A report by Jon Caramanica for the New York Times.
One evening in late July, the day after the Puerto Rican singer Ozuna’s second straight sold-out concert at Manhattan’s United Palace Theater, he was sitting by the waterfront here, discussing the number of YouTube views his videos receive. “I put on YouTube one single and, in 20 hours, have five million, six million people,” he said. The totals overwhelm him: “In one month, I have 100 million. In one year, one billion. It’s too much.”
A few feet away, a gaggle of young boys had gathered, whispering in Spanish and trying to pretend they weren’t excited while surreptitiously snapping photos of him on their phones.
If not too much, it is all certainly quite a lot for Ozuna, who in the last three years has grown out of Puerto Rico’s reggaeton scene to become one of the most exciting and dominant singers in Latin music. He has just released “Odisea,” his insistent, diverse and stylish debut album, but in truth, that’s something of an arbitrary milestone.
More telling is the fact that on last week’s Billboard Hot Latin songs chart, he appeared eight times, only the fourth artist to ever achieve that level of ubiquity. The tally, which covers both his own songs and appearances on other artists’ songs, includes “Tú Foto,” a lilting reggaeton number; “Sobredosis,” a melodramatic duet with the bachata star Romeo Santos; “Bebé,” a collaboration with Anuel Aa, one of the stars of the Latin trap movement (and who is currently in prison for illegal gun possession); and “Ahora Dice,” an ambient pop thumper made with the producer Chris Jeday and the reggaeton stars J Balvin and Arcángel.
That Ozuna, 25, can work across all these genres at the same time is a testament to the current fluidity of Latin pop, but also to the effectiveness of his singing. He has a sweet, nimble voice that he sometimes deploys like a balladeer, and sometimes like a rapper; his favorite singer, he said, isn’t a reggaeton performer, but rather the Dominican-American bachata star Romeo Santos, who makes, he said, “ecstasy music.”
And he’s also an impressive songwriter with an aptitude for quick melodies. Speaking in English, a language he’s still learning, Ozuna said he writes songs “in five minutes, and it’s hits. It’s natural, I don’t know why.”
Ozuna was born Jan Carlos Ozuna Rosado in San Juan in 1992 to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father. His father, who was shot and killed when Ozuna was 3, was a dancer for three years with the Puerto Rican reggaeton pioneer Vico C.
Ozuna began making music as a teenager, and then moved to New York for three years in the early 2010s. “New York, for me, is university,” he said. When he returned to San Juan, he began focusing intensely on music, and success came blazingly quick. In 2015, he performed over 300 shows in Puerto Rico alone. (In a couple of weeks, he’ll perform two shows at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s biggest indoor concert arena.)
“Odisea” takes reggaeton as a jumping-off point, but doesn’t stay there. It includes collaborations with J Balvin, Zion & Lennox and Nicky Jam, artists who have pushed the genre to new pop heights. (Twenty songs Ozuna appears on have more than 100 million views on YouTube.)
But with more success comes more stress, as was clear at the United Palace concert. Midway through the show, a security guard edged too close to the main part of the stage, and Ozuna took umbrage, punching him in the head with the same fist that was clenching his microphone, kicking off a brawl that almost brought the concert to an end.
“It didn’t bother me,” Ozuna said casually the next day. He later apologized on Instagram. (A spokesperson for the New York Police Department said that no complaints had been filed in connection with the incident.) A few days after that, he was present at the scene of a fatal shooting in Puerto Rico, according to Univision.
Perhaps that’s why Ozuna spoke of wanting to remain in the spotlight just a few more years, then retreat from public life to spend more time with his wife and two children. Earlier in the day, he’d been meeting with his financial adviser — in Puerto Rico, he’s invested in a restaurant, among other businesses — and said he was trying to be conservative with his money.
But there are still goals to be achieved, namely the English-language pop market. He identified Drake and Rihanna — both of whom move as easily between styles as he does — as ideal collaborators. In order to improve his chances, he’s been traveling with someone who only speaks to him in English. “I’m practicing,” he said. “I want to go for the crossover.”