Iglesias, Pitbull seize a moment
The singers tap into these raw, politically charged times to amp up their performances.
The singers’ separate performances touch on political themes at Staples Center.
Enrique Iglesias saw the makings of a teachable moment.
Standing onstage Saturday night before a capacity crowd at Staples Center, the Madrid-born singer asked, “How many people here speak Spanish?”
The response was robust but not quite unanimous — an indication that some in the audience might not understand what he was about to say. Rather than retreat, though, Iglesias opted for a little outreach: Think of his next song as Spanish 101, he suggested, before easing into the gentle thrum of “Cuando Me Enamoro.”
It wasn’t the only opportunity for learning that pop listeners have had lately.
Last week Billboard’s Hot 100 was topped for the fourth time by “Despacito,” the smash hit by Puerto Rico’s Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber. It’s the first Spanishlanguage song to reach No. 1 on that chart since “Macarena” got there more than 20 years ago.
“Despacito’s” success, of course, is especially remarkable because it comes just as a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment rolls through the United States, which coincides with President Trump’s effort to build a wall along the Mexican border.
A pleasure-seeking sophisticate with his own music to promote, Iglesias didn’t mention Trump or “Despacito” during Saturday’s concert, part of an extensive tour with the Miami rapper Pitbull. But the show still felt charged with the electricity of our time.
Iglesias, dressed in his trademark designer-paramilitary garb, opened with “Súbeme la Radio,” one of several excellent Spanishlanguage singles he’s released since his last studio album, 2014’s “Sex and Love.” And throughout the night he repeatedly jumped from the stage to grip the hands of fans who clearly view him as a thought leader.
Face-to-face interaction is nothing new for Iglesias. For years his concerts included a reliable set piece built around his ballad “Hero,” in which he’d select a woman from the audience to serenade; often the bit would end with the singer kissing the woman on the mouth.
At Staples, though, Iglesias sang “Hero” by himself and touched folks instead during his uptempo material, which made it seem less a simulation of romance than a kind of man-of-the-people move.
Pitbull was characteristically more direct in his populism even as he stalked the stage in an expertly tailored black suit and sunglasses.
The son of Cuban refugees, the rapper has long made his rags-to-riches tale a basis of his music, which combines throbbing club beats with exhortations to seize the day and reach for the stars and so on.
But here you could detect a current of anger beneath the optimism, as when he introduced “Give Me Everything” with a pointed monologue about the nonsense of American politics — he used a stronger word — and why “a country built by immigrants is telling us to keep immigrants out.”
Like Iglesias, Pitbull had taken an informal poll of the crowd before he made his appeal, asking how many white people, black people and Latinos were in the house. And the response no doubt emboldened him.
But the man had knowledge to drop no matter what. The things he had to say couldn’t wait.
ENRIQUE IGLESIAS trots across the stage Saturday night in front of a full house at Staples Center.
PITBULL lifts spirits with a rousing set prior to Iglesias’ energetic appearance.