The Latino Remix: May the Real J.B. Please Stand Up?

Unless you follow J Balvin on Instagram or have watched the clips of his show at Calibash, you might be unaware of Justin Bieber and J Balvin’s collaboration, a remix of Justin Bieber’s #1 hit “Sorry” fittingly entitled “Sorry: The Latino Remix.” Released by Def Jam Records on November 6, 2015 as a brand new single complete with fresh album artwork, the track gives Bieber’s tune a bilingual spin. The song includes  J Balvin’s Spanish-language verse with the new hook, “Solo espero que me perdones/Nena, tengo tantas ganas de amarte.”Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 4.00.14 PM

Where is this new J.B./J.B. collaboration coming from? While this particular release has definitely had the most publicity, it is not the only bilingual “Latino remix” track coming out of U.S. pop radio. Other notable recent releases include a remix of Major Lazer’s “Lean On,” featuring once again J Balvin along with Farruko, as well as Fuego’s remix of Drake’s Hotline Bling entitled “Cuando Suena El Bling” (as if Drake’s bachata dance moves weren’t enough).

It is evident from this proliferation of “Latino Remixes,” coming from both sides of the language boundary that not only has Latin pop reached a new height of mainstream awareness, but, like every other form of cultural production, mainstream media has recognized the lucrative potential of the Latino audience. All it takes is a verse switch-up, perhaps with a few cumbia beats added for flavor, and the word “remix” tagged at the end, and we have ourselves a brand new hit that can take over mainstream Top 40, as well as Latin Pop audiences.

While this new cultural phenomenon is giving Latin Pop artists (whose names are not Enrique Iglesias or Shakira) the mainstream recognition they have gone without for decades, it is cringeworthy to consider the cut-and-paste technique used to target the Latino demographic. When we consider the quickie one-verse translations along with the word “remix” itself, perpetuating  the idea that this is just a small tweaking, a figurative disc-scratching used to (theoretically) capture the ears of entire population of Latino radio fans, the situation begins to feel uneasy. These artists are not producing original tracks specifically for their bi-cultural fans, but rather doing just enough editing to make an extra profit from what everyone has now recognized as hefty “Hispanic” buying power. Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.56.26 PM

On the other hand, the production of Latino Remixes, as I stated earlier, is not one-sided. Fuego’s “Cuando Suena El Bling” was not created from a Def Jam head hoping to make some extra cash, but a complete translation of the entire song, written by Fuego himself. Some Latino artists are also taking it upon themselves to create new works out of Top 40 hits, not simply being used as marketing tools but producing original works from these sources in an example of Latino artistic agency. They aredemonstrating the need for Latin pop artists to be recognized by U.S. mainstream media, especially considering how much Spanish music is played on U.S. radio stations.

Finally, what I find most interesting about the J.B./J.B. collaboration, is the MTV article’s headline “Justin Bieber Crashes J Balvin Concert to Remix ‘Sorry.’” While I know Bieber is internationally famous and has plenty of his own star power, it is interesting to witness Bieber being a guest on Balvin’s stage–an added extra to one of Latin America’s most famous music figures today. Fans went absolutely insane seeing the superstar combination before their eyes, a duo no one could have foreseen coming. The Latin American pop artist was not automatically superseded by his Anglo stage partner, and in L.A. we see the line blurring as to who “the real J.B.” is for American music fans. That night, we witnessed the unprecedented mainstream recognition given to Latin Pop in United States, something I hope continues in the future.

Other remixes to check out:
Maroon 5 «Maps» Rumba Whoa Remix feat. J Balvin
Na Na Remix – Gush Monee
Ayo (Latino Remix) – La Mafia del Amor

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