Music

J Balvin Schools Coachella on Latin Music With Astonishing, Surreal Set

With performances from rising Spanish star Rosalía, Chilean singer Mon Laferte, regional Mexican titans Tucanes de Tijuana and one later today from Puerto Rican trap star Bad Bunny, Latin music has had its biggest-ever presence on the Coachella stages this year.

But Colombian superstar J Balvin — who joined Beyoncé onstage last year during her iconic headlining Coachella set for a remix of his smash “Mi Gente” — led the way Saturday with one of the most eye-popping and elaborate sets ever to be immortalized on festival’s stage. (The set will be re-airing on the Coachella YouTube channel on Sunday until the live broadcast begins at around 6pm ET.)

Created in collaboration with the arts collective FriendsWithYou, the stage was like a giant playpen, built around a statue of FriendsWithYou’s trademark cartoonish, amine-esque figure with a pillow-like body — basically a Michelin man with a cloud for a head. A dozen dancers wearing those outfits — hilariously doing tough-guy moves — accompanied Balvin early in the set, followed by a giant toy horse that a dancer twerked on, a couple dozen fantastic dancers, and a mind-blowing video show on the giant screens alongside and behind the stage to accompany it. And those were just the visuals!


J Balvin, Rosalia. Rosalia, left, and J Balvin perform at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club, in Indio, Calif2019 Coachella Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 1 - Day 2, Indio, USA - 13 Apr 2019

CREDIT: Amy Harris/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

But just as memorably, the set acted as both an overview of Balvin’s career — including hits like “Reggaeton,” “Safari” and “No es justo” — and an introduction, for the uninitiated, to the musical depth and history of reggaeton and other Latin hits of the past two decades, including many songs that he wasn’t directly involved in.


J Balvin performs at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club, in Indio, Calif2019 Coachella Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 1 - Day 2, Indio, USA - 13 Apr 2019

CREDIT: Amy Harris/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Rosalia — who played a blazing set on Friday night — joined him for their collaboration “Con Altura”; dancehall star Sean Paul jumped onstage for their collaboration up “Contra La Pared.” Balvin also paid tribute to the reggaeton “OGs” by dropping in songs like N.O.R.E. and Daddy Yankee’s 2006 hit “Oye Mi Canto” and Yankee’s 2004 smash “Gasolina.” At various points Nicky Jam’s “X” and Prince Royce’s “Sensualidad” were incorporated into the set, which peaked with a cover of Cardi B’s “I Like It” — while Cardi and Daddy Yankee did not join him onstage, Balvin was accompanied by something that was arguably even more entertaining: dancers wearing hilarious giant caricature heads of the two figures, Cardi’s complete with an extended tongue; Balvin danced with her for part of the song (see fan-shot footage below).

The set climaxed, of course, with the closing “Mi Gente,” which found Balvin joined onstage by so many surreal dancing figures — a couple of giant mushrooms, a pair of Mickey Mouse-type hands with eyeballs on them, what looked like the Cookie Monster — that at one point he struggled to finish a line because he was laughing. He told the crowd to wave their phones, led them in synchronized jumping, stopped and started and finally, the set roared to a close.

“We’ve been waiting 15 years for this!,” Balvin shouted, and spoke of his pleasure at hearing Spanish sung on the Coachella stage. His set was a monumental achievement — one of the greatest Coachella has ever seen … and yes, that includes Beyonce.

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