The Boy From Medellín captures J Balvin at his most vulnerable as he navigates life dealing with anxiety and depression. But it also finds the Colombian superstar at his peak as he prepares for the most important show of his career in his hometown Medellín.
Shot entirely in 2019 and directed by filmmaker Matthew Heineman, the nearly two-hour long documentary – which premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, May 7 – starts off with an honest Balvin who, while at a concert in Mexico, offers words of encouragement and solidarity to those also struggling with mental health issues. “This is a reality I’ve personally been through which is anxiety and depression,” he says. “If any of you are also going through a bad moment and don’t see the light, let me tell you that it happens to me too.”
Offering a rigid dichotomy between his personal life as Jose Álvaro Osorio Balvín and his artistic life as J Balvin, the chart-topping artist gets real about his journey and how, despite achieving unprecedented global success, at heart he’s still “el niño de Medellín (the boy from Medellín)” whose parents taught him to work hard but also to dream big.
Ahead of his major stadium show, Balvin also reflects on his responsibility to be politically outspoken as Colombians take the streets to demand governmental and social change. Then, the “Mi Gente” ultimately breaks his silence on social media and speaks at length about the situation in Colombia during the concert.
The Boy From Medellín releases as Colombian students and workers in Colombia have taken to the streets yet again to protest a tax reform proposal by President Ivan Duque’s government. Balvin is among the many Latin acts who have been vocal about the current protests across that started off with thousands of people demonstrating against a tax overhaul. The peaceful protests have now morphed into deadly ones that have left at least 19 people dead, according to The New York Times.
“I say no to the tax reform and also no to the vandalism of those who take advantage of the demonstrations to hurt, steal or destroy,” he posted on Instagram. “The priority today must be everyone’s health. We are in a pandemic, we need to save lives!!!”
Below are 10 things we learned from watching Balvin’s ultra personal documentary:
A dream come true
J Balvin admits that his hardest show has been in Puerto Rico, given its rich history with reggaeton, but his biggest dream concert has always been a solo show in Medellín, the city that raised him. “I’m heading home to do the most important concert of my life: my first solo stadium show at Anastasio Girardot,” he says. “I’m excited to go back to Medellín. I need my city and to feel its energy.”
Explaining how he feels when the anxiety kicks in
After his arrival to Medellín and days before his big show, Balvin sits with members of his team to talk about how nerve-wracking it is to be on a stage where he saw some of his idols perform. He confesses that he’s felt uneasy lately. “This hell is real,” he explains. “And I ask myself, ‘Why do I feel this way?’ It happens when you’re focused on the present, the brain can trick you but when you’re on stage, I get distracted and forget about it for a while. If you see me onstage, it’s as if nothing is going on, we’re basically clowns smiling onstage.”
His humble beginnings
He shares that he grew up in a middle-class family whose rich friends saw him as poor, and his poor friends saw him as rich. “My father taught me how to work hard, and my mother taught me to be a dreamer,” he shares. At 17, Balvin’s father lost his job, and he stepped in to help them financially by making music. “I dreamed of becoming a star but I knew I’d have to hustle hard to make it.” So he moved to Miami.
Balvin moved to Miami with his then-girlfriend, but once he arrived, he realized life as an immigrant in Miami wasn’t an easy one. “I was living a double life. Painting house during the day to get by, and then at night, pretending like I was a star — riding limousines that weren’t mine and dressing up to play small shows.” That’s when he became frustrated wanting to become someone, but it wasn’t happening overnight. “I didn’t want to come back to Colombia like a loser, but I wasn’t feeling good in the U.S. having this fake life. It was the first time I started feeling depression. You feel you want to die because you start feeling hopeless so I started taking sleeping pills. Depression is hell … I even thought about killing myself.”
Not giving up
He moves back to Medellín where he continues to make music and make a name for himself in his hometown. “I’d perform anywhere they would have me. I never said no to anyone.” He cried when he heard his first song on the radio. “It was a hit in my city, so I was like, ‘Wow, people connect with me.’ It was my own city that raised my energy and raised my music, that’s why they call me ‘el niño de Medellín’ and here we are.”
To make a political pronouncement or not …
Ahead of Balvin’s stadium concert, Colombians take the streets to protest the government of President Duque. While Balvin is scrolling through social media, he notices there’s a local rapper criticizing him for not speaking out. “They’re asking, ‘Where’s the niño de Medellín’ and this and that,’” he tells friends who are over for dinner. “The situation that is happening right now just makes things more complicated, it makes me really nervous and I have to be really careful about what I’m saying. I don’t want to get into political things because that’s not my thing. I just want to focus on giving light to the world.” Balvin eventually decides to speak up and posts about a teenager who was killed at the protests.
Clearing the air
Balvin asks the local rapper Mañas Ru-Fino, who was criticizing him for not speaking out about the protests. He meets him at the stadium before a rehearsal. “People are feeling like you’re hiding,” the rapper tells Balvin. “The intention wasn’t for you to feel attacked but we have a voice the we figured you’d hear.” He goes on to explain, “People who are out protesting are from my generation and the only thing they are asking is that they’re aloud to get an education and the right to health. Whatever you can do to help will help.”
Scooter Braun on an artist’s responsibility
The day of the concert, Scooter Braun, Balvin’s manager, has a chat with him on the post about the on the teenager who was killed. “Now people are mad, they’re mad because they feel like what you said was an acknowledgement of the kid’s death, but not an acknowledgement of why he died,” Braun tells him. “Artists have always been on the forefront of moving things forward because they’re the voice of people. J Balvin has a platform, Jose is the one that needs to speak. Great artists are the ones that use their voice for other people. Are you going to be an artist that speaks for themselves or are you going to be an artist who risks themselves to speak for others?”
Therapy for his panic attacks
“I’ve had panic attacks and anxiety attacks … speaking up about what was happening to me became a therapy. And people would come up to me at shows or wherever and say, ‘Thank you for what you said’ and de-stigmatize these issues.” Balvin shares he’s also found therapy in meditation looking inward for serenity. “Meditation is the reason I don’t do drugs or alcohol. Meditation has saved my life.”
Meditating before the big show
Right before his show, Balvin tells his therapist that he’s feeling a panic attack coming on. “My legs are shaking,” he tells him. He sets some time before jumping onstage to meditate in a makeshift meditating room in the stadium. He’s wearing headphones and with white lights around him where he drifts off into meditation. Then, he’s off to give the biggest show of his career with a roster of guest artists that included Nicky Jam and Bad Bunny.