In the Spanish-speaking world, Prince Royce is already a brand-name superstar. He scored his first No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart with his 2010 debut at the age of 20. That song, “Corazon Sin Cara,” was a soft-focus ode to unconditional love that established Royce as a bachata heartthrob whose silken tenor and warmhearted attitude fit perfectly within the genre’s sentimental sound. Outside the Latin world, though, Royce and bachata, a folk genre born in the Dominican countryside, remain at the margins, despite both his and the genre’s runaway global popularity. So, three albums and a hits compilation later, Royce and his interminable dimples are taking a leap out of the bachata world: Double Vision, his first English-language album, is a mix of pop, R&B and EDM.
It’s not totally new ground for him: The Bronx-born Royce sings a song or two en Ingles — his first language — on all of his albums. But Double Vision is a real crossover effort, with barely a hint of bachata. He’s said his role models for breaking into the non-Spanish market are Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, and it’s telling that the main single — the upbeat, reggaeton-inflected “Back It Up” — features Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez, two fellow first-generationers who have made themselves into global urban-pop money machines while also preserving some semblance of their Latinidad. Royce does this too in some ways, infusing club and R&B sounds with hints of reggaeton and other Latin pop styles far flashier than bachata.
The album title seems to refer to these dual sides of his identity — his two tongues, his two cultures. But on the electro title track with Tyga, he turns out to be referencing two girlfriends. Throughout the album, even with the new sounds and language, he keeps the topics firmly in his amorous wheelhouse — “Go ahead, lie to me, I won’t judge you!” he sings on one of the lustier numbers, “Lie to Me.” Still, it’s on Double Vision‘s darker, clubbier tracks where he excels, perhaps inspired by the challenge and novelty of a new sound. The album’s two best tracks, “Handcuffs” and “Dangerous” featuring Kid Ink, explore the limits of fidelity, pairing Royce’s heart-fluttering vocals with futuristic club rhythms.
While singles “Back It Up” and the 112-referencing, Snoop Dogg-featuring “Stuck On a Feeling” have yet to catch on in a big way, other tracks have hit potential, acknowledging his Latin pedigree while looking forward: “Seal It With a Kiss” is a RedOne production with a humid reggaeton slant, “There for You” is a ballad with Spanish guitars, and “Lucky One” winks at bachata with guira percussion and a soft theme, but ends up in electric guitar-driven power-ballad territory.
Even in English, even without bachata, Royce hasn’t lost what makes him special: his ability to emote, to deliver lyrics as though he believes them vehemently and make the listener do the same. It’s a skill that’s salient in any language. Whether it’s right that a big star in the Spanish-speaking world should have to sing in English to cross over is another issue — and one that’s much bigger than pop music. But if all you really need to break through are a couple of heater singles and a winning smile, Royce has already got this in the bag.