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Smash Hits and ‘Puro Desmadre’: After Taking Over Musica Mexicana, Grupo Firme Is Ready For More

Still dressed in their work uniforms after an arduous day under the desert sun in mid-April, seven men tasked with building the tents at Coachella wait anxiously to watch Mexican band Grupo Firme take the very stage they helped build. Among the construction workers is Jose, a Coachella Valley native with roots in Jalisco, who’s worked at the festival for several years. “The whole day, we tried to finish what we had to do for work so we could relax and watch them. Es algo diferente,” he says. “It’s something different.”

Jose is one of many Mexican-American fans there to see the once-underground norteño band, fronted by Eduin Caz, become the first Mexican act to perform at the festival’s main stage during a primetime slot. The group’s goal that night? “To show off our roots. To break barriers,” Caz tells Rolling Stone just hours before performing. “We want people’s eyes glued to the stage.”

And they achieve exactly that. Known for their eccentric outfits and onstage desmadre (or chaos), Firme’s performance at the festival feels like a turning point for both the genre they represent and the group’s ascent to international success.

In just the past two years, Firme has become a crossover sensation, reaching new heights without losing their Mexican roots. They’ve dropped impressive collabs with Camilo and Maluma, they’ve made history as the first Mexican band to feature an openly LGBTQ member, and partially thanks to their growing fanbase on TikTok, they’re only the third música Mexicana act to have a song enter the Billboard Hot 100 with “Ya Supérame” last October. It’s clear that night at Coachella that the Tijuana band is far from just a novelty act. They’re leading a movement. 

A FEW MONTHS after Coachella, I’m sitting next to a smiling Caz. It’s a windy Bay Area summer day and the band is running soundcheck before a show they have planned at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium the following night. Caz is wearing a black Off-White brand tracksuit and a plain white T-shirt. He’s giddy as he remembers the group’s performance at the festival: “I was biting my nails until there was no more nail to bite,” he says with a laugh. “That’s an international stage we’re talking about!” It was a moment that Caz never dreamt of, simply because he didn’t think it was possible.

Raised by his mother and stepfather in Tijuana, Baja California, Caz was discouraged to pursue a career in music. He always had an affinity for singing and loved belting along to a beat-up cassette that featured songs by some of his idols. “It had Los Tigres [Del Norte] on side A. Then you’d flip it, and it was Los Tucanes [De Tijuana] on side B,” he says. “I remember one time my friend brought a guitar [to a get-together] and we were singing. I started daydreaming with corridos.”

Caz moved out of his house at 16 to pursue music while studying marketing at a local college. He’d perform with friends at small parties, and during the week, he’d grab his guitar to play for pedestrians crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for tips. Sometimes, he’d ask Joaquín Ruiz, who is now Firme’s guitarist, to join him.

As the gigs grew and the money started to trickle in, he formed a band that got some recognition, partly because of what he learned in marketing classes (“I knew it was going to help me one day,” Caz says.) They were known as Fuerza Oculta. Later, they changed their name to Grupo Fuerza. Eventually, they became Grupo Firme. With his band, Caz had one goal in mind: “I wanted to fill Las Pulgas,” Caz says, referring to a well-known nightclub in Tijuana. 

It was at that location, during a free radio show concert, that Caz met the independent label head and music manager Isael Gutiérrez. Caz credits him with launching Firme into stardom.

Backstage at Levi’s Stadium, wearing oversized Gucci glasses and a diamond-encrusted necklace, Gutiérrez goes into theatrical detail about the encounter. “I heard Eduin singing underground corridos that the crowd seemed to love,” Gutierrez says. “I was entranced by Eduin and the group.”

Groupo Firme performs, Sunday, May 29, 2022, in Inglewood, CA.

Jeff Lewis*

The following day, the two met for dinner at a local restaurant. Caz was skeptical about Gutiérrez. He had taken meetings with businessmen offering boatloads of money in exchange for his signature on a contract. But he knew better than to give away control of the group for a record deal  — he was worth more than just an advance.

