J Balvin on His Record-Breaking Hit 'Ginza' and Working With Justin Bieber: 'We're Going to Make History'
J Balvin has yet to embark on a major arena tour or drop a top-charting album, but that's not stopping 2016's hottest reggaetonero. His single "Ginza" is the longest-running No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs by one artist (sans featured guests), at 22 weeks. Now the Colombia native, 30, is eyeing pop, hitting the studio with Pharrell Williams and Justin Bieber for his next LP, due in May on Capitol Latin.
Why do you think "Ginza" has been so successful?
I thought, why not go back to reggaeton? Because when all is said and done, it’s part of our culture as Latins. And finally, the song was so hooky, it worked. Let’s be honest, "Ginza" doesn't really have lyrics to speak of. It's a party track -- a party for reggaetoneros to come out of the closet. We made reggaeton cool again. On Shazam, we're No. 1 in India, Turkey, Nigeria -- all countries where there were no big Latin hits.
How did you come up with the song's name?
To tell you the truth, I used an Instagram filter called Ginza to share a snippet of the song -- I simply left the name in the caption in case anyone wanted to use the same filter. But everyone started calling the song "Ginza." And when I realized it was also the name of a district in Tokyo that's all about entertainment, I thought it was meant to be.
How's recording with Pharrell and Bieber?
I met Pharrell at the Today show. I played with my band and he stayed to listen to us. When I finished, he came up and said he loved what we were doing and gave me his phone number. Everything has been very organic, everyone very respectful toward our music. I met Justin backstage at the Special Olympics and it turned out his manager’s best friend is Colombian. These collaborations didn't come from some grand record label plan. With Pharrell, we're working on several songs; we've done two already. I'll see Justin soon, God-willing, and we're going to make history. There's new blood in Latin music!
Tell us about your upcoming album.
I’m doing everything I can to release it in May. And hopefully we can break down walls with it and have Latin music go mainstream. Obviously, there’s much to do, but it’s a beginning.
This story originally appeared in the March 19 issue of Billboard.