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The Return of Romeo Santos: Back to the Future With Bachata’s Superstar

For many years, the music business seemed to think that Latin artists needed to follow a stereotypical crossover path to get global attention. Major acts, such as Bad Bunny and Maluma, debunked that idea by becoming undeniable stars without changing their sound or style to fit into the Anglo pop world. But years before either artist came along, it was Romeo Santos — the dimpled bachata heartthrob known for his sky-grazing falsetto — who helped pave the way by refusing to give into the industry machine.

Santos got his start singing in New York in the legendary boy band Aventura, which brought the traditional Dominican genre of bachata to the mainstream. He launched a solo career in 2011 with Formula Vol. 1, a head-turning debut that featured massive names like Usher, who performed on the song “Promise.” “I was one of the first to really be like, ‘No, no, nah, I want these artists to sing in my Latin rhythm,’ ” Santos says in a recent Zoom call from Miami, where he lives. “To see now, a decade later, that some of the biggest records in this industry have that essence of Latin music, I feel like I was part of that.”

Formula Vol. 1 was a huge success, and 2014’s Formula Vol. 2 was even bolder. Ever since, as he’s worked on other wildly popular projects, fans have always wondered if, and when, they might get a third volume of Formula. Santos hasn’t been totally sure either — but during the pandemic, he started working on a set of songs that felt striking and unexpected, full of fusions and collaborations that continued to slingshot bachata into the future. He played them for friends, and they all had the same reaction: “This feels like Formula.” 

That’s how he decided he was finally ready to give people Formula Vol. 3, out on Sept. 1. “I’ve never been afraid to experiment with bachata. I’ve always been able to create ideas that aren’t the norm, unorthodox,” he says. “There are some music proposals that people are going to be shocked to hear, because I’ve never done them before, with artists that clearly are icons.”

Stretching the limits of bachata is something Santos has been doing since his Aventura days. The band came together in the Bronx in the Nineties; Santos was just a teenager and became the lead singer. The foursome originally called themselves Los Tinellers, but after changing their name, they released their debut as Aventura in 1999. Immediately, they drew attention for taking bachata — a genre that’s been historically ostracized and vilified since blooming among the Dominican Republic’s working class — and blending it with sleek R&B and hip-hop. To Santos, their approach was simply a reflection of the musical influences around the band as they grew up. “I mean, it would sound cool to tell you we were scientists with our shit,” Santos says. “We studied, but it wasn’t even about studying. It was just so organic.”

Aventura broke records with blockbusters like 2002’s We Broke the Rules and 2009’s The Last. Though the band split up for a few years to pursue solo work, fans rejoiced in 2019, when the members announced they were reuniting for their first tour in a decade. The tour sold out in minutes and positioned them for a wildly successful comeback, but sadly, several dates were canceled because of the pandemic. The guy kept making waves anyway, tapping Bad Bunny for 2021’s “Volví” — a track the Puerto Rican superstar immediately loved. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m pretty sure you’re working on pretty huge shit, but this is just an idea I have,’ ” Santos recalls telling Bad Bunny. “The response was ‘Hell yeah!’ without even listening to the idea.”

When we talk, Santos is putting the final touches on Formula Vol. 3, perfectly timed to a renaissance happening right now: Along with Bad Bunny, acts like Rosalía, the Weeknd, C. Tangana, and Nathy Peluso have all jumped on bachata in the past year. Other Latin genres, including Dominican dembow, have gone global, and Latin stars are now some of the biggest on the planet, confirming what Santos always knew: “We were always fly. We were always killing it. But now, everyone’s paying attention.”

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