"Who said that you have to sing in English to be global?" J Balvin reflects in the YouTube Artist Spotlight Story “Redefining Mainstream.” “When I’m in a foreign country and they’re singing my lyrics and they don’t speak Spanish, it’s just amazing. We’re showing the world that it’s not about your language. They listen to me in Lithuania and Africa and Egypt and they don’t understand what I’m saying, but they feel it -- they feel the vibe.”
Released today exclusively on YouTube, “Redefining Mainstream” chronicles the ascent of José Álvaro Osorio Balvin -- better known as J Balvin — from Medellin, Colombia, to his current #1 spot on the Global YouTube Top Artists chart. Appropriately, the film travels around the world with the singer, chronicling his rise from continent to continent, while providing an intimate look at his life offstage.
With over 5 billion views across YouTube in 2018 alone, Balvin is undeniably one of the biggest acts on the planet today. His clip for his smash hit “Mi Gente” — which was the fourth fastest video to reach 1 billion views in YouTube history — currently stands at 1.94 billion views, while his 2018 Nicky Jam collaboration “X” has already entered The Billion Views Club. And that’s just the singer’s latest — “Ay Vamos,” from 2013, is up to 1.5 billion views and counting, while 2014’s “6 AM” trails just slightly behind with a mere 986 million.
“I’m a YouTube artist,” Balvin explains of his success. “My early videos on YouTube—like ‘Compromiso,’ ‘Ella me Cuativo,’ ‘Tranquila’—at that time I didn’t have a label, everything was independent, so YouTube helped me a lot. If they can see you and hear you, people can really get to know the artist a different way. In a different perspective.”
"We made out first video. A video clip like that cost 700 dollars I believe.” adds longtime collaborator and video director Alex Cabre. “But the video reached like 20 or 30 million views."
The views didn’t stop there. Slowly but surely, Balvin found an audience in his home country for his ever-evolving sound. "He was a rapper, what you call freestyle.” Balvin’s father José Álvaro Osorio tells of his early success. "For three straight years he was the national champion of freestyle.” Local hits like the aforementioned “Sin Compromiso” and “En Lo Oscuro” only expanded his palette and increased his fan base, establishing Balvin as a local sensation. “I had to create the movement in Colombia -- and I think I did,” he says.
That movement quickly spread beyond his native country’s borders, as his videos racked up massive audiences in every corner of the globe. “My first concert outside my country was Romania, you know?” Balvin explains. “And it was thanks to YouTube.”
More recently, his 2017 single “Mi Gente” spent 47 straight weeks on the YouTube Global Top Songs chart and led to a cameo at Coachella, where Beyoncé invited Balvin to perform her remix of the single on the world's biggest stage. And his 2018 collaboration with Cardi B is one of the current worldwide frontrunners for Song of the Summer. All told, Balvin has now amassed over 17.3 million subscribers globally, who he regularly treats to everything from candid images of his daily life to detailed looks at his impressive sneaker collection along with chart-topping videos.
But as “Redefining Mainstream” makes clear, what is most remarkable is that Balvin’s never adhered to a typical blueprint for success. He didn’t cross over in the conventional sense, compromising his integrity. Rather, he doubled down on his uniqueness and used platforms like YouTube to help carry his sound across borders.
“Jose has been a huge leader in crossover collaboration and I think Jose has broken down a lot of those paradigms of like - ‘just because it is Spanish it can’t be global,’” Balvin’s manager Rebeca Leon explains. “He has stayed really true to himself in that sense.”
This is central to the distinctiveness of Balvin’s sound, but more than that, it’s central to the way he approaches music altogether. “Music is the universal language,” the singer tells YouTube. “It’s a superpower that we have. And we have to be real careful with what we do with it. That’s why I always try to send positive vibes.”
And now those vibes are being received not just in Colombia or New York but around the globe. Everywhere, people are singing along.
“That’s what I call redefining mainstream,” he explains, “because we’re opening people’s mind.”