“Y nadie pregunta
Si sufro, si lloro
Si tengo una pena
Que hiere muy hondo.”
El Cantante - Hector Lavoe
“And no one asks
If I suffer or cry
If I carry a sorrow
That hurts deep inside”
El Cantante - Hector Lavoe
Amongst the many revelations about J Balvin in 'The Boy from Medellin,' his new documentary on Amazon Prime, is that 'El Cantante,' written by Rúben Blades and made famous by salsa legend Hector Lavoe, is his favorite song.
The story in the lyrics is told from the perspective of a singer who laments that, while he is celebrated on stage, his true self is invisible off it. The theme of “a misunderstood artist eclipsed by a larger-than-life persona of his own creation” resonates throughout TBFM.
"It’s as if we weren’t human beings” Balvin tells Jorge Ramos about why he identifies with the the crooner in the classic tune.
In TBFM Balvin reclaims his humanity, reintroducing the world to José Álvaro Osorio Balvín. The documentary uses archival footage to flesh out the journey of a young José from his days dreaming of making it big, up to his triumphant return to his hometown, culminating in a performance for a sold-out stadium of adoring fans cheering the global superstar now known as J Balvin.
But it’s the messier stuff in between, including his frequent bouts with crippling insecurity and anxiety, that Balvin is opening up about more than ever. Few more intimate self- portraits of a bigger star have been put on film.
Watch the latest episode of Real America with Jorge Ramos:
And now Balvin is using the movie’s promotional tour to speak out about mental health. It’s an important message coming from such a high-profile messenger for Latinos, who still carry a stigma against seeking help for, or even speaking openly about, mental health issues.
Asked by Ramos whether his anxieties were perhaps a symptom of his rarefied success, Balvin responds that “depression and anxieties are not necessarily the result of external pressures,” adding that sometimes depression is the result of a chemical imbalance “that could happen to anyone.” Balvin has been taking medication for his condition for about a decade.
Balvin’s press blitz is also happening as his home country of Colombia is rocked by widespread social unrest.
When Ramos inquires about the pressure he feels to be vocal about politics, Balvin says “I didn’t sign a piece of paper to be president,” but recognizes that the platform he has carries with it a social responsibility, “quiera o no quiera,” whether he wants it or not. Balvin admits he is still finding his way in this new role, and knows he’ll never make everyone happy: “If you speak up, it’s wrong, if you don’t it’s also wrong. You can’t win” a friend rightly warns him at one point in the documentary.
In a bygone era, artists of Balvin’s stature were held up on a pedestal, their public failures and addictions and sometimes even premature deaths perversely interpreted as manifestations of their tortured genius.
'The Boy from Medellín' rejects that archetype, replacing pretense with reality- or at least, reality as seen through the reflection of one artist’s own introspective lens. The result is a portrait of a superstar suited to our time- capturing a performer whose highs remain fantastical, but whose lows ground their public image in a struggle that reflects our own. It is a new phase for Balvin, and perhaps a natural evolution of our relationship with celebrities in an age when social media continues to blur the lines between our public and private lives.
“The Boy from Medellín” is streaming now on Amazon Prime.