-language crossover.
Why Juanes hasn’t collaborated with Shakira
In today’s Latin music industry, the business is flooded with constant collaborations, sometimes one, two, even three artists on one record. If you look at the current Latin Billboard chart, you’ll see that five of the top ten records are collaborations. Juanes revels in it, evident by his many duets with music giants such as Tony Bennett, Juan Gabriel, Santana, Herbie Hancock, Juan Luis Guerra, Nelly Furtado and most recently Fonseca.
So how is it that the two biggest names in Colombian music history, Juanes and Shakira, have not yet collaborated?
“I don’t know either. I think it’s just we haven’t had the time yet to meet each other well,” says Juanes.
This answer is an interesting and intriguing one due to the popular belief that since they are both Colombian and essentially rose together to superstardom along the same timeline in the early aughts, that their paths would have naturally crossed with each other. “We know each other. We’ve had conversations in the past… five minutes, ten minutes,” says Juanes.
That is a very limited amount of time for two of Colombia’s national treasures who are inextricably linked to each other to not have developed some sort of musical friendship. There are so many inexhaustible cultural and career parallels between both that a collaboration seems like a natural fait accompli. Juanes agrees and believes that someday it will happen, but it cannot be forced.
“I respect her a lot and I really think she’s a very talented person and I think in the future, maybe, someday, but I don’t want to do it because of commercial reasons, I want to do it because it feels good, because it’s a good song and I want her to do the same. So if someday we’re on the same page, we can do it.”
What seems so ideal, so easy to unite, sometimes might take a lifetime to realize. Look at how long it took Al Pacino and Robert De Niro to collaborate in film or Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao to finally meet in the ring.
These dream moments can be electric and transcending for fans, but you also have to be heedful of the pressure for these duets to be extraordinary and not result in an underwhelming experience. Whatever time it takes and whatever circumstances need to occur, one thing is for sure — a Juanes/Shakira collaboration will be a global event.
The dilemma of singing in English
Colombian superstar Juanes has been singing in his native Spanish all his life, but in the U.S. more and more Latinos speak English as their primary language. This has created pressures among Latino record labels to keep up with changing trends by asking their artists to sing in English (i.e: Prince Royce, Nicky Jam) or collaborate with general market artists (i.e: Romeo Santos and Usher).
There is no better paradigm than the recent case of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Spanish-language hit “Despacito," which recently became the number one song on Billboard’s Hot 100 due to the addition of English-language lyrics courtesy of Justin Bieber.
Juanes, who has shunned singing in English before, doesn’t have an issue with the language or even speaking it, but he told NBC Latino that for him, the issues is about songwriting. “I can’t write music in English, it’s impossible, it’s very hard for me. I still think in Spanish and I feel comfortable singing and talking in Spanish.”
Nevertheless, Juanes does recognize that gaining new fans will take a more robust effort on his part to break from the constraints of monolingual singing. “Goodbye For Now,” his first English language song off of his latest album “Mis Planes Son Amarte,” is a clear statement he has not fallen on deaf ears.
“Goodbye For Now” is the first step and we want to continue doing it like this, one song here, one song after, but not go 100 percent,” says Juanes. “I really want to sing in Spanish, it’s good for me, but now I have my three kids born in the United States, they speak both languages and they enjoy it when they listen to me singing in English," though he said with a smile that sometimes the kids laugh at his English pronunciation.
Juanes and reggaeton: a match not made in heaven
When you turn on Spanish-language radio today, the ubiquitous dance beats of reggaeton, which began in the late 1990’s in Puerto Rico, are inescapable. It has surpassed and replaced traditional pop music from artists such as Paulina Rubio, Chayanne, Ricky Martin, Cristian Castro and Reik, among others, to become one of the most successful genres in Latin music.
But what does this mean for an artist like Juanes, whose socially-conscious rock and pop lyrics seem to be at odds with the misogynistic and macho-driven vibe of reggaeton? Must he give in to the pressures of having to adapt to the genre in order to stay relevant and sell albums?
“No, definitely not. Of course the pressure is somewhere, but I don’t want to do that, says Juanes. “I don’t want to follow the trends. I just want to do my music and I want to keep doing music the way I feel honestly. I love reggaeton music… my kids love reggaeton, but it’s more than just making a reggaeton song, you have to have the attitude of a reggaetonero, you know?”
Not every pop singer, though, has had to inhabit reggaeton attitudes to be successful. Enrique Iglesias, who had to leave behind his early trademark heart-wrenching ballads like “Hero” for perreo-like singles in order to stay competitive, has seen over a billion streams on Spotify due to the revamping of his sound.
Many other artists have also in one way or another adapted, forcefully or willingly, because to not to at least try could spell catastrophe in their careers. But Juanes insists reggaeton is not for him and his record label, Universal Music Latino, supports him.
“They know the way I think and they support me a lot and that’s something really special for me. Sometimes when you go to one of my songs through the radio, they ask for a duet with reggaeton and I say no, I mean thank you, I’m sorry, that’s fine.”