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Maluma, the 'pretty boy' who conquered the world
Maluma en Revista Bocas

Juan Luis Londoño Arias, known artistically as Maluma, is a Colombian pop and reggaeton singer.

Foto:

PHRAA

Maluma, the 'pretty boy' who conquered the world

Juan Luis Londoño Arias, known artistically as Maluma, is a Colombian pop and reggaeton singer.

FOTO:

PHRAA

The singer gave BOCAS a long interview about his life and how he became a worldwide phenomenon.

He wasn’t a sensation yet, or so he thought.

He was 18 years old. It was his first trip to Mexico City and his song ‘Farandulera’ had just hit the radio stations (his first big hit) and his managers- who were his aunt Yudy Arias and her husband, Juan Parra - did not consider getting a security scheme, not even a couple of assistants.

When they arrived in the Mexican capital, an airport official approached them in the baggage claim area and asked them: “Who is Maluma?” A little scared, the young Colombian raised his hand: “It's me, what's wrong?”, To which the guy replied: “It is crazy outside. I recommend that you do not go out ”.

(We recommend: Five top places in Colombia to go on vacation).

In a matter of seconds, the young Colombian artist had to face a riot of young girls crying, screaming, and trying to kiss him, rip his clothes and even his curls. “I was not worried about me, but about my aunt who was expecting her second child” Maluma recalls. “She was almost six months pregnant.”

Yudy, who was not the target, was able to get to the car. However, the singer and his manager were trapped by the hysterical mass. 

“I have a very clear image in my head: in a matter of seconds, I started to feel the floor was moving and, when I looked down, I saw that they were girls lying on the floor”.

Parra saw that there was a patrol 10 meters away, grabbed Maluma by the arm as best he could and together they made their way, walking over the fallen bodies, towards the official vehicle. “It was all very crazy because none of the security at the airport helped, nobody did a damn thing. When we got to the police car I told the officer to help me. I literally managed to get to the policeman's window, I knocked on the glass and said: 'look what is happening around you' and he didn't care about anything, he looked at me and basically told me to ‘Figure it out’.

They looked at each other and realized they were scratched and bloody. So, thinking only about their survival - which of course comes with some violence - they decided to move towards the car that was waiting for them. “It took us an hour to get into the car. On the way they beat me and scratched me, it was very scary. Now I can laugh at that, but I remember that my aunt cried. That was the day I said: 'This is not normal.'

And indeed. From then on, Maluma became one of the greatest musical icons in Colombia, Latin America, and the world. In fact, behind the footsteps of Vives, Shakira, Juanes, and J. Balvin, the 26-year-old is, most likely, the Colombian artist with the largest paycheck today. Actually, for the last five years, all his concerts - in any stadium or arena in the world - have been sold out in advance and leave an average of 2 million dollars at the box office. It is enough to understand that the 'Pretty Boy' has become a global celebrity.

Maluma and J Balvin went to the MET Gala 2021.

Foto:

Instagram: @jeremyscott @donatella_versace

Juan Luis Londoño was born in Medellín in 1994. His relatives say that he came to the world with one green eye and one brown/honey color. As a child he sang rancheras and salsa, the latter is one of his favorite genres. He was baptized in the Catholic church and today he walks the steps of Buddhism. A left-handed, he was on his way to be a soccer player–one of the good ones- , according to the Colombian National Team midfielder Juan Fernando Quintero–, but life had other plans for him, and he followed the path of reggaeton.

A disciplined, meticulous, and competitive guy who already has five studio albums, 'Magia' (2012), 'Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy' (2015), 'F.A.M.E.' (2018), 11:11 (2019), and 'Papi Juancho' (2020); which won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Album (2018). This is the guy who performed the Spanish version of the song 'Colors', the anthem of the 2018 Soccer World Cup. Moreover, on October 22 he will receive the “Billboard Spirit of Hope Award”, he has a Gulfstream G450 airplane worth approximately $22 million, and rubs shoulders with the Kardashians, Puff Daddy, Madonna, Marc Anthony, Shakira, and Jennifer López. In fact, he has just shot a romantic comedy titled 'Marry Me' with JLo, which will be released on February 12, 2021, and which is his Hollywood debut.

