Prince Royce – Theater at Madison Square Garden – 11/15/14


Better Than: Choosing Hardwell

At Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, music fans had quite the choice. They could either enter the arena and experience the neon grandiosity of Dutch house DJ Hardwell or enter the theater for the tender affection of Bronx-born bachata star Prince Royce. To go with the latter was to find yourself in a space that contained the equivalent amount of energy as Hardwell’s rave in the much larger arena.

Met with a video of Royce’s sleepy eyes opening, closing, and winking, the rows and rows of seats filled with women of all ages were inconsolably enthused. Tears were shed even before his puckered lips and blown kisses were available in the flesh. In all black with a metallic vest, Prince Royce strode across the stage, still offering kisses to thousands of girls who just wanted him to notice them and perhaps even offer them a small wink.

At 25, Royce has already released three albums, all of which have landed at the top spot on the Tropical and Latin charts. Each song felt bigger than the last, a romantic chorus bubbled beneath his own lilting and sweet voice. He kicked things off with “Te Robaré” from his most recent release, 2013’s Soy el Mismo. He flirted relentlessly, giving every lady in his line of sight a fighting chance and a moment in the sun with him.

Of course, it’s difficult not to be seduced by the tunes Royce so convincingly sang. Bachata is all about romance and soap-opera-level heartache and betrayal. Songs like his early single “Corazon sin Cara” and “Te Me Vas” cut deep as the audience clutched their hearts and let their tears shift from serving as a byproduct of their excitement to that of their experience. Without missing a beat throughout his set, the singer threw roses into the crowd, often kissing and sometimes licking them before groups shoved one another to grab them first. He was always quick to reassure those who did not grab the rose quickly enough that he still loved them, in whatever language they may speak.

Like his stage banter, Royce’s songs toggle between Spanish and English. His first single, a bachata mix of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” was a standout, though the slideshow of repeating images from 1961, the year the song was originally released, felt a bit like a junior-high history presentation. Later, he sang a snippet of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” a testament to the soulful, r&b underbelly of his sound.

Naturally, the inclusion of “Let’s Get It On” was also meant to set a fire beneath the already burning seats of women in the audience — who desperately wanted one of the two seats available on the stage. There, Royce would serenade them and bring to life a million of their fantasies. Arms were raised all the way to the back of the theater, with no hope lost on those who were too far to be chosen. The two lucky ladies who came onstage were polar opposites, displaying the type of fangirl range only a cute twentysomething male pop star could elicit. One sobbed hysterically as Royce hugged and consoled her. Her counterpart was a bit feistier, letting her lust do the talking. She clutched onto his arms, rubbed his face and tried to kiss him multiple times. It wasn’t long before the latter had an effect on the former; while Royce sang his new song “Extraordinary” to them, the girls simultaneously lifted his skintight white shirt to expose his abs before attempting to grab his package and unzip his pants. Moms shook their heads in disapproval.

Though a little more tentative about making direct contact with the crowd, Royce continued on with his set. A few special guests, both virtual and in the flesh, still had to make appearances. First up was Thalia, who appeared via a prerecorded video clip to join for a duet on their single “Te Perdiste Mi Amor,” Later, Daddy Yankee shocked the crowd to spit his verses from their collaboration on the clubby, exciting “Ven Conmigo.”

Though Royce’s NYC stop on his “Soy el Mismo” tour was a more intimate affair than his peer Romeo Santos’s Yankee Stadium explosion, the fervor served as a reminder of the undercurrents of mainstream pop that thrive in specific communities and pack venues worldwide. Bachata is genre of music that doesn’t need to cross over, thanks to their fan bases as well as albums that actually sell copies. Madison Square Garden felt like a physical manifestation of a metaphor that night, with the mainstream filling the biggest room and having no idea of the type of insanity transpiring in a smaller, adjacent room.

Critical Bias: My life was thoroughly changed by the Romeo Santos show.

Overheard: Loud screams of “SUCIA” (dirty in Spanish) from a few moms as the two very forward fangirls exited the stage.

Random Notebook Dump: But how do I get Prince Royce to fall in love with me?