Enrique Iglesias Sees Crossing Over As 'Balancing Act'

Latin superstar addresses challenge of English-language stardom, setting tone for Latin Music Conference.

For Enrique Iglesias, one of the many Spanish-speaking artists emerging as pop stars in the

English-language market, straddling the cultural fence isn't easy.

"It's a balancing act to establish an English fanbase while trying to keep my Latin fans and press happy," said the Spanish-American pop singer, thereby setting the tone for this year's Billboard Latin Music Conference.

Iglesias' one-on-one interview with Billboard's Latin-music editor, John Lannert, was the first significant event of the three-day conference, which opened Tuesday and concluded Thursday night with the Latin Music Awards.

Gloria Estefan was to have introduced an evening of showcases the opening night. The event was canceled, however, because of the daylong general strike by local Cuban-Americans protesting the forced removal of Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives' home. The protests shut down much of the city.

Dressed casually in orange bomber pants, gray T-shirt and baseball cap, the world's best-selling Latin artist spoke mostly in rapid Spanish for more than an hour on what it takes to cross over from the Latin to the English-speaking market in the wake of Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.

Iglesias 'Didn't Listen To Much Spanish Music'

Latin musical influences such as the mambo and bolero balladry were always part of his environment, but Iglesias, 25, said he was more influenced by rock, pop and rap. "The artists I listened to mostly growing up," he said, "were Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Bruce Springsteen. I didn't listen to much Spanish music."

Five big hits made Iglesias the world's most popular singles artist in 1996. He eventually sold more than 12 million copies of his first two albums, Enrique Iglesias and Vivir, and played to an estimated 720,000 fans during his first world tour, in 1997. "I did it all in Spanish. I went to Germany a hundred times, the Philippines, Asia. I was playing to crowds who didn't speak a word of Spanish. But I always thought I would sing in English at some point."

That point came when "Bailamos" (RealAudio excerpt), which would be his first English-language hit, came along in 1998. "I fell in love with it, but my record company [Fonavisa] didn't promote music in English. So I sent it to Interscope and they fell in love with it, too. It was written by a pair of guys who don't speak a word of Spanish between them."

His most recent album, the English-oriented Enrique, has been in stores for 33 weeks and is currently #34 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

Fonavisa came up again when Iglesias was asked about the lawsuit filed this week seeking up to $3 million he believes his former label owes him. He deflected the question, saying, "That's a question for my lawyers."

Both Markets Important

Iglesias, who lives in the U.S., talked a fine line between denying his Latin cultural upbringing while embracing its buying power. "My music isn't Latin-influenced," he said. "My music is from me." But he also insisted he wants "to develop an English market without forgetting the Latin market, radio and press."

Iglesias is of course the son of veteran Spanish heartthrob Julio Iglesias and the brother of would-be pop star Julio Iglesias Jr. He dashed any hopes of collaborating with his family musically, or even of crossing over into movies at some point. "I'm a bad actor," he said.

For all his success in other parts of the world, Iglesias came late to the U.S.'s recent infatuation with Latin pop, which suggests why he downplays the existence of a real Latin musical movement here or in any other non-Spanish-speaking country. "If I went to Czechoslovakia and heard Celia Cruz on every corner, then I'd think there was a Latin movement."

As for the future, Iglesias said he plans to tour the U.S. for three months starting in September. Then he will record a new

Spanish-language album due in February.

Iglesias' comments concerning the balancing act Latino musicians often have to perform were echoed at other points during the Latin Music Conference.

During a panel titled "The Rise of Raperos and Roqueros," producer Desmond Child was applauded for suggesting that the "rock en español" label is "almost insulting" because it sticks Spanish-language rockers into a

"second-rate box." He encouraged musicians to go their own way and ignore the American market. America, he said, is "the fall of the Roman Empire."

Other panels discussed attaining corporate sponsorship, using the Internet to market music globally and the inevitability of

concert-industry consolidation.