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It's easy to forget that Enrique Iglesias is essentially a Miami boy. After all, his reach is global. He boasts a decade-and-a-half-long career of musical success in both English and Spanish, racking up chart-toppers (21 number one songs on Billboard) and accolades in the process. He counts several Grammys, multitudes of fans internationally, and millions of copies sold — more than 55 million, in case you were wondering.
He is considered a heartthrob in both his languages' worlds of celebrity. And he has one of the hottest girlfriends in tennis star and model Anna Kournikova to prove it. He's an actor, hilarious in How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men, and also appears in Robert Rodriguez's shoot-'em-up Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And, of course, he's the progeny of living legend Julio Iglesias.
But even if fans forget where Enrique Iglesias came from, he certainly doesn't. He still loves the city where he grew up, a fact he makes immediately apparent during a recent phone call in the midst of whirlwind promotion for his new album, Euphoria.
Rather than jump into the interview, the energetic singer makes small talk, excited when he says, "Finally, I talk to somebody in Miami!" It's typical of him. Easygoing, always personable, and downright cool, Iglesias insists, "Nah, man, take your time," when I'm later prompted by a label rep to wrap in two minutes. His laid-back demeanor makes it much easier to reconcile the A-lister with the kid who went to high school at Gulliver Prep and college at the University of Miami.
Euphoria, which marks the singer's ninth studio album, is already dominating sales charts. And it's proving to be a rather ballsy but shrewd move on Iglesias's part. The record is entirely bilingual, a first for the artist. And though bilingual recordings aren't exactly new in this day and age, they haven't been attempted the way he has done it, with ten tracks in a 60-40 Spanish-English split.
And in a further departure from convention, there are no individual songs sung in both languages. "I've done that in the past — the famous translation — and for me, translations are great. Sometimes they work, but sometimes they don't. Sometimes they sound forced," he says. "I told the record company: 'This time, I don't want to hear anything about translations.' If we want to do it later, in the future, as a bonus track and it works, cool. But this time, I just wanted to stick to Spanish here, English here."
By Iglesias's own admission, it's a byproduct of his upbringing in a bilingual city such as Miami. "You know how it is growing up in this city. It's almost like we have our own dialect, in a way, with Spanglish," he says. "Sometimes I think in English; sometimes I think in Spanish. But it's really back and forth. So I felt it was a logical thing to do."
He also drew further inspiration for this concept from the hip-hop game. "I watched the urban world and saw how sometimes they release two singles at a time, obviously in the same language, but one more urban and one more pop-y," he says. "And I thought, Why not do the same thing? Why not put out a single in English and a single in Spanish, when both radio formats are completely different? They're not going to interfere, and if there's one country where you can do that, it's the U.S."
Iglesias says he has wanted to do such a project for a while, but the timing was never right, and he always worried that labels weren't prepared to take it on. But his instincts have proven laser-accurate, and the album continues to rest firmly on the Billboard charts.
Not only did Iglesias get to scratch the creative itch, but also he got to do it with some high-powered help. Among the featured collaborators are Usher, Wisin y Yandel, Nicole Scherzinger, and Akon. Iglesias holds a couple of others particularly dear.
For the lead Spanish single, "Cuando Me Enamoro," he enlisted maestro Juan Luis Guerra. Iglesias says he didn't personally know Guerra prior to working with him, though he phoned him to pitch the collaboration, and he was more nervous about this one than any other.
"I grew up here in Miami since I was 8 years old, and the first big Latin concert I ever saw here was Juan Luis Guerra y 440," Iglesias recalls. "He's been one of my idols since I was a little kid. For me, [he's] one of the best songwriters that's ever existed in Spanish."
Meanwhile, the lead English-language single, "I Like It," features another Miami boy, Mr. 305 himself, Pitbull. "He killed it," Iglesias says. "It's almost like he gave the song a turbo boost. I told him: 'Pit, man, I don't know where you get the energy.' He doesn't stop. I don't know how he does it."
The only downside to the album, for fans: They'll have to make do with just the record, because they'll be waiting awhile before they get to see Iglesias perform live. He hopes to tour sometime near the end of the year if his promo schedule permits, but if not, it'll be early 2011, he says.
In the meantime, though, they can continue to enjoy one of his most ambitious works to date. "I don't know if it's my best album. That's obviously up to the fans to decide," Iglesias says. "But it's definitely more diverse, more eclectic, and it's exciting. Artistically, I feel like I needed it."