It’s All About the Amor


New Music by Shakira, Juanes, Enrique Iglesias and Wisin, Jon Pareles reports in this article for The New York Times.

March suddenly turned into Latin pop blockbuster season. By some coincidence, arena-filling stars who tend to take years between releases emerged almost simultaneously with new albums: Shakira and Juanes, who are both from Colombia, Enrique Iglesias from Spain and the reggaeton rapper Wisin from Puerto Rico. Romeo Santos, the Dominican bachata singer who was born in the Bronx and was Aventura’s lead singer for 17 years, beat the rush by releasing his second solo studio album in February.

All five albums juggle the demands and possibilities of international crossover. The singers weigh regional and cultural bonds, decide how and how much to broaden their music, and calculate what they have to say to a mass, mixed audience. Do they want to, as Shakira and Juanes have often done through the years, become a voice of conscience or aspiration for the people back home? This time, not so much. On their new albums, these Latin pop superstars stick to one international common denominator: love songs.

“Shakira” (RCA/Sony Latin Iberia) is a determined hit seeker, with nearly all its songs in English. It’s full of collaborations with songwriters and producers who have also abetted Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, One Direction and Carrie Underwood. The first single, “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” has guest vocals from the near-ubiquitous Rihanna, along with a ska-to-punk-pop buildup reminiscent of No Doubt.

“Shakira” is a style-hopping album that leaps from electronic dance music to reggae to folk-pop to distorted rock to, well, current country (in “Medicine,” a duet with Shakira’s fellow coach on “The Voice,” Blake Shelton). There’s some efficient sonic gimmickry, like the explosive mostly wordless chorus of “Empire,” along with glimmers of autobiography like “The One Thing,” praising the son that Shakira had in 2013 with her boyfriend, the soccer player Gerard Pique. But the endearing parts of “Shakira” are the quirks that still separate her from North American pop singers: the warbles and breaks in her voice that make her professions of love sound both innocent and obsessive, and the idiosyncrasies of her English lyrics: “You looked at me with your blue eyes/And my agnosticism turned into dust.” They keep her from getting entirely swallowed by the Anglo pop machine.

Enrique Iglesias’s “Sex and Love” (Republic) strives to stay as generic as its title. It’s very clearly a follow-up to his 2010 “Euphoria,” which mingled songs in Spanish and English in equal measure and interspersed upbeat club tunes with the romantic ballads that had been his specialty. It also uses some of the same collaborators from “Euphoria.”

The English songs are a virtual checklist of clichés, verbal and musical. Following through on his 2010 hit featuring a rap by Pitbull, “I Like It,” now there are two come-ons joined by Pitbull; other English songs include a trance track and an anthem fractured by mild dubstep. Love songs in Spanish are propped up by collaborators like Romeo Santos, the Mexican songwriter Marco Antonio Solís and the Cuban songwriter Descemer Bueno, who was prominent on “Euphoria.” But Mr. Bueno’s own version of their new song together, the flamenco-tinged “Bailando,” was released last year and has more gusto than the Iglesias version.

Wisin’s first solo album in a decade, “El Regreso del Sobreviviente” (“The Return of the Survivor”) (Sony Music Latin), ought to be an occasion. It’s the sequel to his 2004 “El Sobreviviente,” and a break from Wisin y Yandel, his duo with the singer Yandel, which has become a reggaeton institution. But despite an array of international collaborators — including Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin on “Adrenalina,” the Jamaican rapper Sean Paul on “Baby Danger,” the singer Chris Brown and, once again, Pitbull — it’s oddly stale. Wisin barks out an increasingly redundant list of pickup lines, and the reggaeton tracks of the production team Luny Tunes, which were bracingly snappy and succinct a decade ago, are now overly familiar. The updates involve electronic dance music beats executed with utter predictability.

Advance prospects of “Loco de Amor” (Universal Music Latino), the sixth studio album by Juanes, had the makings of a crossover fiasco. As the title suggests, it sets aside Juanes’s social and philosophical concerns for an album of love songs (though he has always written plenty of those as well). It was recorded in Hollywood and produced by Steve Lillywhite, who doesn’t speak Spanish and has worked with U2, Peter Gabriel and the Rolling Stones. But Juanes didn’t make anyone’s kind of rock album but his own. “Loco de Amor” is a euphoric, melodic romp across the hemisphere.

The songs are sometimes retro, with hints of Motown or the Bee Gees, while others glance at Kings of Leon or Mumford & Sons. But they are also very much Latin, drawing on rhythms like Brazilian samba and Colombian champeta. Synthesizers hoot and snort, but there’s also the gleaming sound of lead parts played on the tiple, a small Colombian guitar. And while a few songs grow too smiley, most of “Loco de Amor” — particularly the irresistibly upbeat title track — sounds like a musician shaking off some seriousness to revitalize himself.

Mr. Santos has figured out how to let crossover come to him. Making music in the Bronx, Aventura and then Mr. Santos on his own have been well aware of hip-hop, R&B and Latin pop. Their albums, like hip-hop albums, have intros that can be skits or manifestoes; rappers, R&B singers and reggaeton acts have guest slots. With his high, sweet, almost androgynous voice, Mr. Santos brought some R&B inflections to bachata singing, and he occasionally sets bachata aside for an R&B ballad, complete with electronic tricks, like “All Aboard” from his 2011 solo debut album, “Formula Vol. 1.”

But on “Formula Vol. 2,” even more than his debut album, he sticks almost entirely to bachata. Bachata is a tradition of almost miraculous austerity — a voice, a couple of staccato picked guitars, light percussion — and Mr. Santos refuses to clutter it or pump in bass. Even when guests drop by, like Carlos Santana on guitar or rappers including Nicki Minaj and Drake, they’re usually set among the pithy bachata guitars, although Mr. Santos has a duet with Marc Anthony on salsa turf.

True to bachata tradition, most of the songs are about love — usually unhappy love, laced with jealousy, rivalry and regrets, and sung with melancholy tension. But tucked midway through the album is “No Tiene La Culpa” (“He’s Not to Blame”), which sympathizes with a gay man who’s constantly under attack. It’s a brave moment of social consciousness amid all the elegantly phrased lust and intrigue. “Formula Vol. 2” went to No. 1 on the Latin chart, and Mr. Santos is to headline Yankee Stadium on July 12, a concert that sold out so fast that another Yankee Stadium show was quickly added on July 11. He’s doing something right.

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