In a 2018 interview that caused a mild stir among Latin music fans, Puerto Rican reggaetonero Ozuna is asked to describe the leaders of his genre in a word. He struggles to keep his praise short and sweet. He's effusive when he speaks about his contemporaries Bad Bunny ("the new generation") and Anuel AA ("a beast who revolutionized trap music"), among others. But when he's asked about Colombian singer Maluma, a blank stare overtakes his face and devolves into a frown, with the singer settling on repeating Maluma's name with a shrug. It's an awkward moment — the interviewer says "oh my God" and moves on as quickly as possible. The video now lives on YouTube under the title, "Ozuna habla mal de Maluma" ("Ozuna Disses Maluma").
The uproar appears to have been overblown: Just last year, Ozuna and Maluma's collaboration on the "X" remix alongside Nicky Jam and J Balvin topped the charts all over Latin America and went to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart. But the incident put a spotlight on an issue that has dogged Maluma's career since his early forays into Latin trap: He has never been a musical trendsetter. Instead, he follows the lead of Latin music pioneers and adapts his sound to fit the wave of the moment, making it difficult to pin down his musical identity.
That lack of identity manifested itself in Maluma's concert at the American Airlines Arena Friday night, but not exactly through the music. With the exception of "Cuatro Babys," the singer strayed from the Latin trap songs that defined his early sound and stuck with the reggaeton songs that have made him a global superstar in recent years. While the show was musically cohesive, his "kitchen sink" approach to stage production was comical at times and came off a little desperate.
The video interludes during the show portrayed Maluma as some kind of action film star, with an animation style somewhere between the Star Wars prequels and Blade Runner. In the first interlude, the singer glided through space in a spaceship before making a crash landing. He then emerged from the bottom of the arena stage underneath a wall of blue lasers and a holographic spotlight in a neon suit behind a glowing mic stand flanked by backup dancers in neon sweatshirts and black panties. It was a lot. During the course of the night, there was no shortage of lasers, pyro, and action movie-style interludes that placed Maluma on different alien planets with no clear objective other than to overstimulate the audience's every sense.
And it wasn't just the visuals that seemed contrived. At multiple points throughout the night, the singer stopped the show to take in the cheers of the audience, at one point shaking his head at a backup dancer in feigned disbelief with his hand on his heart. At another point, toward the end of the show, he knelt down in a prayer pose and scrunched up his face in search of tears. While his sense of gratitude for the adoring crowd was made plain, it was hard to shake the feeling that these moments were just as meticulously choreographed as the lasers and the videos.
In a show that made unrelenting spectacle its ultimate goal, it was surprising to see the degree to which the second act lagged. It began with the first costume change. Though Maluma did little more than replace his turtleneck and blazer with a neon tank top that read, "Icon," the band played a sparse arrangement under dim stage lighting during the many minutes it took for the singer to re-emerge onstage. In contrast to the energy emitted from the stage when Maluma was at its center, these moments felt like mini-intermissions and slowed the pace of the show.
Once he returned, the middle act seemed designed to give him a chance to catch his breath from the hyperkinetics of the first part of the show. During "11 PM," "Sin Contrato," "Tus Besos," and "Bella," Maluma followed a repetitive formula in which he sang acoustic versions of the songs, then had the audience sing them, then sang the original version of the song, and finally reprised the acoustic version. Even among the apparent diehards in the crowd, faces glossed over by the third or fourth time he did this.
But Maluma found a way to re-energize the crowd with the help of a guest appearance by reggaeton pioneers Wisin & Yandel, whose mid-2000s output is considered canon within the young genre. It was only fitting that Maluma should bring out two artists who foreshadowed the Latin Urbano music takeover of the past few years. As an artist who's repeatedly gone out of his way in interviews to emphasize that he's a Latin pop artist as opposed to a pioneering reggaetonero, Maluma helps his cause in paying homage to the artists who made it possible for urban Latin music to be considered "pop."
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The crowd was liveliest during Wisin & Yandel's four-song medley, and that energy carried through to the end of the show, including during another surprise cameo from Colombian singer Silvestre Dangond, who dueted with Maluma on "Vivir Bailando."
The confetti drop during "Carnaval" rounded out the sensory feast comprised of lasers, pyro, neon, LED mini-films, and surprise guest appearances, but the show did little to assert Maluma's leading role within the Latin music industry. One got the feeling that if it weren't him up there singing those songs in a visually arresting setting, someone else could have sung them just as convincingly in his stead.
-"Vente pa' ca"
-"No Se Me Quita"
-"La Luz" with Wisin & Yandel
-"Ahora es" with Wisin & Yandel
-"Pam Pam" with Wisin & Yandel
-"Rakata" with Wisin & Yandel
-"Vivir Bailando" with Silvestre Dangond
-"Felices los 4"