Review: J Balvin brings rainbow of ideas to trippy, fun-packed Fox Theatre show

Combining an array of visual influences, reggaeton artist gave fans a taste of the surreal at Friday concert

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin transformed the Fox Theatre into a rainbow-colored dream house of hip-hop, Latin pop and Caribbean dance Friday night.

The singer's nearly 30-song, 100-minute concert unfolded on an eye-popping set that drew influences from everything from Japanese anime, children's TV shows, street art and video games to good old-fashioned acid trips. It was Miley Cyrus' Bangerz tour refashioned as "Yo Gabba Gabba!" by way of Nintendo GameCube, if that makes any sense. 

It shouldn't make any sense, but it did in the hands of Balvin, the 34-year-old Medellín-bred master of the evening's ceremonies. He led the technicolor circus with an assured hand, letting his eight dancers — who alternately dressed in puffy Michelin Man-like cloud suits, plush doll outfits and inflatable costumes that looked like they fell off a "Candy Crush" board — and bonkers set design do the heavy lifting. 

(Indeed, it was tough to take one's eyes off of the the several-stories-tall inflatable mascot plopped on the five-tiered riser at the center of the stage, which looked like a toddler Tekashi 6ix9ine as designed by Kaws.)

For Balvin's stature, the Fox show was almost an underplay. He's Spotify's sixth most-streamed artist in the world — for comparison's sake, Taylor Swift is 11th — and this year he followed up a prime main stage performance slot at Coachella by headlining Chicago's Lollapalooza festival. He's racked up major hits with Cardi B ("I Like It") and Beyoncè ("Mi Gente"), and this summer's "Oasis," his joint album with Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, was an acclaimed crossover hit. 

With that kind of resume preceding him, Balvin didn't have to do much to get the largely Latin-American crowd on his side on Friday. And as he paced back and forth across the stage, occasionally lightly miming dance moves, he let his swagger carry him where his physicality lacked. (Usher he's not, it's safe to say.)

Fans packed up front against the stage showed their love for Balvin, giving him roses and several, um, more personal items as the night went on; at one point, he was handed a bra by one fan and a pair of underwear by another, the latter of which caused him to mouth, "oh my god" from the stage.

Balvin opened the set with "Reggaetón," his late 2018 single, against a video backdrop of blue skies worthy of "Super Mario World." He shouted out Detroit several times and mostly spoke addressed the audience in Spanish. 

He ducked backstage for several outfit changes, beginning in an orange jumpsuit and ending the show in a tie-dye T-shirt and green shorts that almost looked like boxing trunks, while his three-piece band — a drummer, a guitarist/keyboard player and a DJ — gave him a musical bed to work over. 

For "I Like It," which had the crowd dancing up and down the Fox Theatre aisles, caricatures of Cardi B and Bad Bunny joined Balvin on stage, outfitted with giant heads that wouldn't be out of place in the Thanksgiving Day parade. It was that kind of party.

J Balvin performs at Fox Theatre in Detroit September 20, 2019.

By the time closer "Mi Gente" rolled around and Balvin was joined by dancers dressed as hands with eyeballs in their palms, it was like sure, why wouldn't this be happening now? 

Balvin named the tour "Arcoiris," which is Spanish for rainbow. And while there's no doubt he that's what he presented to fans, it all stemmed from the rainbow inside Balvin's mind, and the colors on display on Friday seemed like only the beginning of what he has to show.