Gutiérrez’s offer was different: “Look güey, I don’t have money,” he told Caz. “I don’t have anything to offer you. But I want to work together, to build something together. I want to show you a world you haven’t seen yet, where if things go well, you’ll see things you’ve never seen before.” 

What stood out to Caz was that Gutiérrez was open to being business partners, socios, instead of having a standard manager-artist relationship. “I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to do,” Caz says. So, that night, they both signed a blank piece of paper, agreeing to bring Grupo Firme under Gutiérrez’s Music VIP label.

Over the next four years, the band went from local favorites to a household name. That entire time, Caz and Gutiérrez based their work on a verbal agreement. 

Finally, in May 2021, Caz agreed to a real contract. “At that point, there was already money, there was already fame,” Caz says. “I could’ve walked away and thanked him, but I never forget the person who lent me a hand.”

THE SUCCESS OF Grupo Firme mirrors what’s happening in música Mexicana more broadly— and music companies and streaming services are putting money behind the genre. Earlier this year, Amazon Music launched Gen Mex, a platform focused specifically on música Mexicana’s evolution. LiveNation more than doubled its Latin touring department over the last year. And Grupo Firme often partners with YouTube, where they’ve earned 2.6 billion views in the past 12 months, to premiere videos several days before other streaming services.

Artists outside the genre are also tapping Mexican stars — and Grupo Firme — for their own music. Colombian pop artist Camilo included a cheeky, tuba-backed collab with Firme titled “Alaska” on his recent LP. And last year, Maluma collaborated with the group for the corrido “Cada Quien,” which was just nominated for a Latin Grammy in the regional Mexican music category.

“Grupo Firme is very honest in the way they present themselves to the public, and I think that resonates beyond a niche or a genre,” Camilo tells Rolling Stone. “Beyond cataloging things by genre, I feel the focus should be on the fact that they are good songs that people connect with; music has no language.”

The group also made history by becoming the first música Mexican band with an openly gay member. In 2018, during a Caz family vacation trip to Disneyland, Eduin invited his older brother Jhonny to join Firme to become his second backing vocalist. Incredulously, Jhonny asked if his brother’s offer was real. 

“When I realized they were serious, the only response that could come out of my mouth was, ‘But I’m gay,’ “ Jhonny says, holding up his painted fingernails. “Eduin said to me, ‘And what about it?’… That’s when I realized that this was a space where I’d be respected.”

But adding Jhonny, unfortunately, still came with some of the homophobia prevalent in some of Mexican culture. Months after he joined the group, what Jhonny calls a “super nasty tabloid” circulated a photo of him kissing his now-fiancé, Jonathan Bencomo. People immediately began discussing Jhonny’s sexual orientation, but worst of all, the photo outed Bencomo. “Now he was forced out of the closet and had to let go of the privacy he wanted to keep,” Jhonny says. “So I said, ‘I’m not letting this happen. I don’t want chismes.”

The group took matters into their own hands and referenced Jhonny’s sexual orientation directly in a music video for their cover of OV7’s “Enloquéceme.” It featured Jhonny as a schoolboy, falling for another boy. “That’s when everyone was like, ‘Wow, this compa is gay,” Jhonny says. When he realized some fans were still in denial, Eduin interviewed Jhonny for a video that they posted on YouTube, where he officially “came out.” (He doesn’t see it as his official coming out, though, and thinks kids should not have to go through the trauma of revealing their sexual orientation.)

Eduin supported him. “He thought they’d throw cans at him and I said, ‘Why would they do that?’ I told him to not worry about the public,” Eduin says. “They’ll get used to it.” And they eventually did. During shows, Jhonny joins his younger brother for tequila shots, sings a banda version of Karol G’s “Tusa,” and unabashedly wears skirts and bright hair colors (when we met, it was bright pink). He was even proposed to by Bencomo during a show. 

