With his international knockout "Despacito," Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Luis Fonsi had an explosive 2017. Multiple chart-toppers, like "Échame la Culpa," "Calypso," and his more recent success, "Imposible," helped him follow up with another overwhelmingly strong musical calendar last year. And if this month’s any indication, 2019 also belongs to the Latinx pop hitmaker.
After delivering back-to-back global hits over the last two years, Fonsi is ready to share some new-new with his fans. The 40-year-old singer is kicking off the año nuevo with Vida, his long-anticipated ninth studio album. A blend of the heart-tugging guitar ballads that started his career and the energetic pop jams that made him an international superstar, Vida, his first full-length project in five years, will show his worldwide fans exactly who Fonsi is.
“I think people will get to know, really, who I am,” the Grammy award-winning artist told VIBE VIVA during a phone interview. “I have that pop uptempo side but also this soft romantic side as well.”
Vida, which Fonsi teases is slated to release “very soon,” isn’t the only way fans will further acquaint themselves with the luminary in 2019. The seven-time Guinness World Records-holder is also a coach on Telemundo’s forthcoming La Voz. The Spanish-language version of the successful music competition reality TV show (The Voice), which premieres Jan. 13, will bring Fonsi and megastars Alejandra Guzmán, Wisin and Carlos Vives together to find and nurture the most promising Latinx vocalists in the nation, tasks he’s already undertaken as a coach on the show’s offshoots across Latin America and Spain.
Carving out some time from his excitingly busy new year, Fonsi discusses the making of Vida, what fans can look forward to on La Voz, the abundance of young Latin musical talent and key lessons on persistence that every creative dreamer can gain from.
VIBE VIVA: The Voice is one of the most successful singing competitions in the country. Why do you think a Spanish-language version of this show was needed here?
Luis Fonsi: There’s so many ways of answering this question. First of all, because we are part of the music culture, because we’re part of the music equation because our talent level is incredible. Latinos, we breathe music, we speak with rhythm, we dance when we walk. Music is in our blood, so it was absolutely needed.
There are so many young kids who have either recently moved to the U.S. or maybe have been born here and are of Latinx descent and want to be able to share their talent with the world, so to have that opportunity to sing, whether in English or Spanish, because the show, while it’s called La Voz and is on Telemundo, we’re going to have plenty of people out there who will sing in English, is great. And we’ve seen in the NBC version of the show how many Latin contestants have gone the distance, and some have sung in Spanish.
It’s part of the equation, so to be able to make it more formal and celebrate the differences between our Latin culture, by having someone from Mexico sing una ranchera, have someone from Puerto Rico sing something more Caribbean, have someone from Colombia sing something more vallenato. This format gives us the space and those parameters to be able to do that.
La Voz has been successfully exported to multiple Latin American countries including Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, and Spain. How will this U.S.-based show be different from those?
I’ve been a coach in many of these different formats, in almost all of them. Right now, for example, I’m doing simultaneously La Voz Spain. The biggest and most obvious difference is when a contestant is done singing in Spain, I ask, “Where are you from,” and they tell me the city, “Madrid, Seville.” Here it’s like, “Hey, where are you from,” and they can be from a completely different country.
They could be from New York and their parents are from Mexico and moved here 40 years ago or you can be from the south of Argentina. Culturally, although we are speaking the same language and although we’re in the States, culturally we’re so dramatically different versus being from the same country and just a different city. So that in itself already gives it something different; the accents, the styles, it gives it such a different vibe.
You were the first one to join the show as a coach. Why were you eager to participate in the U.S. version of La Voz?
I love the format. I truly believe in the format. I’m one of those guys that I’m grateful. I remember where I come from, who opened the door for me and also who closed it. But I’m very grateful for the people who have gotten me to where I am today. When I entered this industry 20 years ago, there weren’t any reality shows like this. And if I would have had that opportunity, I would have probably auditioned for one, because very early in my life I knew that I wanted to be a singer. I actually went to college and got a music degree, that’s how serious I was about music.
