By Paige Mastrandrea By Paige Mastrandrea | March 7, 2022 | Culture People Feature
SUPERSTAR J BALVIN MAKES HISTORY FOR THE LATIN CULTURE AS HE TRANSCENDS MULTI-INDUSTRY BORDERS.
Versace full look, versace.com; Balvin’s own accessories. PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
I always want to be unpredictable,” global superstar Jose Alvaro Osorio—also known as J Balvin (@jbalvin)—shares with me as we chat on Zoom. He’s coming off our cover shoot after jetting back to New York from Paris, dressed cool as ever and flaunting a brand-new pink hairdo—serving as a perfect representation of his words. Unpredictability, undeniable talent and a keen knack for creating and reshaping culture across all creative fields is in fact what places Balvin on another stratosphere of many talents today.
His fame is the type that little boys and girls dream about everywhere—he’s globally recognized, boasts millions of social followers, has received numerous accolades including multiple Latin Grammy Awards and Billboard Latin Music Awards, has headlined massive festivals such as Coachella and Tomorrowland, has collaborated with some of the biggest luxury fashion houses in the world, and even has his own video game character in Fortnite. He’s accomplished many firsts for the Latin culture, which has resulted in him being referred to fondly as the torchbearer for “la escuela nueva” or reggaeton’s global ambassador.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
However, I’d like to think it goes further than his unpredictability as an artist. One of the most striking elements of the Colombian-born artist is that, throughout his meteoric rise to fame, he’s remained humble, kind and grateful, determined to spread positivity through his artistry and spread the culture of his homeland. In fact, the first thing he says to me as we begin our call is, “I appreciate you.” This simple statement is indicative of everything Balvin values in his life—most importantly, his fans and his family, both of which in his mind are one and the same.
“When I’m performing onstage, I just want to give love, give back, you know?” he says. “I want people to leave my shows with a great experience and feel like they’re family, which they are to me.”
Soon, Balvin will be reunited with this family as he returns to the stage to embark on his 2022 North American tour. After a live music hiatus during the pandemic and releasing his latest namesake album Jose in 2021 plus Jose: Deluxe in 2022 with an extended track list, Balvin looks forward to experiencing the magical feeling of being at one with his fans and performing onstage again.
“Now that we have the permission and hopefully, God willing, no more of what’s going on right now, I’m so excited to get back to the stage and see how the reaction of everyone is going to be—this tour is going to be mindblowing. I always love to do things differently,” he says.
Unpredictable as ever, you can expect the unexpected when it comes to Balvin’s show presence and production. In his 2019 Acroíris Tour (which translates to “rainbow” in English), his stage design and production captured the feeds of every Instagram as he partnered with global art collaborators FriendsWithYou to design a playful and colorful concept that included supersized figurines that spanned the colors of the rainbow.
Marc Jacobs sweater, marcjacobs.com; Balvin’s own ring, sunglasses and earring PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
That same year, he took the Acroíris Tour to headline stages at Lollapalooza and Coachella, further cementing himself as a Latin icon that catapulted to the top of the mainstream U.S. music charts—without ever having to cross over genres or languages.
Now, Balvin plans to take things to the next level with his latest showcase.
“I like to reinvent myself every time. Last tour was so amazing incorporating the art into the music, and now we’re introducing new technology. This was a technology that did not exist before, and a lot of it had to be built for the tour. So I’m excited for the fans to experience that,” he hints.
Fendi shirt, fendi.com; Balvin’s own ring. PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
Outside of music, Balvin has also created a name for himself in the fashion industry, considered one of the most influential tastemakers and trendsetters in the world. He continuously dares to flaunt the unexpected—such as pulling off a skirt at the Louis Vuitton 2022/2023 fall/winter men’s fashion show in Paris.
