A few days before the Super Bowl, the usually affable J Balvin seems preoccupied. He’s barely speaking, quietly answering questions from a small crew of assistants and distracting himself with a round of Pac-Man. He systematically pulls the lever on a vintage arcade machine inside his sparsely decorated trailer at the Hard Rock Stadium, located just outside of Miami proper, while wearing a black hoodie emblazoned with the words “Made in Medellín.” Come Sunday, when the Colombian reggaetón star will perform his global hit “Mi Gente” during an explosive set by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez that’ll be watched by over 100 million people, he’ll wear the same one — a billboard for his own success.
The door to the trailer opens. “They’re here,” says Matt Paris, the young Colombian singer Balvin just signed to his new label, Vibras, which Universal Music Latino — Balvin’s main home — is in talks to distribute. Balvin, 34, opens a nearby Nike box and pulls out a pair of rainbow Air Jordans that he designed, which will be widely available this summer — the first time the sports brand has collaborated with a Latin artist on a shoe design, he says. “This is a big cultural deal,” he adds, and suddenly it’s as if the clouds in his head have parted. He starts to grin as he affixes his logo — a yellow smiley face with thunderbolt eyes — to his heel before popping over to the trailer next door, where he shows off his footwear to his pal Bad Bunny, also slated for a halftime-show cameo. Balvin ambles to the field, shaking hands and waving at Lopez’s young dancers, who whisper his name and giggle when he passes. Just as Shakira begins to rehearse, the artist born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín — who has, until now, never been to an American football game in his life — turns around and tightly hugs his longtime co-manager, Fabio Acosta.