It wasn’t about being famous; it was about being a musician, to me. I always think that reality singing shows are good. They’re good for everybody. It’s good for music. It’s good for the judges, or, in this case, the coaches. And I have to say sincerely, by far, my favorite format is The Voice. It’s a positive, family show. It’s all about giving constructive criticism.
It’s not about putting them down but rather about lifting them up, even if they don’t get through the first round. Everybody leaves with their head up and wanting to keep learning, keep singing, and to keep experiencing life, and that’s something that is much needed.
Latin music, in no small part due to your own megahits, has taken over the globe with new talent and viral songs appearing almost every day. Why do you think it’s enticing a universal audience?
You’re right! Right now, Latinx music is in a really good place. Latinx music is global. We’ve seen how so many — and I’m not talking about my songs, I’m talking in general, I’m looking at it with a way bigger spectrum — we’ve seen how many Latinx songs and how many Latinx artists have had success worldwide singing in Spanish. I really do believe that the world is coming together and that this was long overdue.
As a judge, what are you looking for in contestants? What's going to make you turn your chair?
Magic, that wow moment, that feeling you get when you get excited that you don’t know how to describe it. When the hair on the back of your neck stands up. You’ll see it. You’ll see me. I can’t stop moving when I hear that voice, and all of a sudden I’m like, “What is this?” I get antsy. I get up from my chair. Sometimes, I hit that button without my brain processing it, it’s like my hand just moves. It’s just like an instinct, a reflex. And it’s not about perfection or a specific genre.
It’s not about a specific country or whether you’re young or old, male or female. It’s about that “wow moment,” that thing that you get when a voice moves you. I’ve pressed my button for contestants who haven’t had perfect auditions, but they had something I connected with. And it’s the same the other way around.
We’ve had contestants that have not made it to the next phase and have had a solid, amazing audition, but for some reason, there was something there that didn’t connect with us coaches. And that’s the toughest because it’s tough to explain to them that, “Hey, you did amazing, you have an amazing voice, it was a perfect audition, you didn’t screw up, but we didn’t turn our chairs.”
It’s horrible, but at the end of the day, it’s life, and that’s what music is all about. Sometimes you can be in your car driving and you hear a song and it’s an amazing voice, but there’s something about that performance that you just don’t connect with it and you don’t identify yourself with it, and that’s exactly how it is to be a coach. It’s fun, and I think people are really going to enjoy it.
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As a coach, what do you hope to offer mentees?
Just a little piece of me, what I’ve learned as a professional singer in a 20-year career, the mistakes that I’ve made, the goods and the bads, all of them. I’m going to put it out there in hopes that they could use it toward their journey. What I’ve learned as a musician. I’ve been studying music since I was eight years old. I’ve been studying guitar and piano. I have a degree in vocal performance, a formal classical degree. So I can speak to them as a musician, not just as a recording artist. And you know what, sometimes it’s not even about the technical part.
It’s about having a conversation with them and making them feel comfortable, choosing the right song. Every contestant is different. Sometimes you have to get really technical with them, and sometimes it’s a little bit more about the psychology behind it. The talent is there, but you have to make them believe in themselves.
That actually leads right into my next question. For non-Spanish-speaking folks, you came into the scene in 2017 with "Despacito," but the truth is you've been putting in work for years, from your boy band as a high school student in Orlando, to touring with Britney Spears to your own early megahits like "No Me Doy Por Vencido," "Llegaste Tu" and many more. Sometimes, when you've been putting in work for a long time and not seeing the results you hope for, it can be discouraging and debilitating. What do you think you can teach these contestants about persistence?
It’s about knowing where you want to get to and believing in your craft and knowing that to get to that point it’s not always going to be a straight shot. It’s not always going to be right there in front of you. You have to go out and get it. You’re going to fall, and you’re going to make mistakes. I have never heard an artist say, “Every song I’ve put out has been a hit. Every album I’ve made has gone platinum. I never made a mistake. I never had crappy performances.” It’s all part of the deal.