This is Maluma, an artistic name that is the combination of the first two letters of the names of his mother (Marlli), his father (Luis) and his sister (Manuela). A true superstar.

(Keep reading: 'There were some indecent proposals... It was a painful situation': Karol G).

In your childhood and teenage years, you played a lot of soccer. In fact, you went through the lower divisions of Atlético Nacional and Seguros La Equidad. How serious was that plan?

Very serious. The truth is that I thought I was going to become a professional soccer player. I went from playing the Pony-soccer category, in a team called Bolillo Gómez, to the lower divisions of Nacional. Then I went to the U-14, to the U-15, and I went to play at La Equidad, with Alexis García, in Medellín. I spent two years there. I had the opportunity to make a couple of trips to Bogotá, but obviously playing in the capital is totally different, the altitude affects you a lot. But yes. I definitely did want to be a professional player.

Juanfer Quintero, who is your friend, says that you were ready to play for any team in Colombia. He once said that you were “a very smart left-footed player”. Tell us about your soccer years.

The truth is, yes I was very creative. Creative attacking midfielder. I was fast and I could think fast. If I had put in my ten thousand hours on soccer, maybe I would have become a professional.

Could you have taken Juanfer’s position?

No. No one can take his position.

Did you get to play together?

Against. When he played in Envigado and I was in Nacional, it was annoying. Whenever we had to spot Juanfer, it was impossible. He is a very talented player.

Your parents split up when you were 12 years-old and your father had to move to Bogotá for work. The situation got complicated at home and the story goes that you took over the household, selling sandwiches and sweets at school.

My grandparents and my uncles helped us a lot, because my father went down-hill when it comes to finances. I had to take charge and continue moving forward. I used to buy a bag that had about 35 pieces of candy and that cost me about $1,500 pesos at that time. Later, I would go to school and sell each candy for a thousand pesos. Same with the sandwiches. That's how I made my money.

And you also used to write custom love letters for your classmates’ girlfriends?

Yes, I was romantic since I was little. In my family we have been very sensitive to art and writing. And yes, at school I liked to help my friends a little when they ended a relationship. I was there for them.

Was it your sister Manuela who helped you get the Maluma tattoo on your arm, which, as we already know, are the initials of the names of your mother, father, and sister?

My sister already had a tattoo, and she was the one who took me to the Premium Plaza Shopping Mall in El Poblado. I was 14 years old, and I wanted to write Maluma on my left leg, who, as people already know, represents the love that I have for my family. And that's where my stage name comes from. It's true that Manuela helped me, but there are things that she didn't help me with, like when I told her to take me to the X Factor.

(Read this: These are the countries currently requesting a covid passport).

She didn’t want to go with you or what happened?

I was 13 years old, I wanted to go to The X Factor, I prepared a song by Andrés Cepeda, I printed the form, filled it out, gave it to Manuela and she did not take me. She didn't want to take me, which, by the way, I didn’t know then, but she was making me a favor [laughs].

The one who supported you a lot was your aunt, who encouraged you to record your first song. How does that story go?

It all started because a friend at school, Arias, had already recorded a song. I was 16 years old, and I told my aunt that I really wanted to go to the studio, and she was the one who paid for my first hours there. She went with me and supported me. She and her husband Juan were the ones who started my career. And that was the foundation of everything. They were the ones who helped me build my brand and, they did a great job.

But I’ve heard that you were going to record a duet song, but your partner did not come. What happened?

That was Arias. He was the one who told me to go together. We were supposed to meet at five in the afternoon and he arrived about half an hour late and I couldn't miss my hours. So, I decided to do my first song alone. I recorded it and by the time he arrived, it was too late.

Did we miss the Arias – Londoño duet?

I saw him about a month ago. He came to my apartment, and we remembered those times. And I told him: “You see what happened because of your messiness, because of your tardiness, that's where the duet of Maluma and Arias died”. The truth is that we have both done very well, each of us in our own way.

