“El mundo es grande,” sings J Balvin on “Mi Gente,” his mind-blowingly successful summer single, a collaboration with French artist Willy William. “Pero lo tengo en mis manos.” (For English speakers, that translates to “The world is big, but I hold it in my hands.”)
The 32-year-old Colombian reggaeton superstar, originally from Medellín, may be alluding to the connective power of social media, something he’s nimbly harnessed through massively followed Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram accounts that showcase his side career as a fashion icon. But anyone who’s followed Balvin’s musical endeavors over the past few years, or even just the success of “Mi Gente,” would be hard-pressed not to see a modicum of self-reflection in the line.
After all, the hard-grooving anthem has emerged as a chart-topping monster this summer, riding the No. 1 spot on Spotify’s Global Top 50 for almost a month (that’s a historic first for an all-Spanish-language track) and becoming the third-fastest video in YouTube history to reach 400 million views, behind Adele’s “Hello” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”
It would be disingenuous to call the track Balvin’s breakthrough — he had two runaway singles back in 2014 with “Ay Vamos” and “6 AM,” then another the next year with “Ginza.” However, “Mi Gente” is unmistakably a watershed moment for Latin music and reggaeton, a style with roots in Panama that became huge in Puerto Rico a decade ago but had largely faded from the mainstream by the time Balvin started delivering hits. His signature sound, which spices reggaeton with Colombian hip-hop beats and rock instrumentation, has made Medellín a mecca for reggaeton musicians — and transformed Balvin into a Mr. Worldwide figure even Pitbull would envy.
Ahead of the artist’s anticipated “Energía” tour, which brings him to the Boch Center Wang Theatre stage on Friday, the superstar spoke by phone about staying grounded and making statements in song.
Q. You’re about to embark on a US concert tour. How is it distinct from your “La Familia” tour back in 2015?
A. The tour is called “Energía,” and, [as such], it’s going to be very high-energy, first of all because I’m super grateful for everything that is going on in my career, and, secondly, because I’m grateful for the love that people have given us. It’s about giving our energy back to people.
Q. Are there any songs you’re particularly excited to perform?
A. The latest single. It came out, and it was a real smash called “Mi Gente.” I think people are just going to go crazy [when we perform it live]. And I just can’t wait. The last time I toured Europe and the United States was two or three years ago. It’s going to be a really good time.
Q. That single has brought you unprecedented success. How do you stay grounded amid all this newfound recognition?
A. I pay a lot of attention to the people I let surround me. I learn something from those people and from everyone — from other musicians, from people on the street. As long as I keep it real, I learn something from everyone. And when you view yourself as a student, and not as somebody who’s bigger, there is still learning that can be done every day, and that keeps you open-minded and more ready to learn about life and love.
Q. One of the songs on “Energía” the album — “Ginza” — earned you a Guinness World Record, for “Longest stay at number one on the US Hot Latin Songs chart by a single artist.” What was that like?
A. It’s a blessing. Honestly, I couldn’t have predicted it to begin with, just like I haven’t really been able to predict any of these moments that have happened, but it’s a blessing.
Q. In June 2015, you canceled a performance at the Miss USA pageant after learning it was owned by Donald Trump, who’d just launched his presidential campaign with a series of insults directed at undocumented Latino immigrants. Do you feel continued pressure today to speak out politically?
‘When you view yourself as a student, and not as somebody who’s bigger, there is still learning that can be done every day.’
A. I’m not really into politics — I’m more into the discussion of the human situation and our human race. Focusing on thinking about racism and discrimination, things like that, they do no good for nobody. Now, Trump is president, and it’s crazy to think that someone has succeeded in politics by just talking about discrimination. Basically, I just want to talk about love and how it can overcome boundaries. I want to discuss those more universal beliefs, not more politicized ideas. In 2017, it’s discouraging that it seems like we’re going backward. And that’s not just because of Trump, that’s because we as humans condone discrimination; it’s a human issue. It’s part of something bigger.
Q. Do you see your music as more an expression of those beliefs?
A. Absolutely. I just want people to be happy and inspired to come together, to know that dreams do come true, and that, beside that, it is important to know that you can do a lot of good for people, and spread love to other people, without needing discrimination at all.
At the Boch Center Wang Theatre, Friday, 8 p.m. Tickets start at $49, www.bochcenter.orgInterview was edited and condensed. Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.