Meet the 31-year-old reggaeton artist who's caught the eye of some of the world's biggest acts

By Nina Terrero
Updated June 24, 2016 at 12:06 PM EDT
Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

He’s headlined concerts in multiple countries and has collaborated with some of the biggest names in pop music—think Justin Bieber and David Guetta—but J Balvin has a loftier goal. “I think I can be the one to make worldwide Spanish music,” says the reggaeton artist, born José Osorio Balvin. “I think it’s really possible. It’s just a matter of time and work.”

With a new album, Energia—whose first single “Bobo” has topped sales charts in 15 countries, and whose video has broken the Vevo debut record for a Latin Track with 23.8 million views within one week of posting—Balvin is well on his way. His swift rise comes just a few years following time a stint spent working odd jobs as a dog walker and house painter in New York.

“It’s made me feel that life is a process,” Balvin says of his atypical backstory. “Dreams take time.”

With broad taste in music — he counts Nirvana, Metallica, Boyz II Men, and the Notorious B.I.G as influences — Balvin fuses rock rifts, R&B cadences, and hip-hop lyricism into a reggaeton sound that’s completely unlike genre pioneers such as Don Omar and Tego Calderón.

“I want to change the game,” says Balvin, whose early musical experiences included a stint at his high school radio station and as a guitarist with a local rock band. “People that hate reggaeton, if they take a moment to listen, they’ll be like ‘This is different.’”

Hit makers like Pharrell have taken notice of the Latin Grammy winner. He teamed up with Balvin on “Safari,” a single from his forthcoming album that features the “Happy” artist singing en español. “The regular thing would be that Pharrell sings in English, and I’d go in Spanish,” says Balvin. “But he did it because he really felt the music.”