Arias missed a great opportunity…

He did because he was too slow.

Between soccer practice and concerts, how did you do with school?

I was two years away from graduating from high school when this all got serious. At school they were very supportive of me pursuing my dream and thanks to them I was able to graduate. And also, thanks to my friends from school who helped me a lot with my work. I came to classes tired all the time because I had to play soccer during the weekends, then at night I had to go sing, the next day go train, and then sing again, and on Monday I had school. That's when I decided to quit football and put all that energy into my musical career.

Maluma, the 'Pretty boy'.

Foto:

Phraa

(It's incredible: Benefits of intermittent fasting).

I can't imagine your coach’s face when you told him that you were better off singing.

I came to training one day and told the coach that I was going to start singing reggaeton. He couldn’t believe it. All my teammates made fun of me and laughed but I said: “Ok, you will see that I am going to make my dreams come true and one day you will remember this moment”. It was the best decision I could have made.

And what was it like to tell your father who had supported your soccer pursuit since you were a child?

One day my dad picked me up from a training session and, when we were getting home, I told him: “Dad, I won't train again, I won't play soccer again, I'm going to sing reggaeton”. And he almost had a heart attack. The man suffered a lot. Then, he was in a bakery once, and on a radio he heard, in one of the credits, my name, Maluma. He called me crying and said: “Güevón, I can't believe, this was serious”. And from then on, he supported me. My family in general has supported me in everything I have wanted to do, absolutely everything.

And you entered dance and singing lessons...

I learned to sing with Mirabay Montoya. I love her very much. She was the first person to truly scold me, so to speak.

Then you became the king of fifteen party's in Medellín. Is it true that you did four parties in one night and almost 400 shows in one year?

Yes, it was crazy. It was overnight. I closed my eyes, I opened them again and every weekend we had fifteen-year-old birthday parties and gigs at clubs. The first clubs where I played in Colombia were in Bogotá. I was 17 years old, and I had to go with a work team and with a letter signed by my parents saying that I had permission to work.

But you only had one song, which was 'Farandulera' and that you repeated over and over in your shows.

Ha! The first show that I got paid for was in Neiva, in a party. They paid me for 45 minutes and I sang ‘Farandulera’ for 30 minutes in different versions. I went back to singing the chorus without the track, I grabbed the birthday girl, sang happy birthday, and started looking at my manager to ask for time. And he would tell me: “Keep going, keep going”. I smile every time I remember that.

Then you went on tour around Colombia in van. Is it true that eight people slept in a room?

Yes. There was no budget to buy plane tickets or rooms. So, we toured Colombia in a van. It was super uncomfortable: my assistant, my manager, my DJ, four dancers, the backup singer and me. We did four, five or six shows in a row. On Sunday I would arrive at my house exhausted. And on Monday again, we would start over. If I had not had that discipline that I learned in soccer, I would not have made it in this industry.

And then you had your break, The Voice Kids. Why do you think this was your moment?

Because all the houses in Colombia were able to know a little beyond Maluma. They were able to meet Juan Luis and that was very important. The show gave me the chance to connect with the Colombian audience, and that is where my career went to the next level. There I started touring in Bogotá, in the Centro de Eventos of Autopista Norte, there were fifteen thousand people and then in Medellín, in the Macarena, it was sold out. That's where Maluma's big movement began.

Latin American fame came to you out of the blue, to the point that in Mexico you were almost killed by fans for not having any security scheme planned.

I had only seen that on YouTube videos. When Michael Jackson was out. But, back then, I didn't imagine it for myself. There was the break, which was not just a song, but a movement in general in my career.

In the blink of an eye, you became a global celebrity. The Beatles say that when Beatlemania exploded, each one of them was given a hotel suite, but they would lock themselves in the bathroom of one of the rooms to say: “Shit! What's going on?” Did something like that happen to you? Does it keep happening to you?

