Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” couldn’t do it, Jay Z got help from Justin Timberlake and Eminem, and Metallica didn’t try. Selling out consecutive shows at Yankee Stadium, with its capacity of roughly 50,000, is nearly impossible for any pop music artist not named Paul McCartney. But Romeo Santos, who will perform there Friday and Saturday nights, is about to achieve that feat.
Mr. Santos, who grew up in the Bronx a Yankee fan, calls himself the king of bachata, a genre born in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic, refined in New York City and characterized by rippling guitars, a gently pulsating beat and, in contrast to salsa, an absence of horns. But despite his enormous popularity — one video from his most recent CD has been viewed 345 million times on YouTube, compared with 185 million for Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” — he is all but unknown to Americans who speak only English.
Mr. Santos’s success is a testament not only to the growing influence the nation’s Hispanic population of more than 50 million and his own two decades in the music business, but also to a new kind of music he has pioneered and mastered. By infusing a traditional Latino sound and its subject matter — romance — with R&B and inflections of hip-hop, Mr. Santos, 32, has created a genre that bridges traditional differences of taste between the Caribbean and Mexican-American worlds while appealing to young Latinos growing up listening to American music.
“There’s a large pool of young Latinos wanting to connect to something that’s kind of hip-hoppish but isn’t rap, that’s kind of romantic, like R&B, but is in Spanish and thus their own,” said Deborah Pacini Hernández, the author of “Oye Como Va! Hybridity and Identity in Latino Popular Music” and a professor of anthropology and American studies at Tufts University. She has tracked Mr. Santos’s career since he was in the boy band Aventura. “Bachata is still about romance,” Ms. Pacini Hernández said. “It’s not that braggadocio, super hyper macho thing, and it connects to a world of dance,” typified by bachata festivals in Europe and Asia.
In contrast to stars like Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — all of whom Mr. Santos cites as paving the way for his rise — he has not pursued a crossover approach meant to expand his presence in the English-language mainstream. Though he sprinkles English phrases into many of his songs, and tends to speak in Spanglish when he is offstage, he has thus far refused to record an album in English, saying “I believe in my culture, and I believe in my genre, because they are beautiful.”
Instead, he’s become a beacon for reverse crossover. English-language artists, aware of his popularity in one of the nation’s fastest-growing demographics — young Hispanics — are eager to collaborate. On his second solo album, “The Formula, Vol. 2,” released in February and an instant hit, both Drake and Nicki Minaj gamely attempt to sing in Spanish: he on “Odio,” or “Hatred,” a track that also features Drake’s English-language rap, and she on “Animales.” Mr. Santos’ first solo record, released in 2011, featured tracks with Usher and Lil Wayne, but their collaborations were in English, not Spanish.
“This was another strategy of mine, to utilize artists like Drake,” said Mr. Santos, who was responding to a shout out from Drake on “The Motto.” “People were expecting we were going to do an R&B, but it was a bachata, and I think they were definitely not ready to hear him sing in Spanish nor rap on a bachata record. At first even he was saying, ‘Don’t you think it’s kind of weird to have a rap beat in a bachata?’ So I told him, ‘Look, if there’s anyone who can get away with it, it’s me, so let’s try it.’ ”
Mr. Santos is one of the relatively few Latin performers with the ability to bridge the traditional musical gap between Spanish speakers of Caribbean descent, most numerous on the East Coast, and Mexican-Americans and Central Americans, dominant elsewhere in the United States. On his current tour, he has sold out multiple nights at basketball arenas in Los Angeles and Houston, bastions of Mexican regional music.
“He’s just as big here as back East,” said DJ Eddie One, music director at KXOL-FM in Los Angeles, a top-rated Spanish-language pop station. “In the past, bachata used to be seen as a traditional music, but he’s managed to make it fresh.”
He has done that in part by making bachata, despite its rural origins and lower-class associations in the Dominican Republic, equate to “urban hipness and cosmopolitanism,” Ms. Pacini Hernández said. Mr. Santos sings in a falsetto that comes straight out of a rhythm-and-blues tradition. He dresses sleekly and makes records that use the latest in studio technology to give his music polish.
Mr. Santos, the son of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother, is a pure product of the Bronx, where some people still refer to him by his birth name, Anthony. He grew up in a multiracial and multiethnic environment, listening to rhythm and blues, rock and hip-hop as well as salsa and bachata, and attended P.S. 50 on Vyse Avenue (where family members still live) and Morris High School.
These days, Mr. Santos’s repertoire is less about the spirit and more about the flesh. Many of his songs deal with “amor, desamor, lust or sex,” as he put it, including “Propuesta Indecente,” or “Indecent Proposal,” probably his most popular song to date. It’s a tale of seduction and a one-night stand that was the first single from “The Formula, Vol. 2” and has yielded a highly successful video, shot in Buenos Aires with the rising Mexican actress Eíza González.
All that, combined with a sweet, caressing voice tinged with vulnerability, has contributed to Mr. Santos’s image as a sex symbol. He’s on the cover of Latina magazine’s current “Hot Guys” summer issue and also made People en Español’s “50 Most Beautiful” list. He has also begun to attract attention in the television and movie worlds, and will play a small role in the next installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Mr. Santos stresses that “Romeo” is merely a stage persona.
“These women are falling in love with the songs,” he said. “I have band members who are way better looking than me, and they don’t have the same luck. ”
Romeomania has severely limited Mr. Santos’s ability to move unnoticed in the Bronx or, for that matter, any Hispanic neighborhood in the country. When he showed up in February for a signing event at a record store at 230th Street and Broadway, the police had to keep order.
“He’s the biggest, with a fan base that’s male and female, but he’s especially popular with the young girls in their 20s and teens,” said Latisha Gallman, the store manager. “It was really cold for that event, but some of his fans stood on line for 27 hours, buying socks and blankets from the store next door to keep warm, and when he got out of the car, they were crying and trying to hug him.”
Categories: NGL News