The year 2017 marks a time of major multilingual and multicultural musical collaborations. With Luis Fonsi’s remix of “Despacito,” featuring Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, climbing to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 16 weeks, and J Balvin and Willy William’s remix for “Mi Gente,” featuring Beyoncé, making it to the No. 3 spot, the western music market is opening up to music in Spanish. But these aren’t the only collaborations bridging different cultures and genres. In the era of globalization, K-pop, short for Korean pop music, is an international phenomenon, and the genre is beginning to meld its addictive melodies with urban Latin pop. Evidence: K-pop boy band Super Junior’s recent collaboration with Leslie Grace.
Debuting in 2005, the fellas of Super Junior are the kings of Hallyu — the Korean wave. At their height, 15 men donned the Super Junior title, but, due to departures, mandatory military service and other issues, only Siwon, Donghae, Eunhyuk, Shindong, Yesung, Heechul and Leeteuk are currently active. As a group, the men have led a revolution in the industry, spurring forward electro-pop and R&B-influenced dance tracks.
(Courtesy of Leslie Grace)
And among K-pop, they also have one of the strongest fan bases in Latin America. The group has long captivated these audiences with hits like “Sorry Sorry,” “Mr. Simple” and “Mamacita,” and Super Junior has made sure to visit their Latin American E.L.F — what they call their fans — on three separate tours since 2013, holding arena shows in Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Peru. It must be noted that the group has yet to hold a single solo show in the U.S.
For many years, Super Junior and SM Entertainment, their label, had seen the excitement from their supporters in Latin America and wanted to show their gratitude by releasing a song partly sung in Spanish. In March, the group dropped “Lo Siento,” a tune about finding romance on the dance floor, featuring Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace and the Latino production duo Play-N-Skillz as part of the extended version of their eighth album, Replay.
“The song with Super Junior and Play-N-Skillz came out of nowhere. None of us really knew each other,” Leslie Grace, who was recommended to the K-pop group by the Argentine-Venezuelan sibling duo Play-N-Skillz, told FIERCE. “The beauty of it was [having the opportunity of] discovering something that’s been happening hugely in its own right in a different side of the world, and discovering it for the first time and saying, ‘Man, I wanna be a part of that. I don’t know anything about it up until this point, but I really want to be a part of that.’”
While it’s commonplace for K-pop groups to release records in Japanese or Mandarin in order to cater to Asian music markets, or English one-offs for international fans, no act had ventured into singing in Spanish or acknowledged their Latin American fans with a song quite like Super Junior.
“Lo Siento” is a true K-pop and urban Latin-pop mashup. It plays up the typical Spanish guitar and blends a familiar Latin flair with the energy and the mix of pop, dance and hip-hop that K-pop is known for. The music video, shot in South Korea, even features the “Díganle” singer dancing along with the guys of Super Junior.
The trilingual track debuted at No. 13 on Billboard’s Latin digital sales chart, the first K-pop entry ever. A bit over two weeks after the music video dropped, “Lo Siento” surpassed 20 million views, which was three times more than what their last Korean single, “Black Suit,” accumulated.
While “Lo Siento” isn’t the first time K-pop artists have teamed up with Latin ones nor used Latin genres in their music, it is the first instance that we can actually call a real collaboration. In 2016, for instance, Ricky Martin released a version of his hit “Vente Pa’ Ca” featuring Wendy from K-pop girl group Red Velvet, though she sang in English, and Mexican boy band CD9 released “Get Dumb” with Korean girl group Crayon Pop. In both cases, the artists simply exchanged vocals, put them together and released the song with little fanfare. With “Lo Siento,” however, not only did Leslie fly to Korea to be in the music video, but Super Junior invited her and Play-N-Skillz on their Latin American tour last month.
Stopping in Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago and Mexico City, Leslie, Play-N-Skillz and Super Junior played before a total of 55,000 fans. The stars blew up the stage with “Lo Siento,” but both Play-N-Skillz and Leslie also had the chance to perform their own sets during the show.
“It never stops being a surprise, with my most recent released single ‘Duro y Suave,’ for [the crowd] to sing it back to me,” the 23-year-old singer, who came to fame after the release of her bachata remake of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” in 2013, told us. “I know it’s Super Junior’s crowd. I know that their fans are so accepting and loving, and I knew that they would be attentive during the show, but you don’t expect everyone to connect, especially a crowd that’s so different, to your music when you’re the special guest.”
Leslie is currently finishing her new album, which she says will drop by the end of the year. She’s also very excited about potentially finishing another leg of the tour with Super Junior. “They’re trying to see if we can do some more shows in Latin America, in Central America, go to the countries we didn’t get to go to in South America, like Colombia [and] Brazil,” she said.
Just like with “Despacito” and “Mi Gente,” “Lo Siento” is bringing together different cultures, languages and even fandoms from various parts of the world that don’t get to interact as much through music in a compact, smooth earworm.
“For us to come together just fully based off of mutual artistic respect, and for something like this to happen, and now everybody really enjoying it despite the cultural differences, that to me was the biggest takeaway and the biggest blessing to now be a part of Super Junior’s story and them a huge part of mine,” Leslie said.
During an interview in Times Square, the dominicana gave the boys a quick dance lesson — and it was all caught on camera.
“Bridging cultures one dance step at a time! First Super Junior with me and ‘Group Dance’ in their land South Korea, and now me with them and ‘Bachata’ in my home NYC,” Grace, 23, captioned a video of the dance sesh she posted on Instagram. “Proud to be your instructor, @eunhyukee44 hahaha! You are officially baptized the best bachatero out of Korea by the princess of bachata — BOOM!”
Catch the whole thing above!