Romeo Santos has sold out four shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden in a single month. His 2012 solo debut, “Formula Vol. 1,” was the top-selling Latin album of the year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, producing five No. 1s on Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart and tying a record set by Enrique Iglesias. He’s had seven No. 1s on Latin Airplay, including the recent “Propuesta Indecente” (Indecent Proposal), which topped the chart last October. Nonetheless, outside of the Latin music world, he’s mostly unknown.
“I still feel like I’m the underdog,” Santos says weeks before sophomore album “Formula Vol. 2” arrives Feb. 25 on Sony Music Latin. “You have Latin artists that have done crossovers — Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin — but I’ve never been interested in that. You have to sit [people] down and explain, ‘This is one of the biggest guys in Latin.’ You got to sell it to them, like, ‘Come into my world.'”
That world is bachata, the traditional Dominican genre that Santos, as both a solo artist and frontman of hit-making quartet Aventura for more than a decade, almost single-handedly took global by infusing it with great songwriting, R&B and hip-hop influences and the bicultural sensibility of a Dominican-American born and raised in the United States.
Santos shows off his roots in Dr Pepper’s new “One of One”campaign, which highlights unique individuals. The campaign will feature Santos in a series of TV spots in both Spanish and Spanglish, shot in front of the Bronx building where he was born and raised, that will air on general-market and Spanish-language networks throughout the year.
“He represents what I think a lot of bicultural Hispanics are today — born and raised here but very true to his roots and his language,” says Olivia Vela, director of Hispanic brand marketing for Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
The campaign launch coincides with the marketing push behind “Vol. 2,” which features duets with Drake, Nicki Minaj, Carlos Santana and Marc Anthony, plus a hilarious spoken-word intro with Kevin Hart. Given that star power, the Dr Pepper partnership and Santos’ sales history — “Vol. 1” spent 17 weeks at No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart-the set could be the top-selling Spanish-language release of 2014. Santos, who flew to Miami for a day specifically to play the album for Billboard, has high expectations.
“When you do a continuation, two things can happen,” Santos says, explaining the album title, as he sits in the living room of his suite at the W Hotel in South Beach. “Either it’s bigger, or the first one was so big the second one will not get the recognition it should, even if it’s great. This was the most challenging, intense album I’ve ever produced-and I’ve never said that before.”
Despite the big talk, up close and personal, everything about Santos is low key. He’s dressed in jeans, a brown T-shirt and a beret. Only a sizable diamond stud in his left ear draws the eye. The modesty belies the big numbers-including 1.7 million followers on Twitter-that helped him land the Dr Pepper deal.
“We pitched a very precise presentation of what Romeo means for the U.S. Latino, and they listened,” Sony Music U.S. Latin managing director Nir Seroussi says. “We have data on what reactions Romeo provokes in the universe. That a [bachata] video like ‘Propuesta Indecente’ garnered 150 million YouTube views in four months, for example, is a very, very compelling story.”
Next up are two singles: “Odio” (Hate), his duet with Drake — who famously shouted out Aventura on his 2011 track “The Motto” — will hit U.S. radio on Jan. 27, and “Cancioncitas de Amor” (Little Love Songs) will be released in Latin America at the same time.
The simultaneous singles underscore Santos’ bicultural appeal. He’ll perform on ABC’s “The Bachelor” the week prior to the album’s release and appear on the “Premios Lo Nuestro” awards telecast and multiple general-market national shows. In March, he’ll begin an international tour that includes two dates at the Mexico City Arena (capacity: 22,000) — unheard of for a bachata act in Mexico — and later in the year will launch a stateside arena trek with support from Dr Pepper. Santos will also be featured in a massive ad campaign in New York that will plaster his image across 300 city buses, 150 train stations and billboards throughout the city, including Times Square.
For Sony Music Latin, whose roster includes multiple acts that straddle both mainstream and Latin markets and a growing number of acts signed jointly to mainstream and Latin labels, the Santos release could be a sign of things to come.
“We’ve put together a very effective plan,” Seroussi says. “Among Spanish-language releases, this is one of the few projects where we were able to tie all these incredible cross-market opportunities with impeccable timing.”
But to Santos, the most important thing is the music itself — and how his devoted fans react to it.
“If there’s a song that I feel passionate about but no one likes it, I don’t want it on my album,” he says. “I don’t do music for me. I do music for the people.”