“I love fashion so much—probably equally as much as music, because both fashion and music allow me to showcase my personality and creativity,” he notes. “As long as I’m comfortable with it, I’m cool. Like at the Louis Vuitton show, I wore a low skirt and I felt great. We’re in 2022, things have changed—it’s not about gender anymore. We’re free to express whoever we are, how we’re feeling that day. One day, I can be colorful, and another I can be in black. It depends on the mood and where I’m going. But you always gotta keep it real.”
He fondly recalls how, when he was a child, his mom used to always dress him up in different ensembles. “She used to say I was like her little toy,” he laughs. Clearly, she tapped into his passion for fashion from an early age. “I do the same with my hair—I’m constantly playing with the color, trying new things out, changing it up.”
While creating his own label is something he’s definitely interested in pursuing in his career long-term, he maintains that he still wants to have the respect as a creator to collaborate with already-existing brands. And while he’s done many epic collaborations in the luxury world, what he’s most excited for at the moment is his upcoming project with Jordan, set to debut with the first sneaker drop within the coming months, serving as the first of his collaborations with the brand. Following, we will see a slew of new projects spanning the Jordan partnership.
Versace full look, versace.com PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
“The sneaker industry is so huge—maybe even bigger than the music industry at times. Sneakerheads are crazy. And Jordans are so iconic. For me to have a collaboration with them is a blessing, since it’ll be the first time in history that a Latin artist has their own Jordans. I’m so grateful,” he says.
It seems that the projects and opportunities for Balvin are endless, and there is no creative industry he can’t conquer. He’s transcended boundaries, borders and cultures so seamlessly and in such a relatively short amount of time, much in part due to the power of social media and his consistent engagement on the platforms with his fans.
But he is only human, and one of his greatest battles on this journey has been his mental health struggles. Suffering with anxiety and depression for years, he’s had to confront these issues head-on. Now, he’s opening up about them through a new upcoming documentary focused on mental health and the stigma behind it. Debuting soon, this is a project that is near and dear to his heart.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
“I suffer from anxiety and depression and I’m medicated. I want to tell the world that it’s OK to not be OK,” he shares openly. “You have to understand that it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain that is stronger than you and you cannot blame yourself—it’s like, if you have cancer or any other sickness, you take medicine—mental health is the same thing. It’s actually one of our biggest crises in the pandemic right now.
“It’s really beautiful to teach families about mental health, and my goal is to help spread that message. We don’t want to judge our kids or other people. So many people may think, ‘You have everything, you’re blessed, you’re beautiful or you’re rich’—not even about me specifically, but just anyone. This has nothing to do with that. This needs to be a common thing we talk about—we have to break down those walls and teach the world and kids that it’s all part of the journey. And it’s my journey to help people with that.”
Versace sweater, versace.com; Balvin’s own earring. PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARI DUKOVIC
While many—especially those of different generations, cultures or societies—may see mental illness as a weakness, Balvin embraces it wholeheartedly and uses it as a means to make himself stronger. Through medicine, and meditation—which he credits for saving his life—he’s found the balance that allows him to continue being the trailblazing icon that he is today.
“I think that being vulnerable and fragile is one of the most beautiful things because it shows that you are a human being,” he notes.
Opening up about this journey is a duty that Balvin takes to heart given his global responsibility as a public figure and icon for so many, as well as spreading his Latino pride.
“I’m always working and hustling for my culture to be real and respected worldwide. I want people to believe in themselves, and know that we are creators and we can transform our energy into material if you set your mind to it. But if you don’t go out and work for it, it’s not going to happen. It’s important to never stop dreaming,” he says in regard to the precedent he wants to set for the younger generation.
For the escuela nueva, he believes the opportunities are endless and hopes that others will follow suit to pursue their dreams.
“You never know how many people you can impact in a positive or negative way. That’s why we need to be mindful of what we do,” he says. “I want to be a living legend and, God willing, to see my son growing up and have him believe that his father made a huge statement and took the Latino culture to places we’ve never been before and sat in seats at the table where no Latino has ever been before. We plan on touching culture in a big way.”
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