When J Balvin realized he wouldn’t be able to perform the songs from his album Colores — released in the middle of the pandemic — before a live audience, he started to look for livestream options. But not just any livestream.
“I thought: What can I do that will be different from what reality allows, and that you can only view this way through your cellphone or your laptop, but not in real life,” says Balvin, who spoke exclusively to Billboard from his home in Medellín.
“Simply doing a filmed live concert is never as exciting as the in-person experience. But, what about a concert that’s built to be seen on a screen? There you can really do something different.”
Balvin’s “Behind the Colores: The Live Experience,” will stream Saturday, June 20 at 9 p.m. on YouTube. And, yes, it will be different. Very different.
Presented by Buchanan’s Whisky, a brand Balvin has a long association with, it’s an augmented reality experience where Balvin performs live in a virtual space inside his home in Medellín, while his directors in Los Angeles will provide guidance and bring in additional elements through AR.
“He’s done music videos [that are wildly creative], but this is a completely different thing,” says creative director and producer Antony Ginandjar. “Imagine Jose being in rooms that come alive.”
The concept, which roughly took a month to conceive and execute, is the direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than a concert, it’s a way to celebrate the release and success of the album,” says Balvin co-manager Fabio Acosta. “If there had been no pandemic, we would have probably done a normal tour.”
“Behind the Colores” took approximately one month to execute, from developing the concept to the actual stream on June 20. For simplicity’s sake, the concept can be divided into three augmented reality layers: The space Balvin is in, the objects he interacts with (there will be ducks and 3D helicopters that fly into the room, for example) and face tracking and digital makeup effects inspired by Snapchat and Instagram worlds.
“I don’t think anything like this in this context has ever been done before,” says Tom Colbourne, owner and founder of BLINK, the show’s production company and creator of all the graphic content. “If we were in normal times, to launch J’s album and do a special about the album we would have created a stage with LED screens, dancers, props, everything else,” he adds. “So our starting place is how do we create a performance space that does him justice. J is an artist with a very rich visual identity. How do we do something that will be entertaining and capture the spirit of his brand? Because we can’t do it in a physical stage we do it in a virtual stage that is made up of different abstract virtual environments for every song.”
Colbourne worked hand in hand with Balvin’s longtime creative directors (and also show executive producers) Ginandjar and Ashley Evans of The Squared Division, the Australian creative duo behind Britney Spears‘ Las Vegas residency and Katy Perry‘s Witness world tour.
Their aim was to create a world for each of the colors (and songs) in Colores. But clearly, it couldn’t simply be a live performance.
“At the beginning of quarantine we were watching all these celebrities doing lives, and at first it was very endearing,” says Ginandjar. “Did it get boring at the end? Yes. We said why don’t we do a show where you get to perform your 10 songs in a way no one has seen before?”
Evans and Ginandjar began to design a specific “set” and look and experience for each of the songs in Colores, much like Balvin did in the videos for the songs, but with different concepts. Then, a team of about 25 different animators spread around the world worked on designing and modeling each of the actual virtual scenes as a 3D space.
“Ashley and Antony came up with the concepts for the worlds and we developed and designed them,” says Colbourne. “And J Balvin is obviously very involved as well. He signs off on each world.”
The real challenge was the actual performance, which was filmed live from Balvin’s home in Colombia.
“The toughest part is Jose shooting everything in Colombia and us directing him by Zoom which is something we had never done before,” says Evans.
To make it happen, four cameras were physically installed in Balvin’s house and locked into place to shoot with no camera men and at a really high digital resolution to be able to create movement.
“All the environments are designed before-hand,” says Colbourne. “All the camera angles are pre-decided. We have a complicated world but we know it’s only going to be seen from certain angles.”
Throughout the performance, Balvin follows specific markers on the floor, which is key so he can interact with the AR elements that pop in and out, and he’s in constant communication with Evans.
“Ashley has to guide me,” says Balvin, who also did Vibras with him. “He’s very good in everything that has to do with staging and executing.”
The added value, if you will, are short interviews that Balvin leads with key creatives like Diplo, producer Sky, video director Collin Tilley and Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami.
“I wanted to talk a little bit about the process we went through with the album,” says Balvin, explaining his choice of subjects. “I want them to understand that it’s a conceptual album.”
Although Balvin’s team declined to say how much the production cost, clearly it wouldn’t have been possible without sponsorship from Buchanan’s Whisky.
In the end, says Balvin, it’s not about simply putting on a Latin show. “It’s about creating something that everyone will be talking about.”
Note: This article originally incorrectly stated the time the special will be shown on YouTube. The correct time is 9 p.m. ET.