“Feel the Beat,” a track from the Black Eyed Peas’ recent bilingual English-Spanish album, “Translation,” features the group’s first collaboration with Latin music star Maluma. In an interview this week for Variety’s Power of Young Hollywood issue, frontman Will.i.am. reveals that it was the third song that the group tried to pull off with the 26-year-old reggaeton phenomenon from Colombia.
“The verse on ‘Feel the Beat’ was originally written for ‘Ritmo (Bad Boys for Life),’” Will says, referring to the 2019 track that eventually featured J Balvin instead. “And I don’t think [Maluma] felt comfortable with it at the time. ‘Ritmo’ could have went two different directions, right? It was obvious, but it was risky because the sample was so blatant,” he says of the song (which features the line, “This is the rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm of the night”).
The second song that they worked on together also turned out to be another dead end. “So now, Maluma became very critical on everything that we did, and that’s the power of Maluma,” Will recalls. “He’s not one of those artists that are like, ‘I’m handsome, and this is my ticket in.’ He’s f—ing talented as f—. He works his ass off. And he’s handsome, third.”
Will pauses for a second to clarify: “I like girls. I’m straight as an arrow. But when a handsome motherf—er walks in the room, you’re like, ‘Oh shit. I need to f—ing get my shit together because my girl’s going to be looking over there.’”
Maluma tells a slightly different version of working with the Black Eyed Peas. “The first day that I met them, we went to Los Angeles, and we went straight to the studio,” he says. “It’s so funny, because the song that they released, they didn’t put me in the song. They put J Balvin, and I was like, ‘What the f—!?’ Then they told me they wanted to change a lot of things, and they wanted to do another song with me.”
They found a winner with “Feel the Beat,” which debuted in June with a music video which has been viewed 77 million times on YouTube (and closes with a message of support for Black Lives Matter).
“He was happy with the outcome,” Will says.
Will talks about how he initially learned about Maluma from his “all-Mexican neighborhood, where everybody’s like, ‘Hey Willie, you heard of Maluma?’ ‘Maluma, what the hell’s a Maluma?’”
Will later ran into Maluma at the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show in Atlanta, which featured Bruno Mars. “I’m walking through the tunnel to go to the floor, and then Maluma’s there,” he remembers. “And I’m like, ‘Oh shit, that’s the guy that my family’s talking about.’ So, I fanned out.”
According to Will, music is experiencing “a different Latin explosion” — with Maluma, J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee and more — than the one in the ’90s. “The Ricky Martins, the Enrique Iglesiases, they were really important for the Latin takeover, but they had to sing in English to have success,” Will says. “Even Shakira’s from that era where Shakira had to sing in English. [Now] these guys are like, ‘F— English, bro.’ It’s a new world.”
He elaborated that these artists are selling out stadiums in most regions of the world in a way that most U.S. pop stars can’t. “There’s a new pop machine,” Will said. “There’s a new icon, and your teenage daughter likes Maluma. For Miley Cyrus to play stadiums, Miley Cyrus needed Disney, and Miley Cyrus needed songs. The Latin community is such a freaking amazing community that their superstars know their songs. Pop is not that loyal.”