“You know what?” Johnny says. “I still don’t realize the magnitude of the impact it has.” His identity has become a key aspect of the group’s art and has added a new dimension to the Firme brand. They’ve expanded their fanbase and embraced LGBTQ audience that perhaps didn’t feel seen in what’s historically been a macho-run genre.

I ask Eduin if he was ever worried that having Jhonny as a member would negatively impact the group’s success. He gets defensive. “Scared of what? I wasn’t scared of anything,” he says with a shrug. “I said, ‘Brother, do whatever you want. This stage is all yours.’ I won’t put any limits on what he wants to do.”

Grupo Firme at SoFi

Steve Thrasher*

FIRME’S IMPRESSIVE ASCENT hasn’t been without controversy and criticism. As the shows got bigger in 2021, Eduin’s drinking habits onstage (and off) became more noticeable. Videos on TikTok — where clips of Firme often went viral and introduced the group to new fans — captured Eduin performing tipsy, sometimes slurring his words. The desmadre was part of the concert experience and made Firme’s shows one-of-a-kind. Though fans loved it, Eduin was heavily criticized by Mexican media for “promoting” excessive drinking.

 It took a scolding from his mother before he took the critiques seriously. Eventually, he decided to make “radical changes” to his lifestyle for his own good, and for his band’s image. “There comes a moment where you hit rock bottom,” he reflects. “Just because I have money or cars or because I can have everything in the world doesn’t mean you feel fulfilled.”

He continues, “I’m not a perfect person, soy muy desastroso… But those mean comments give you the mental strength to say, ‘I’m going to stop.’ [So] I started reducing my drinking, I stopped going out… And I’m making my groupmates do the same too.”  (He still takes a shot or two onstage.) 

In private chats with Rolling Stone, some música Mexicana industry leaders said they have doubts about the group’s longevity and think Firme has been aiming too high too early. That criticism mounted when the band launched an ambitious stadium tour. (To the disappointment of their critics, they sold 100,000 tickets during two back-to-back shows at SoFi Stadium in L.A. this year, and will return there for a show next May. They’re the first act to return for a second consecutive year in the stadium’s history.)

 Others have described Firme as a “cover band,” critiquing the group for packing their setlists with covers and collaborations, over original songs. They’ve covered the likes of La Banda Carnaval’s “Pídeme” and Banda El Recodo’s “Cada Vez te Extraño Más.” More recently, after memes went viral placing Harry Styles and Eduin Caz side-by-side before Coachella, the group covered Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar.” 

And then there are critics who say that Grupo Firme’s reign over the genre is nearing its end. In June, the música Mexicana heavyweight Julión Álvarez returned to Spotify after an investigation into his alleged ties to Mexican druglords barred him from music for five years. After he made it back on the platform, he was ranked the third most-streamed artist in Mexico that week, surpassing Grupo Firme and Christian Nodál.

Those critiques about his music, Eduin refuses to take seriously. “None of that matters to me!” he says. “On the contrary, our problem is that we [as Mexicans] try to bring our own people down. Julión opened so many doors. Then came Banda MS, which opened more doors by doing arena tours. Now Grupo Firme is here doing stadiums. I hope there’s another group that comes and does what we did… Que llegue el que tenga que llegar.”

Plus, Eduin has big plans coming. He’s hoping to collaborate with Los Tucanes de Tijuana, the group on the cassette that inspired him to pursue music in the first place. It’s a full-circle moment for him. “I told [frontman Mario Quintero] I didn’t want to do a duet,” Eduin says. “I want a whole album. I said, ‘Imagine how these songs would have a resurgence and how I’d feel singing with one of my idols.’”

And he has his eyes set beyond just música Mexicana. He hints that Grupo Firme is working on new sounds, and experimenting with genres outside of what the band is used to: reggaeton, huapango, even trap. There’s so much more to come. “If it doesn’t work, at least we tried,” he says. “I’ll go home with a smile on my face because I like challenges.”

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