It’s like falling in love. We have to get dumped, make mistakes, we have to have a broken heart to appreciate our perfect person when they come along. That’s music. When I’m making an album, I write hundreds of songs, sometimes two songs a day. I wish I can say every song I’ve written has been recorded and has been a hit. Absolutely not! I had to write hundreds of songs to get to “Despacito,” to get to "No Me Doy Por Vencido," to get to "Aqui Estoy Yo," to get to “Échame La Culpa.” It’s an ongoing journey, and that’s what I tell them.
We talk a lot about this on the show. It’s cool to hear the other coaches’ stories because it’s something that you don’t hear every day. We see Carlos Vives and Alejandra, and to hear how many times people have completely shut the door on us, but you have to be resilient and have to believe in yourself. And we also have to be a little stubborn sometimes. You have to say, “I know I have it.” Be humble about it, but also believe in what you have to offer and keep fighting for it. That’s what it’s all about, having that hunger.
Talking about the coaches, this year the team includes you, Alejandra Guzmán, Wisin and Carlos Vives — all megastars. Describe the energy among you all on the show?
Wow! The dynamic between the coaches is incredible. We all love each other. We all make fun of each other. There’s so much honest respect. It’s crazy. You’ll see.
I want to switch gears to you and your own music. I know you are dropping an album this year, your first in five years. What can you tell us about this?
Wow. My last album was in 2014. So we’re talking about five years. A lot changes in five years, and when we talk about pop music, it has completely shifted in five years. The cool thing about this album is that by the time the album comes out, I have released five singles, four of them I can humbly say have been hits. “Imposible” is on its way; it’s already Top 10. And my first three singles have been No. 1 songs, “Despacito,” “Échame La Culpa” and “Calypso.”
To be able to drop an album already having this success on the charts is such a blessing because it’s usually like you release one single and then you put the album out there. People already really know the essence of the album, and it makes it that much more exciting to hear the other songs that are there, that tell so many stories, the ballads, for example.
I’m always happy to hear about ballads. With the major success of uptempo hits like "Despacito," "Échame La Culpa" and "Calypso," why return to ballads?
I’ve never abandoned it. I’m a pop artist. I love the dance tracks and the reggaeton-infused tracks, but I also love a guitar ballad. That, to me, is just as powerful. There's a song in there that I wrote for my son, similar to what I did for my daughter with “Llegaste Tu,” a song I did five years ago with Juan Luis Guerra. You can put a little bit of that personal touch in an album that you can’t just do with a single. You have more room to be able to tell stories and different stories. It’s cool. I think people will get to know, really, who I am.
And how would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’m bad at explaining who I am as an artist, because, again, I have that pop uptempo side but also this soft romantic side as well. That’s who I’ve been ever since I started my career in 1998. It’s not just now. I’ve never been that sort of clean-cut balladeer who wears a suit as they’re singing. I’ve never been that clean-cut crooner. And, again, nothing wrong with them. I love the Luis Miguels and the Michael Bublés. I’m a fan of those guys, but I’m too hyperactive to wear a suit for a full show. And I’ve never been a super crazy pop act that all I do is dance and dance. I have those two sides. I love to grab my guitar and just sing as well.
Hearing you speak about this album is very exciting. When can fans expect to listen to it?
I have a release date, but I can’t share it. What I can say is that it will be out very soon. I’m excited. I definitely think it’s going to be the most important album of my career. And I think people are going to be surprised. I hope people are going to be surprised.
Returning to La Voz, why should Latinxs tune into Telemundo to watch this program?
They should tune in because we’re celebrating who we are. I always say, Latinos, we have music running through our veins. We speak with rhythm. We dance as we walk. Music is such a huge part of us, so to be able to celebrate that with the most important music competition format in the world, when we finally bring it to the biggest stage in the world, the U.S., it’s time to celebrate who we are. For those who don’t know to see how much talent there is out there. And I’m going to tell you, they’re going to flip. They’re going to be so surprised to see how much talent there is out there. I’m really excited. I’m hoping that it’s going to be a very big show for Hispanic television.
La Voz premieres Sunday, January 13 at 9 p.m./8 c.t on Telemundo and its digital platforms.