In many ways, Miami is ground zero for popular Latin music in the United States. With Latinx residents forming the majority of the Magic City's population, Miamians — with their love of music like reggaeton and Latino urbano — are often bellwethers for new Latin artists and songs that go on to find success in the greater American market. It's no surprise, then, that Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin's concert at the American Airlines Arena felt almost like a homecoming for an artist who isn’t even from the 305.
Balvin kicked off his worldwide Arcoiris Tour at Coachella in April in support of his 2018 solo album, Vibras, along with Oasis, his 2019 collaborative album with fellow reggaetonero Bad Bunny. This past Saturday, the vibrant show made its way to the Triple A.
As the diverse crowd began to fill the arena all the way up to the nosebleeds, Puerto Rican singer Lyanno and Bad Bunny collaborator Eladio Carrion, with a slew of their own reggaeton and Latin trap tracks, prepped the crowd for the trip on which they were about to embark.
“Trip” is the operative word here: When the curtain fell on the massive stage setup and Balvin opened with the 2018 single “Reggaeton,” whimsical visuals of rainbows and animated characters filled the screens while eight dancers dressed as Michelin Men with cartoon cloud heads joined the singer at the front of the stage. As the show progressed, more characters joined the fray, and Balvin’s psychedelic stages began looking more and more like the backdrop of a Steven Universe episode.
Opening the show with “Reggaeton,” an homage to the pioneers of the constantly evolving genre, was a smart choice for Balvin, who's risen to the top ranks of the genre in recent years. After he played the song, Balvin went on to praise Puerto Rico and the reggaeton forefathers that the Island of Enchantment has produced over the last two decades. “If it wasn’t for the reggaetoneros in Puerto Rico, I probably wouldn’t be up here,” he said in Spanish to deafening cheers. He went on to mention Boricua pioneers including Daddy Yankee, Wisin y Yandel, and Tego Calderón, and later performed a medley of some of their greatest hits culminating with a rendition of “Gasolina” that nearly blew the roof off the downtown venue.
After warming the audience up with Vibras single “Machika” and song of the summer “Con Altura” (complete with a cartoonified Rosalía singing along on the screens), Balvin took a moment to speak from the heart. “Tonight, with you, I’m José, not J Balvin,” he said to the crowd. “José is just like you, goes through the same things you do, and is the same normal person that you are.” He joked, however, that no one should call him “Josecito,” because that nickname is reserved for his mom in Medellín.
The colorful characters that Balvin’s dancers assumed throughout the show are the creations of the L.A.-based, Miami-founded experiential art collective FriendsWithYou. The artists recently partnered with Balvin and Guess — with whom Balvin launched a successful collaboration this year — to create limited-edition tour merchandize and provided the Arcoiris Tour dancers with blow-up suits emulating some of the group’s recurring characters.
When it came time for Balvin’s breakout hit, “Ginza,” some FriendsWithYou fluff-balls joined Balvin’s dancers to bring the singer back onstage in one of his Guess tracksuits. Never one not to wow with an entrance, Balvin was wheeled out on a giant yellow duck/horse that comically resembled a children’s rocking horse.
About midway through the show, he vanished from the Triple A's main stage and appeared on an isolated secondary stage on the opposite end of the arena floor. Surrounded by inflatable mushrooms, Balvin met the audience members of section 112 eye-to-eye when he was lifted nearly 30 feet in the air on a cylindrical, candy cane-striped platform. He then took a moment to reference the separation of families across borders, expressing to the audience his belief that this moment of darkness will eventually pass. Numerous similar moments throughout the show humanized Balvin to the audience even as he put on a larger-than-life spectacle for them.
While Balvin performed a number of his collaborations with Bad Bunny (from Oasis as well as other projects), San Benito did not make an appearance in person at Saturday’s show. He did, however, appear in FriendsWithYou form: After a few introductory bars from Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 single “I Like It Like That,” Balvin was joined onstage by hilarious big-headed versions of Cardi B and Bad Bunny as he performed his verse from “I Like It,” the trio’s chart-topping hit from last year.
Instead, Balvin was joined by Puerto Rican singer/rapper Anuel AA for “China,” their collaboration with Daddy Yankee, Ozuna, and Karol G before unsurprisingly closing the show with “Mi Gente,” his breakthrough 2017 collaboration with Willy William (and, eventually, Beyoncé). As rainbow-colored confetti rained down on the lower half of the arena, Balvin was joined by all of his dancers — at this point dressed as different mushrooms, popsicles, and Cookie Monsters — leaving the stage with a bow of gratitude.