Absolutely. The first concerts I did in the United States, on the first tour, were crazy. And it is still a dream. In 2018, when I arrived at Madison Square, I saw a screen that said: “Congratulations Maluma, sold out.” At the Garden! I went on stage, and I almost threw up with joy. We finished the concert, I met with my family and my work team, and we all began to cry. It was a way to give thanks because I had always dreamed of it and there it was happening.

(Interview with El 'Pibe' Valderrama: a colombian legend).

Then you were judged for the song 'Cuatro babys'. What was the most difficult thing that song brought you?

The most bizarre thing that happened to me with 'Cuatro Babys' was that the other assholes who wrote the song with me never had to face what happened. I was the one who had to take everything

The most bizarre thing that happened to me with 'Cuatro Babys' was that the other assholes who wrote the song with me never had to face what happened. I was the one who had to take everything. To begin with, I didn’t even write that song. I wrote my part, but people focused on what I had not written. I don't even sing the worst parts of the song. But I had to face the consequences. Then, the label gave the other artists a bunch of platinum records and the one who took all the shit, so to speak, was me.

In the same way, there was a lot of controversy surrounding your song 'Felices los cuatro'. It is very provocative, isn't it?

It is a good marketing strategy. It has always been a good marketing strategy. Madonna created her career out of controversy.

Even Elvis.

Exactly, it has always been like that. Songs are created and people themselves make the monster grow, so to speak.

Maluma, also known as the 'Dirty Boy'.

Foto:

Phraa

At what time did you realize that social media was such an important channel? I ask this because you are a true artist on that subject.

Since I started. I remember when I opened a Twitter account and started tweeting my thoughts. I saw people started to respond to me and retweet everything I was saying. Then, I saw how that movement started to grow. I would post a song on Facebook and within two hours it had thousands of views. There and then I understood the reach, as a communication tool, that social networks gave me.

After that you recorded the song ‘Felices los Cuatro’ in a salsa version with Marc Antony. He's one of your favorite artists, right?

People know how much I love him. He is my brother at heart, and he has helped me a lot in the decisions I have made in my career. He has brought me closer to other artists, like Puff Daddy. One night I invited him to a concert, and he told me: “A friend who worked with me is coming too”. I was in the dressing room when Marc came in and after three minutes Puff Daddy came in. And the three of us sat down and there is a famous photo of that encounter. A photo that I want to frame and put in my studio, where Marc is on the right, I am in the center and Puff Daddy is on the left: the three of us are drinking a tequila, enjoying ourselves, talking, and laughing at life. Three generations, three cultures and three totally different musical genres. Then, on stage, Puff Daddy waved at me and he kind of said: “What happened, I want to go up!” And I was shocked and happy. From that moment I can say that I have a very nice relationship with that man.

I heard of a very funny story between you and Madonna. Can you tell me about the scene with the horse and the torn pants?

Ha! That story is very funny. It was about four thirty in the morning, we were in Lisbon, Portugal, the last scene of the Medellín video, and I was so cold. A scene was missing where we had to ride an Arabian horse. I had a suit that was super tight on me, which they had designed specifically for that shot. When I went to ride the horse, my pants ripped. I couldn't get off because if I got off I was going to show them everything. Madonna was next to me, and she did not understand what was happening. We did the take, I got out and ran to the car.

There is also a compromising scene with Shakira, if I'm not mistaken.

With Shakira there are many stories, but it must be when we were making one of our videos and we had to get into a bathtub full of milk. And I had never gotten into something like that. I felt a bit awkward, and it was very uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, it was worth it. Shakira is awesome and I love her.

He defines himself as a “common and ordinary next door neighbor, a fighter, a worker who wants to leave a legacy, make history and share his culture with the world."

Foto:

Phraa

Let's talk about your Hollywood debut. You just shot a romantic comedy ‘Marry Me’, with J. Lo. Tell us about it.

Jennifer Lopez is an absolute boss. She has her team, her career, and her family very organized. She is a very balanced person, an idol, and a legend. She has been a teacher in many things, and now in my acting career. In acting, she was the first person to give me a shot and someone who helped me a lot.

