Enrique Iglesias: 'The UAE is such a beautiful place'

Interview: Ahead of the hip-swivelling Latino star's Dubai performance, we unravel his winning formula

Enrique Iglesias. Photo by Alan Silfen
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Enrique Iglesias is a road hound.

Ever since releasing his career-best album, 2014's smash-hit Sex and Love, the Spanish pop star has been touring the world at a relentless pace.

The UAE featured twice in his global jaunt, first as part of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix After-Race Concerts series, followed two years later by a headline slot at the Dubai Jazz Festival.

With his album touring cycle over, Iglesias has now seamlessly launched into a new tour celebrating his near 25-year career, which will land in Dubai on Friday (December 14) for a performance at new Palm Jumeirah ­destination The Pointe. The star will then stop off in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to perform as part of the Ad Diriyah Grand Prix – Formula E's debut in the Middle East.

All of this touring is well and good for the fans, but it can be a bit of a drag for journalists who mostly had to make do with an email interview with Iglesias as he traverses the globe.

That said, despite the format, ­Iglesias does provide some morsels of insight into his successful career. He also says that he loves the UAE fans, and for them, the feeling is mutual. “Every time I have been over there, it has been unique in its own way,” he says in remarks to The National. “Such a beautiful place and the fans have so much energy and passion.”

Those two words – energy and passion – kept popping up in his responses, and they seem the apt way to describe his body of work. Born to famous crooner and fellow UAE concert favourite Julio Iglesias, Enrique set out to shine as a pop-star in his own light. So, careful to avoid being judged or favoured by his distinguished lineage, Iglesias released his first batch of promotional songs in the early 1990s under the name Enrique Martinez; complete with a backstory that he was a singer from Guatemala.

But the talent was there to see, and his 1995 self-titled debut album (released under his own name), went on to sell more than a million copies, with hits such as the rock ballad Si Tu Te Vas. After a couple more successful albums in Latin America, Iglesias's crossover to western audiences arrived in 1999 – as part of an emerging Latin pop wave that included Ricky Martin and Shakira – with his big-selling English singles Bailamos and Be with You.

Ever since, he has become a fixture in the charts, and a hot concert ticket item. But it was only at the turn of the century that he started to re-embrace the Latin sounds of old, reinvigorating the sound of his 2010 album Euphoria, and making Sex and Love.  

Iglesias's Spanish blockbuster singles have continued to drop in the following years, including 2015's El Pedron and 2017's Duele el Corazon. But here's where an email interview can suffer. When asked to discuss some of the reasons why the latter record took the world by storm and clocked up more than 880 million YouTube views, the reply is simply, "You tell me lol."

Thankfully, more words are forthcoming when discussing the growth of Latin pop and how the success of artists such as Puerto Rico's Daddy Yankee (Dura) and Colombia's Luis Fonsi (of Despacito fame) shows that singing in the English language is not essential to chart success. As someone who has dabbled with singing in multiple languages, and even released songs in both English and Spanish, Iglesias says a track's success is ultimately down to eliciting the "passion" and "energy" from listeners.

“It may pose a barrier at first, but sometimes, no matter the language, there can be something about a song that just translates well to all languages,” he says.

Since he can't predict what the next musical trends will be, Iglesias says the best way to remain relevant is to continue being dynamic when it comes to song choices and release strategies. He sees the single and album formats serving distinct creative functions. "I think it's important today to do both," he says. "Releasing singles can be a great way to experiment, and then releasing an album can be a true overall collection of the masterpiece you were trying to create."

But when it comes to the live shows, Iglesias is unashamedly a crowd-pleaser. Even the title of his current tour, All the Hits Live, conveys the promises that fans will not be disappointed. And they rarely are, because as someone who has seen Iglesias live three times in the past five years, there is no doubting the fact that he works hard.

With a T-shaped stage design allowing him to delve deep into the crowd, too, he is a bundle of energy and swivelling hips. Nearly each and every show also sees Iglesias fulfil a female fan's wishes by propping her up on stage, where he would sing the romantic ballad Hero to her.

“I always try to find ways to keep all the fans engaged,” he says. “From the ones up front, to all the way in the back. We are all there together sharing this experience.”

Which brings us, rather nicely, to the final question. I ask Iglesias to share a key life lesson learned over the past 12 months. "I just try to always let fans know to never be afraid and to follow your passions," he says, "and do what you love most."

Enrique Iglesias performs at The Pointe, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. Friday December 14. Tickets are Dh150, of which Dh115 is redeemable against food and drinks at dining outlets at the venue. Tickets and more information are available at www.ticketmaster.ae