It’s not unusual for Romeo Santos to make history. And with only one week to go before the 2015 Billboard Latin Music Awards, it’s worth pointing out that the 33-year-old bachata idol holds the all-time record for most nominated artist ever at the awards.
This year alone, Santos leads the pack with 21 entries in 16 categories. Not only is Santos a top contender this year, he’s also performing on the April 30 show, along with other A-listers like Juanes and Jennifer Lopez (check out the most recent lineup of performers here).
Before the show, Santos will sit down with Billboard’s Leila Cobo for an exclusive interview taking place April 28 from The Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach as part of the Billboard Latin Music Conference. The Q&A will touch on the success of his album Formula, Vol. 2, his appearance in the films Furious 7 and Angry Birds, his social strategy, his two sold-out Yankee Stadium shows, his appeal as a bilingual Latino and his upcoming tour, among other subjects.
And that’s not all — on April 27, he will perform at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, kicking off The Today Show‘s Latin-centric concert series, “Viva Today.” The performance will be simulcast on both NBC and Telemundo.
As we gear up for the biggest week in Latin music (and a week filled with lots of Romeo Santos) here are 21 essential facts about the one they call the king of bachata, who continues to break ground in music and beyond.
1. Anthony Santos was born on July 21, 1981, in the Bronx, New York, to a Dominican father who worked construction and a Puerto Rican stay-at-home mother. He credits his parents with instilling strong values in him, which would later help him navigate the music industry’s choppy waters and maintain his humility. “I grew up in a neighborhood that had a lot of things to offer, good and bad,” he says in a self-uploaded interview on his Vevo page. “I never really got permission to be in show business and I understand why. They [my parents] feared that their good boy was going to end up doing drugs or God knows what. But I grew up with so many good principles and morals that it just stayed in my system.”
2. He discovered bachata at the age of 10 or 11, right around the same time he started singing in a church choir.
3. Although he fell in love with his parents’ music, Santos’ early influences ran the gamut from Juan Gabriel to hip-hop. He was particularly fond of Julio Iglesias growing up. “Since I have a soft-toned voice, I always loved the guy’s voice, his swagger,” he says in another promo video on his Vevo page.
4. His stage name was inspired by Shakespeare’s classic character, an alternative to the admittedly shy person that is Anthony, or Tony, as he’s known to friends and family. “My fans love me; they’ve made me this sex symbol,” Santos recently told Vulture. “I don’t feel I am, but they feel that way. They find me attractive, like I’m a sexy dude. I try my best to make them believe the illusion. I make them all my girlfriends. I just express to each and every one of them every chance I get that I have millions of girlfriends, my fans.”
5. In the early ‘90s, Santos formed a straight-ahead bachata group called Los Teenagers de la Bachata with Lenny Santos (no relation to Romeo). He sang, composed and produced while Lenny assumed the role of guitarist/arranger. While playing the local festival circuit in New York, the group met Julio Cesar Garcia, a Dominican producer who revamped the group’s concept, renamed it Aventura, added bassist/arranger Max “Mickey” Agende Santos (Lenny’s brother) and singer Henry Santos Jeter (Romeo’s cousin). The band then embraced a younger sound and look.
6. It was Europe that first opened its doors to Aventura. The band’s breakthrough hit, 2002’s “Obsesión,” at first didn’t appear on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart stateside. In Europe, its original Spanish-language version (a Spanglish version was eventually recorded) was a sensation, hitting No. 1 in countries including France, Germany, Italy and Austria.
7. In Santos’ own words, Aventura “made bachata cool.” Prior to the band, the genre appealed mostly to an older generation of Dominicans. But by infusing its music with an urban sensibility — both visual and aural — Aventura connected not only with the music’s hardcore fans, but also with a new generation of listeners that identified with the group’s bilingual, bicultural makeup.
8. In 2010, Aventura sold out four nights at Madison Square Garden — a historic feat. “If you ask me what’s Aventura’s forte, I’ll obviously say its capacity to deliver hits,” Romeo told Billboard then. “But not all artists who deliver hits sell tickets. Growing up, I was always trying to catch a great show. And that’s where I learned an artist gets respect. That’s what makes people talk. We’ve learned so much throughout the years. We sounded horrible at first. But when I went onstage I was always trying to entertain people.”
9. His manager, Johnny Marines, is a retired New York police sergeant who began working security detail for Aventura before stepping up — at Romeo’s request — to handle the group in the early ’00s.
10. In 2011, Santos released his solo debut album Formula Vol. 1, which experimented with R&B and flamenco, and featured crossover collaborations with Usher and Lil Wayne. It was certified three times platinum by the RIAA and peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums, spending a total of 55 weeks on the chart.
11. In 2014, for Santos’ sophomore album Formula Vol. 2, both Drake and Nicki Minaj jumped on the bachata bandwagon, recording “Odio” and “Animales,” respectively, and choosing to sing bits in Spanish.
12. He once recorded an anti-bullying song, “No Tiene La Culpa,” inspired by friends who have been bullied throughout their lives for being gay.
13. He is a proud father to a 14-year-old kid, Alex, from a past relationship. But he’s not sure if he believes in marriage, telling Latina, “I think marriage works for some people, but I just don’t think it could work for me. I don’t see it. And, I mean, I’m 32. I feel like the best relationships I’ve been in are those where things were more laid-back. You know, it’s just a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to do with feelings. And I think marriage can sometimes turn things into a business.”
14. In July 2014, Santos sold out two shows at Yankee Stadium, the first time in over 40 years that a Latin artist has headlined the field. The Fania Allstars last did so in 1973. Santos brought his former Aventura bandmates onstage for an unexpected reunion, as well as special guests Marc Anthony, Prince Royce and Bernie Williams.
15. With more No. 1 chart hits than any other Latin music artist this decade, Santos closed out 2014 with his 10th No. 1 single as a soloist; this in addition to previous hits as the lead singer of Aventura.
16. In March 2015, Santos won songwriter of the year at the ASCAP Latin Music Awards, honoring the most-performed ASCAP Latin songwriters of the year. It was his fifth time winning the award.
17. He just made his Hollywood debut in the blockbuster Furious 7, now the seventh highest grossing film of all time. Check out what he had to say about his acting jitters and his bromance with Vin Diesel here.
18. In July 2016, you’ll see him in the film adaptation of the video game Angry Birds.
19. He was the first bachata artist to perform at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2014. The NBC broadcast event pulled in an audience of 22.6 million.
20. In 2009, he was invited to singing at The White House. He did so again in 2014, as part of the special “A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House,” hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In his most recent performance, Santos gave a stirring rendition of “José,” a song he penned in 2006 about a young Latino, husband, father, and soldier “ready to go to war for his country.”