(You may be interested in: David Beckham: a huge icon of the English team).

Moreover, you have shown yourself as a fashion icon. You walked for Dolce Gabana and have attended Dior shows. In one of those, you were sitting between Kim Kardashian and David Beckham. What was it you said to her that made her laugh so much?

It was the first time that I spoke to her. I had a good chemistry with Kim, and she started looking at me and I started laughing, because she wasn't moving her face at all. I asked her why she didn't move her face and she told me that she had something done, I don't know what the hell she had done to her face but that she couldn't laugh because it hurt. Then I started to laugh, and she told me not to laugh. She had to look the other way and play dumb.

At what point did you decide to buy your private jet? When did you think, “I deserve and need a plane”? And by the way, where and how do you buy a plane?

I bought it because I need it. That's my house in the air. Now, with the pandemic, I have hardly used it, but I live from tour to tour and so I needed it. I have my pajamas, my clothes, my toothbrush, my bed. I spend many hours there. Several people in Colombia shared with us their experience and gave us some recommendations. I bought it in Switzerland. It's a Gulfstream G450. I was on a tour in Europe and, I took advantage, one day I flew, went, saw it, fell in love with the plane and bought it.

Then you published it on your social media, of course, and many people in Colombia criticized you. What do you have to say to people who criticize you for buying a plane?

To the people who criticized me for buying a plane I tell them to work so that they can buy one and not be jealous.

You have already performed in the most important stages of the world. Are you surprised that, for example, in Israel your fans sing the songs in Spanish?

That is where, as an artist, you realize that music is a universal language. Then I went to Romania, and it was the same. Same in Switzerland, Poland, and in places that I didn't think my music would be known. And every time I go there, everything is sold out. It is very nice to be able to take my culture around the world and to be recognized for singing in Spanish and being able to take my language to the whole world.

Even the crown prince of Abu Dhabi is your fan. Is it true that he invited you to his house to give a private concert?

No, he invited me just to hang out. He showed me his car collection which by the way I think is the largest car collection in the world, more than 200 or 300 cars. I believe that his house in Abu Dhabi is as big as Manhattan. To be there feels like a movie and inspires and motivate you to work harder.

Maluma wearing one of the models from his "Maluma X Balmain" collection.

Foto:

EFE/Phraa

So, do you define yourself as a reggaeton, pop, rap singer or all of the above?

All of the above. My gender is the Maluma genre.

Your foundation “The Art of Dreams” today helps 170 children in the low-income neighborhoods of Medellín. What is the best thing that this had given you?

It is very comforting to be able to help my people. For me, that has been very nice because my sister is a key piece in of all this, she is the president of the foundation. My family has been very supportive and has always been in favor of helping those who need it most. And since they helped me, since they gave me so much affection in Medellín and in Colombia in general, I believe that the least thing I can do is try to return that with my foundation.

What is your spiritual path?

I am a Catholic, but I let myself be guided a lot by Buddhism. Buddhism has given me a lot of focus. Obviously Colombia is recognized for Catholicism and since I was a child my parents have taken me to Mass, but I also think it is a balance, a cool balance with Buddhism. They are different paths, but at the end of the day they come to the same thing: love, self-love, and love thy neighbor. And in everything that has to do with love, I'll be there.

(It's interesting: How much money does Pope Francis earn?).

What do you hate most about fame?

I don’t hate anything. I used to get annoyed when fans approached me when I was having lunch and asked me for videos for their family members or such. But after a while, you become kind of an expert at handling the subject. It would suck if you wanted to be a famous artist, and no one approached to you.

Do you see yourself retired at some point or, on the contrary, do you want to perform until you die?

I think I'm going to die doing this, this is what I like the most and I'm just starting out. I'm going to sing until God and life allow me to. Whether that’s on the shower, a stage, or my house’s living room with my family.

Define yourself.

An ordinary ‘guy’, a fighter, worker who wants to leave a legacy, make history, and spread my culture around the world. I am also a kind, impatient, and very competitive person.

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