Reggaetón is a realm populated by duos: Alexis y Fido, Zion y Lennox, Jowell y Randy, RKM y Ken-Y.
A decade ago, the field was even more crowded, with dozens of duos, many now defunct. Among them all, none has withstood the test of time like Wisin y Yandel, whose popularity and willingness to evolve have earned the act eight No. 1s on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart, more than any other Latin urban act. By the same token, no other reggaetón duo has sold nearly as much: Wisin y Yandel's debut album, 2005's "Pa'l Mundo," has moved 657,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Now, Wisin y Yandel are poised to notch their ninth No. 1 on the chart with "Follow the Leader," a mostly English-language track featuring Jennifer Lopez that signals the duo's intention of aiming for a bigger mainstream audience.
The single, the first from the pair's upcoming set, "Lideres," due July 3 on Machete/Universal Music Latin Entertainment, is one of three bilingual tracks on the album. The other two are the next single, "Algo Me Gusta de Ti" (featuring Chris Brown and T-Pain), and a bilingual remix of Timbaland's song "Pass at Me."
"We're working, opening doors," says Wisin (real name: Juan Luis Morera Luna). "It's part of a strategy we've been working on for two years, thinking of opening markets in different places. That's why the sound of the album is varied. We really thought about producing an album not just for Latins or for South America, but for the world."
The expansion goes beyond the music. Aside from hitting the road with Lopez and Enrique Iglesias this summer on a massive North American tour, Wisin y Yandel are working on a TV show for new Latin cable channel Mundo Fox and partnering with Macy's on a clothing line, Los Lideres. But the launch pad is definitely "Follow the Leader."
Wisin and Yandel (real name: Llandel Veguilla Malave) have collaborated with mainstream artists before. "Our forte is the Latin marketplace, and we're extremely proud of being Latin," Wisin says. "But reaction to our [past] collaborations with 50 Cent, Chris Brown and now J.Lo has been very good." Their collaborations have yielded two No. 1s on the Hot Latin Songs chart with Iglesias, as well as the high-profile 50 Cent feature "Mujeres En el Club," the first single off 2009's La Revolucion.
Core Latin acts-from Alejandro Fernandez to Daddy Yankee-have long recorded with mainstream acts, and the trend is accelerating, thanks to Pitbull (an almost assured hit ingredient) and Iglesias. But the exposure garnered by Wisin y Yandel through their Lopez duet may be unprecedented. Not only did the duo perform with Lopez on this year's "American Idol" finale-putting the pair before millions of viewers who had likely never heard of the act-but Wisin y Yandel will also reach broader audiences when they open for the Lopez/Iglesias North America tour that begins July 14 in Montreal, just 11 days after their album release.
In addition, the action-packed "Follow the Leader" video directed by Jessy Terrero and featuring Lopez and the duo hopping from buildings ostensibly during a Secret Service chase, has garnered more than 21 million YouTube views since its May 4 release on Vevo. That traffic, in turn, was aided by a May 3 Twitter video premiere that was pushed by tweets from a host of celebrity "friends," including Iglesias, Kim Kardashian and Ellen DeGeneres.
"Jennifer was integral in the marketing of the song," says the duo's manager, Edgar Andino of the Andino Marketing Group. "She's co-author on the song; she worked in making the video happen and getting sponsors."
The sponsor list was impressive, beginning with the tourism office of Acapulco, Mexico, where the video was shot, which will use footage for a commercial promoting tourism to the area. Other sponsors that helped defray the $1 million-plus price tag (according to Andino) include BlackBerry, Rémy Martin, Under Armour and Dodge. All have product placement in the video.
Lopez and Wisin y Yandel had never met, but, Wisin says, "Frio," a track that the duo recorded with Iglesias, was a favorite of hers. "And a cousin of hers who baby-sat for her kids always went to our shows at the Staples Center [in Los Angeles] and spoke about us. So there was a connection even though we didn't know it."
It all came full circle through AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, who has a long history with Wisin y Yandel.
"Edgar [Andino] called me and said they had a song for their album that he thought would be perfect for Jennifer, and asked if I would set him up with Benny Medina [Lopez's manager]," Phillips recalls. "I said, 'Absolutely.' Benny hadn't heard of them and I explained the kind of business they did and I put them together. So the relationship started from the song, not from the tour."
The Lopez track rounded off an album that is overall slicker and more pop-leaning than previous Wisin y Yandel fare.
"Their goal was to create a record with a bigger, more international sound," Universal Music Latino/Machete GM Luis Estrada says. "The new album is fueled by dance beats and rhythms that show that Wisin y Yandel are much more than the urban reggaetón duo that they were in 2005. Our marketing for this album includes understanding that we have major pop songs with crossover potential and working hand in hand with the group and management to look for opportunities that will expose the songs to the general market."
To that end, sister label Universal Music Republic will work the Lopez and Brown/T-Pain tracks on mainstream top 40 radio (which has yet to happen with "Follow the Leader") while Universal Music Latino/Machete continues to work the track on Latin stations.
The next step is the 22-date tour that runs through Aug. 31, which Phillips describes as "almost like a mini-festival." He adds, "I thought the contrast with Enrique - more a rock show - and J.Lo, more a dance act-would really work. And Wisin y Yandel really address the Latin audience."
"It opens the door for new fans to be exposed to Wisin y Yandel," Andino says. "If you look at Jennifer and Enrique, they've never toured by themselves, and we've done so for five years. But this tour gives us markets we had never been in."
And it allows Universal to develop different sales strategies. "We are planning to work hand in hand with AEG to seek any opportunities for promotional activities in the various cities that not only help push ticket sales but also album sales and digital downloads," Estrada says. "Our goal is to sell the new album in selected venues throughout the tour and take advantage of Wisin y Yandel's dynamic stage performance and make the album quickly accessible to the fans in attendance."
Among other things (and, following the example of labelmate Don Omar), Wisin y Yandel will take photographs with 200 fans at each concert venue and make in-store appearances in select cities.
"We're at a point where people want to see us," Wisin says. "The loss of physical sales is related to the fact that many successful acts hide and aren't accessible. We're not going to lose being close to our fans."
Visibility and accessibility shouldn't be an issue. In addition to the album and the tour, the duo's Los Lideres clothing line, designed by Marc Ecko and currently available on Wisin y Yandel's and Ecko's websites, will be distributed by Macy's beginning July 14, Andino says. A print campaign is in the works for the line, which includes T-shirts, jackets and jeans for men. The clothing line, which was originally developed in 2010, is affordable, with the top-selling item being a hoodie that retails for approximately $69.
Following their appearance on "American Idol," Wisin y Yandel are developing a show for Mundo Fox that will launch in the United States in August. Andino likens the program to "Entourage," "but for Latinos and based around music."
Indeed, Andino says, despite the crossover opportunities, the duo remains-and will remain-a Latin act.
"The way the world is becoming smaller and smaller, and stations going bilingual, it made sense to come out with something like this," Andino says of the albums and singles. "It's Wisin y Yandel. They speak Spanish. That's what they do. But we want people to be able to choose. And maybe that new fan base we're getting will make people want to listen to them in English or Spanish. But at the end of the day, Wisin y Yandel are Spanish-speaking artists."