The Enrique Iglesias Phenomenon
By Arielle Castillo
Enrique Iglesias is, in 2011, more on top of his game than ever. The superstar solo artist’s most recent album, Euphoria, has moved some 3.5 million copies and counting, and singles like “I Like It” and “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)” remain ubiquitous on pop radio. But still Iglesias, on a recent rare moment at home in Miami, seems almost misty-eyed for a part of the music industry now virtually extinct. “I used to be one of those guys who went to the record store weekly.… I would buy albums constantly and just read the credits. I found that I haven’t done that in quite some time. It’s sad,” he says, “because I think the album era is practically over.”
|Iglesias (center) performing alongside Wisin y Yandel at Madison Square Garden, New York, February 2011|
That may be true, but Iglesias is sending it out with a bang. Euphoria is the album so dear to his heart, he released it twice. This November, a new, updated version hits the shelves and the Web, thickened with a handful of new songs. “It’s your baby,” he says of what it feels like to put out an album, but this most recent one in particular. “You want to make it as good as possible and last as long as possible.”
Luckily, Iglesias is the kind of mega-selling artist, rare in the industry these days, for which this kind of thing still works. His 1995 self-titled debut album has sold some 8 million copies worldwide to date, and the following eight records have had similar success.
His pedigree may have something to do with it; that famous surname is courtesy of his father, legendary Spanish crooner Julio. His mother, the Filipina journalist and television presenter Isabel Preysler, comes from a tradition of style and entertainment as well. Iglesias, though, has refused to coast on any family reputation. Instead, he’s taken this early multicultural mix and combined it with a childhood spent in Miami—he’s a Gulliver Prep alum—for a particularly global pop sensibility. Until last year, Iglesias’ recorded output reflected a neat split between Spanish and English-language material, garnering an exponentially larger fan base whose outer edges didn’t necessarily overlap.
With Euphoria, however, the common area of that Venn diagram started to expand. It was his first effort to feature both English and Spanish material on the same recording, with each comprising about half. With the number of bilingual Latinos increasing not only in the United States but worldwide, this seems like a sharp bit of marketing.
It’s a natural evolution of Iglesias’ upbringing and output to date. “I’ve always wanted to make an album where I had both English and Spanish. It really helped creatively because whenever I got stuck in English I’d move on to Spanish, and vice versa,” he says. “It just made it more interesting, and made it more fun, because making an album can be grueling at times, especially if you really, really care.”
By his own account, the grueling part of the process is largely self-inflicted—one that results in stringent standards for every individual track. While many pop stars claim to be song-driven, Iglesias truly is—his material can span, in a single disc, romantic ballads to dance-floor bangers. The only common thread is an unceasingly impassioned delivery and a somewhat intangible but marked sense of drama.
|FROM TOP: Iglesias and a few fans at Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional; On stage with Juan Luis Guerra at Madison Square Garden, February 2011; Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull|
“I don’t care, really, what particular style they might be or what type of beat, or even the BPM [beats per minute] of the song. I’m a firm believer that you go with whatever feels best,” he says. “Does it make you want to go out there, and when you listen to it, do you think immediately, I wish everyone could hear this track right now? Or, Am I willing to kill for this song? Can you listen to it 100 times and not get sick of it?”
Beyond selecting songs for the final cut, however, Iglesias has a knack for knowing the global pop scene and picking out influential and ofthe- moment guest stars to grace those tracks. Euphoria features a pitch-perfect cast of collaborators. On the Spanish-language tracks, there is urban swagger courtesy of reggaetoneros Wisin y Yandel, and soulful crooning from the king of tropical beats, Dominican icon Juan Luis Guerra. Meanwhile, the English-language side features the likes of Nicole Scherzinger (of Pussycat Dolls fame), Usher, Akon and the other reigning bilingual Miami-boy-made-good, Pitbull.
Iglesias helped pave the way for an artist like Pitbull, who liberally applies Spanglish to a mounting number of international megahits. After all, one of the former’s first big “English-language” hits in the US, 1999’s “Bailamos,” featured a title and hook in Spanish. Iglesias demurs on his influence there, though. “I think Pitbull helped pave the way for Pitbull,” he says.
And if all these seemingly strategic moves, from melodies to musical partners-in-crime, have made him into a one-man business juggernaut, well, he insists it goes back to that teenage kid buying albums—the gut reactions of a music fan. Though he’s appeared in commercials for Pepsi and Doritos and dabbled in acting, you won’t hear Iglesias spew a lot of marketing speak about brand partnerships or new music industry models.
“I think I’m a music fan first, and then, thanks to me being a music fan, it becomes a business. I grew up with MTV, listening to the radio and buying records, analyzing the songs,” he says. “I approach my business based on music. In other words, I know that if I don’t have a song that people respond to and gravitate toward, the business is not going to matter, because the business is not going to be there.”
As important to the teenage memories of buying records is Miami. Although Iglesias was born in Madrid, he’s lived in multicultural South Florida since he was 10, and has never really left. “I’ve lived in LA, but I always come back to Miami,” he says. “Around the world, everyone has this image of Miami that’s South Beach and partying and whatever. But there’s that other side of Miami that’s very tranquil, where you can get away and have your privacy and not really bump into anyone.”
Not that there’s a lot of time for that. If Iglesias doesn’t like to put too fine a point on his musical or empire-building decisions, he’s the first to admit some workaholic tendencies. The remainder of the year and beyond sees him touring the United States and then the rest of the world, and maybe even dabbling in other forms of entertainment. Iglesias has already put his good looks and charisma to movie-star effect in a few acting roles, from the feature film Once Upon a Time in Mexico to TV hits like Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother. Still, it’s clear he’ll always come back to the passion that sparked so young. “I do love film, and the little things I’ve done, I enjoy them a lot,” he says, “but it’s really hard to leave behind the thing you love.”
photographs by alan silfen