Romeo Santos, King of Bachata, is indisputably a revolutionary in the music industry. Born in the Bronx, Santos has been amassing a global fanbase and spearheading changes in Spanish Language Latinx music for over two decades. Beginning as a member of the ultra-popular Latino boy-band, Aventura, Santos has been embarking on an extremely successful solo career since 2011. With chart-topping bachata hits and profound musical messages around the themes of romance and heartbreak, everyone should give the King of Bachata a listen if you haven’t already.
Bachata as a music genre originated in the Dominican Republic in the 1900s. Traditionally, bachata focuses on (usually sad) topics of romance, as Santos does to this day. Bachata “is typified by a slow, sensual beat, romantic or bittersweet lyrics, and instrumentation anchored by either acoustic or electric guitar.” However, through many modern changes, “bachata has absorbed the influence of different Latin and Western music styles, from R&B and pop to techno and hip-hop, each of which has increased its tempo and expanded its sound.” Aventura and Romeo Santos himself are two big reasons for the evolution of bachata music in the late 20th century and 21st century.
In the 1990s, Romeo Santos began his musical career via the formation of Aventura, a four-member band that gained incredible popularity and led early-on the changes to bachata. Aventura was composed of Romeo Santos, Lenny Santos, Henry Santos and Max Santos. Aventura has been heavily credited with the formation of the “modern bachata” because they “expanded bachata lyrics beyond their traditional heartbreak themes” and “stretched traditional bachata with R&B and pop elements.”
Because Romeo Santos began his journey with Aventura, and because this band has been such a pivotal influence on the trajectory of bachata music, I recommend listening to Aventura first if you haven’t. Some of their greatest hits include songs like “Obsesion,” “Volví” and “Dile al Amor” (the latter is my personal favorite). “Volví,” a collaboration with reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny, is a great example of the genre fusion and collapsing of boundaries that Aventura and Romeo Santos have pushed.
Except for perhaps a few lines, listeners will notice that Aventura’s songs have Spanish lyrics, not English. This is a tradition that Romeo Santos continues in his solo career to this day. Aventura’s and Santos’ decision to do this has been pivotal in normalizing the use of Spanish lyrics in creating music for a global audience. Santos “knew that he’d be singing mainly in Spanish” from the outset of his musical career. This is just one of the ways the King of Bachata has been such a revolutionary artist and international force.
Santos kicked off his solo career with the debut album, “Fórmula, Vol. 1.” This is of course where listeners should start exploring Santos’ solo music if they haven’t. “Fórmula, Vol. 1” is a seductive, romantic collection of songs filled with beautiful instrumentals, heartbreak lyrics that pull on the heart strings, Santos’ captivating falsetto voice, and many exciting collaborations. Some of these collaborations include “Aleluya” (ft. Pitbull), “All Aboard” (ft. Lil’ Wayne), and “Promise” (ft. Usher).
“Promise” is a song that perfectly illustrates Santos’ journey as “a trailblazer” in “English-Spanish collaborations,” which “have become more ingrained in mainstream pop music.” Despite said collaborations and the inclusion of snippets of English in his music, Santos “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.’” It’s an inspiring message, one that explains the deep love Santos’ vast, international fanbase has for him.
Listeners should also check out Santos’ popular 2014 album, “Fórmula, Vol. 2.” Some must-listens in this collection include “Odio,” “Animales,” and “Propuesta Indecente.” From here, I recommend transitioning to Santos’ 2017 album, “Golden.” While “Golden” is filled with numerous amazing songs, my personal favorites are “Héroe Favorito” and “Un Vuelo A La.” The latter is a song featuring Jessie Reyez with hypnotizing bluesy notes that make you sway to the blissful harmony of Santos’ falsetto and Reyez’s gritty, emotionally-charged vocals.
With the 2022 release of his newest album, “Fórmula, Vol. 3,” it’s clear that the King of Bachata isn’t slowing down anytime soon. “Fórmula, Vol. 3” is perhaps Santos’ most adventurous work yet, jumping from English-Spanish collaborations like “Sin Fin” (ft. Justin Timberlake) to songs like “Culpable” that continue Santos’ journey of genre-fusing. “Culpable” in particular creates a fascinating blend between bachata and genres like hip-hop. Songs like “Sexo Con Ropa” illustrate the ways in which Santos has used bachata music to transcend traditional topics like heartbreak. Instead, as indicated by the provocative title, the King of Bachata also serenades about explicit and sexy topics. The album also features the first time Santos experiments with the Mexican Ranchera genre, by collaborating with an equivalent love song writer in the genre, Christian Nodal.
The many colorful layers of “Fórmula, Vol. 3” show that there’s something for everyone within Romeo Santos’ music. I’ve only just discovered the King of Bachata for myself, and am definitely going to play him on repeat as we journey into 2023.
Aventura Musica: https://www.aventuramusica.com/
New York Latin Culture Magazine: https://www.newyorklatinculture.com/aventura/#:~:text=They%20stretched%20traditional%20bachata%20with,2002
ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/bachata-star-romeo-santos-redefining-genre-singing-spanish/story?id=67446643
The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/11/arts/music/in-the-language-of-romance-romeo-santos-is-a-true-superstar.html