In 2007, long before Ricky Martin wrote his now famous letter declaring himself a "proud homosexual man," Christian Chávez, then a member of Mexican teen pop group RBD, came publicly out of the closet.
"Don't judge me for being honest," Chávez wrote in the group's website.
Apparently, no one is, judging by the monumental response to Chavez's newly-released video, "Libertad." Uploaded to YouTube on March 26, the glossy five minute-plus video notched over 1 million views in just three days, aided along the way by heavy props from Pérez Hilton, who has a cameo appearance.
"The video looks super sexy," gushed Hilton on his site. "It's inspired us to unleash our own LIBERTAD."
In the same vein as Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," "Libertad" (or "Feeedom"), a duet with former RBD-girl Anahí, is an ode to liberty of being and expression, and the video shows a leather-clad Anahí and Chávez partying in a surreal setting infused with drugs and alcohol. Interspersed with the party scenes and images of trailblazers like Harvey Milk and Martin Luther King, two young men find each other. Nothing truly over the top up until the close-ups of Chávez kissing that man, in a rare explicit gay scene in a Latin music video.
But the story of "Libertad" goes way beyond simple provocation. In the wake of Rebecca Black, it emphasizes how popularity is not necessarily associated with album sales or even single sales and in a strictly business sense, it highlights a completely different way of releasing music, particularly in the Latin world.
When Chávez declared he was gay, RBD, signed to EMI Televisa, was in its prime. The group crammed 63,000 people into the Los Angeles Coliseum and sold over 2 million albums in the U.S. alone. Internationally, they were a sensation, selling out shows throughout Latin America, Brazil and Eastern Europe. But when the group made up of Anahí, Alfonso, Dulce María, Maite, Christopher and Chávez broke up in 2008, they found that selling albums solo was far from an easy task. To date, the top-selling ex RBD album has been Anahí's 2009 "Mi Delirio," which moved 11,000 copies according to Nielsen SoundScan. Chávez's solo debut on EMI, 2010 "Almas Transparentes," has only sold 1,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"I'd signed with EMI for four albums, but I think they had a totally different vision of me as an artist than what I wanted to convey," says Chávez, who is on tour in Brazil. "They wanted to take the safe route, not take risks, like I wanted to do."
Although Chávez had come out without incident or backlash, the fact is, at the time there was no blueprint on audience's reaction to a Spanish language release by an openly gay singer. "Almas" was mostly an album of gender-neutral ballads that included two songs Chávez co-wrote with Samo (of Mexican pop trio Camila). Left out was a third collaboration, "Libertad," deemed too over the top for the album.
After the release, Chávez parted ways amicably with EMI, and began having discussions with his manager, Gillermo Rosas (who formerly booked RBD in the U.S.) about his artistic direction. Although Cháves was working on an upcoming abum, they decided to release a single track that would be a sort of bridge between the previous album and the upcoming one.
As it turned out, Rosas' company, Los Angeles-based The Sixth House (T6H), had set up a joint venture label with peermusic in September of 2010 -- called peerT6H -- to release Christopher Von Uckerman, another RBD alumni signed to Rosas.
Although Chávez is signed as a songwriter with Warner Chappell, "We simply said 'we have a track, we have a label, let's put it out," said Yvonne Drazan, A&R director at peermusic. Drazan would not get into the details of peer's deal with Chávez and T6H, but says peer is acting as a label and has released the track to iTunes. There are plans to release a digital and physical EP in coming months, featuring remixes of "Libertad" by different DJs.
Although "Libertad" is catchy and danceable, the real hook is the video, which, according to Chávez, was paid for by management and himself and cost over $100,000, a pretty penny for Latin.
Showing risqué scenes, he says, was part of a decision to "go all the way." However, he adds, "everything you see there really happens. When young people are discovering their sexuality they live these things. And in the end, my character finds the other character and they find love in the wrong place. The message is a little that in life you go through tough times and finally make it through."
The clincher is Hilton, who Chávez met at a party in Las Vegas. The two kept in touch and when Chávez told him aobut the video, Pérez asked to be in it.
Next up, says Rosas, is releasing an EP by the end of April, and hopefully by year's end a full-fledged album.
The business model, he says, is up in the air, but mya end up being through the peer label and via different joint ventures with labels in different countries.