Proving that the story of success is a lot more complex — and a lot more interesting — than it initially appears, Latin pop superstar Luis Fonsi has worked hard for his stardom. Behind the smooth façade and boyish good looks, fame and celebrity-gossip headlines, lurks a perfectionist with a formidable work ethic who has always known what he wanted.
Ever since he was a boy who dreamed about becoming a member of Menudo, the Puerto Rican-born, Florida-raised singer/songwriter has made it his life’s goal to succeed in the music business. Sure, talent, ambition and good looks came naturally to Fonsi (the nickname-turned-stage name derives from his middle name, Alfonso), but perhaps more importantly, he knew how to make the most of his human potential. Realizing the value of a formal education, he enrolled at Florida State University and studied vocal techniques — not the usual route for an aspiring pop star. But Fonsi wanted to better prepare himself for his eventual career in music. Why rush the obvious? It was in school that a label executive heard him sing and offered him a record contract. His career has been on a steady rise ever since.
Although one would be forgiven for thinking Fonsi’s stardom is attributable mainly to his status as Latin pop heartthrob and traditional balladeer, upon further reflection, it’s clear that he is a true songwriter who cares about his art and respects the difficulties of his craft. His is a kind of talent that falls outside of normal experience: thus, the relative longevity of a professional career that includes eight studio albums and spans 13 years. “I have evolved as an artist because of the songwriting,” says Fonsi. While the writing process may not have been the foremost thing on his mind when he made his first album, he says that now it is more important than ever. “It is a huge responsibility to be a songwriter,” he says, adding that it is the portal through which people will get to know him, a fact he takes very seriously. It’s also a daily exercise in learning how to reconcile sincerity and heartfelt emotion with the nuts and bolts of writing a hit single, something he has honed over the years. “We don’t aim for crappy songs,” he admits, jokingly. “We [songwriters] want to write big songs, commercial songs that people are going to dig.”
And that he has done exceedingly well. His last two albums had at least three singles each that reached the top of the Latin charts. His latest album, Tierra Firme (Solid Ground), released in June, is set to follow that trend with the first single, “Gritar” (“Shout”), already a major hit of the summer.
How does he do it?
“The best songs are written in hours, not days,” he says. The soaring up-tempo ballad was born out of a desire “to share a message with people; to let it all out, without holding back,” whatever the situation may be. Not meant to refer to any one thing, he says, the song offers a universal truth for people, giving them the strength to speak their minds and to stand up for themselves.
The idea that a pop song could offer someone a source of strength and courage to face a difficult situation is something Fonsi knows from personal experience, having just emerged from a divorce. Now, he is in a loving relationship and will become a father next year. He says he is excited about the change and the ways that fatherhood, something he’s looked forward to his whole life, will affect his songwriting.
Tierra Firme is appropriate, says Fonsi, because he feels he has finally reached a stable place in his life, both personally and professionally. “I have a foundation that’s stable, and I feel secure enough to be honest — on a personal level, but also professionally,” Fonsi reflects. “Eight albums later, I have found my style.”
Luis Fonsi joined BMI in 2011. Learn more and listen at luisfonsi.com.
Joy Ramirez is a freelance writer living in Nashville. She has taught courses in Italian literature and film at Vanderbilt University and writes about food, travel and music. She is fluent in English, Italian and Spanish.