Eslabon Armado
Latin

Chartbreaker: Inside Eslabon Armado’s No. 1 Three-Peat

Thanks to a flood-the-market strategy, the regional Mexican teen trio scored three consecutive chart-topping albums in 2020 -- saving its darkest project for last.

By early December 2020, rising trio Eslabon Armado had released its first two albums — and they both hit No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart. They also entered the top 10 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart: its February debut, Tu Veneno Mortal, peaked at No. 7, and its July release, Vibras de Noche, debuted at No. 1, scoring the biggest week for a regional Mexican album that year.

“I saw it coming,” says Angel Del Villar, founder/CEO of DEL Records, the independent label home to Eslabon Armado. “When I first heard [the Tu Veneno Mortal single] ‘Con tus Besos,’ I was like, ‘This is not a hit, it’s a f--king meteorite.’” (The track peaked at No. 3 on the Regional Mexican Airplay chart in September.) Eager to maintain momentum, Eslabon Armado went for a hat trick, delivering a third album, Corta Venas, on Dec. 18 that debuted at No. 2 on Top Latin Albums with the second-biggest week for a regional Mexican album in terms of overall units, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.

The rapid-fire pace — especially for the genre — is all part of Del Villar’s plan to make the teen trio 21st century regional Mexican pioneers: “It’s not like the old days, when you could release one album a year,” says Del Villar. “Now, you release one album, and [fans] want another.” Adds lead vocalist Pedro Tovar: “As young artists, we can adapt more easily than the older generation of musicians. That’s the advantage we have.”

Nolwen Cifuentes
From left: Eslabon Armado's Brian Tovar, Pedro Tovar and Gabriel Hidalgo photographed by Nolwen Cifuentes on Dec. 16, 2020 at DEL Records in Bell Gardens, Calif.

Based in Patterson, Calif., Eslabon Armado — brothers Pedro (18, lead vocalist) and Brian Tovar (17, bass and bajoloche), along with friend Gabriel Hidalgo (19, harmony and background vocals) — started recording music in the Tovars’ garage in early 2019. The Tovar brothers kept running into Hidalgo, who was in another band at the time, at a handful of hometown gigs, playing mostly weddings and quinceañeras; after learning Gabriel was familiar with their music, they asked him to join.

The group immediately stood out for its sierreño ballads, which fuse the style’s traditional acoustic guitar with electric bass. Del Villar signed the act later in 2019, with Pedro and Brian’s mother staying on as the band’s manager.

The name Eslabon Armado ("a united chain") was given to them by Pedro and Brian's father, who first inspired Tovar to start writing songs. "My dad used to help this music group back in the day when we lived in the Bay Area," Pedro previously told Billboard. "He started listening to sierreña music [popular in the northern states of Mexico], and that's when my passion for music started. He would write songs, not professionally, and I started to write, too. I was, like, 10 years old."

Now, Pedro mostly writes about personal heartbreak and plucks inspiration from romantic films, but on Corta Venas — which includes covers of Gianluca Grignani’s 1995 pop-rock hit “Mi Historia Entre Tus Dedos” and Banda El Recodo’s 2019 track “La Mejor de Todas” — the original lyricism goes deeper, and gets a bit darker. “It gives me a Fifty Shades of Grey vibe,” Pedro told his more than 300,000 followers on TikTok a month before the release of Corta Venas (which translates to “cutting veins'' in English). The frontman explained that he’d been writing songs ever since their last album arrived, but wanted to time this new release to winter, “when people are sad.”

Eslabon Armado will continue with its more-is-more strategy this year, already teasing new music to arrive in the coming months. “Exactly what I saw in [‘Con tus Besos’] is what happened with the band, too,” Del Villar says of the group’s quick ascent. “Eslabon represents a new wave of regional Mexican. They’re not singing corridos, they’re singing ballads – and ballads will always penetrate.”

A version of this article will appear in the Jan. 16, 2021 issue of Billboard.