Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
Nicky Jam, once a promising reggaeton act who notched a handful of hits in the mid-’00s, saw his career derailed by drugs and alcohol precisely when the genre started to go mainstream. It would take him 10 years to get back on the charts with “Travesuras,” which hit No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart in 2014 and defined Nicky Jam’s new style.
He was still a Puerto Rican reggaeton artist, yes, but his music had mellowed after living for several years in Medellin, Colombia — the city where he also cleaned up his act and found a new manager. Now, Nicky Jam’s brand of reggaeton was more melodic, the lyrics more romantic, the songs tinged with longing, the voice poignant and immediately recognizable.
Enrique Iglesias, fresh from the huge success of “Bailando” in 2014, was more attuned than ever to urban sounds. They had worked spectacularly well. What else was out there that could be compatible with his music? In Nicky Jam, he found the answer.
“I’ve been a fan of Nicky Jam’s for a while,” Iglesias told Billboard back in 2016. He liked Jam’s personal story, his return to the charts after nearly losing it all. Iglesias reached out through a friend. He spoke to Nicky Jam for hours. And Nicky Jam sent him his newest composition. It was called “El Perdón” (Forgiveness). “I usually write or co-write most of my songs,” Iglesias explains. “But when he sent me the song, I called him up and I said, I love it. I don’t care that I didn’t write it.”
“When I wrote the beginning of the song — “Did he take you to the moon, and I couldn’t do that?” — that part hit me really hard,” Jam says about his mid-tempo melancholy reggaetón song about lost love. “Then, to do a song with Enrique automatically changes the game. When we hit No. 1 I recorded a video for my fans and started crying. Ten years off the music game and to come back with a No. 1 song? I could have erased the video and done a new one, but I like to show my emotions. I’m a real man. I can suffer.”
Iglesias “popified” the song, lending it urgent poignancy in the opening melody, and the ensuing duet was a smash. “El Perdón” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart on March 21, 2015, where it remained 30 weeks. It was the longest-reigning chart-topper behind “Bailando” (though it has since moved to third place, also behind Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito”).
Today, Iglesias sees “El Perdón” as a natural evolution of his sound into more urban collaborations. “Let me put it this way. If I didn’t have ‘Bailando,’ ‘El Perdón would have never fallen in my hands,” he notes.
But the “El Perdon” sphere of influence went way beyond Iglesias. This was the first hugely successful collaboration between a reggaeton act and a massive pop act, and its acceptance by fans from both sides opened to the floodgates to numerous like-minded collaborations that continue to proliferate today.
As for Nicky Jam, he still considers “El perdón” his main milestone. “It was the most important song of my career and the one that brought me international recognition in places I never dreamed I would reach,” he now tells Billboard. “To hear people who don’t speak my language sing my songs is an emotion I have no words to express or to thank my fans for the love they’ve given me.”