Nobody cuts off Juan Gabriel. After performing a rousing mariachi number at November's Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, it turns out the 61-year-old Mexican entertainer/composer was just getting warmed up. As the lights dimmed, one of his guitarists handed the singer a full glass of something—Tequila? Cognac? Even if it had been apple juice, it wouldn't have mattered. He took a swig and raised the glass. "To everyone who's in jail . . . get out soon. That's an order," he proclaimed before launching into "¿Por Qué Me Haces Llorar?," one of his oft-covered classics and the single from his first new album in seven years, the self-titled "Juan Gabriel," due May 4. "Why do you make me cry and mock me if you know very well I don't know how to suffer?" he belted, gesticulating wildly to the music as the liquid sloshed out of his glass and onto his purple brocade jacket, which was augmented by a pink vest. He sang the lyric, "I'm going to get drunk," shaking his glass for emphasis. More spillage. He finished the verse—"Let them know that I drank today and got drunk today over you"—and sent what was left in the glass over his head and down his throat.

Gabriel's "divo" theatrics quickly lit up YouTube. He wound up performing that night for more than 30 minutes, sending Univision cameramen and security guards scurrying to keep up with him as he did laps around the Mandalay Bay Events Center, soaking up love from the fans he'd had on their feet since the beginning of his set. His show-stealing antics pushed the live broadcast well beyond its scheduled run time and, according to Nielsen Media Research, led to the highest-rated quarter-hours of the broadcast. "He was supposed to play as much as he felt he needed to," Latin Recording Academy president Gabriel Abaroa says.

"Work is my best friend," Gabriel explains to Billboard a few months later. "When I have the opportunity to work, I organize a whole party—like what you perhaps saw at the Grammys."

Gabriel (born Alberto Aguilera Valadez) is 40 years into a career that has spanned styles from pop to bolero to regional Mexican, and his upcoming studio album is one of the year's priority releases from Fonovisa in the United States and Universal in Latin America. Six of its songs were written by Gabriel and originally made famous by other singers—but never recorded by him—and five are new.

Gabriel has his own rationale for releasing a mariachi album now...

Click here for the full Gabriel feature which includes details of his new album, Fonovisa's aggressive marketing effort behind the project and more.


For information on this year's Billboard Latin Music Conference, live from Puerto Rico, takes place April 26-29 at the Conrad San Juan Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. To register, please visit billboardlatinconference.com.