Interview: CNCO Talks “Pretend,” New Music & Working With Little Mix
With K-Pop Kings BTS breaking records with each new release and US outfits like Why Don’t We and PRETTYMUCH exploding in popularity, boy bands are taking over the world. Joining them at the forefront is CNCO. Recent singles “Reggaetón Lento” and “Hey DJ” racked up more than one billion streams between them and spawned star-studded remixes. Those collaborations gave Erick Brian Colón, Christopher Vélez, Zabdiel De Jesús, Richard Camacho and Joel Pimentel the confidence to release a Spanglish banger called “Pretend.” As expected, it was an instant hit.
I recently caught up with the quintet during a promo stop in Los Angeles and dug a little deeper into their mega-successful collaborations with Little Mix, and Meghan Trainor and Sean Paul. CNCO explained how the remixes came together and promised that there are more Spanglish bangers on the way. They also revealed that “Pretend” is a stand-alone single and admitted that they haven’t started putting together their third album yet. Other topics of conversation included the importance of choreography and dealing with fame. Get to know the budding superstars a little better in our Q&A below.
A lot of fans discovered your music via the Little Mix collaboration. How did that come about and were you surprised by the song’s success?
Joel: We were extremely surprised! We didn’t expect the public to receive it the way they did. We thought it would just be a little door-opener for the UK and a couple of other countries in Europe. But it actually opened doors for us in Asia as well. So we’re really happy with the outcome. How did it come about? Well, we recorded “Reggaetón Lento” in English just by ourselves. Afterwards, Little Mix heard that and wanted to hop on it. It just happened naturally, and thanks to them, the song had another life.
What was it like working with Little Mix? Did you get to spend a lot of time with the girls?
Christopher: It was amazing. It was really cool to work with them. They’re really down to earth girls. They’re cool, they’re beautiful. They’re all taken, by the way. [Laughs]. They were so nice, they sing amazing. We practiced with them when we were in London for the X Factor. We rehearsed for maybe four days, it was a cool experience. Here’s a fun fact. When we recorded the video, they were not in the room. They did their part in London and we did our part in here in LA. We didn’t get to meet them until we got to London. We just met Jade, she was here in LA at the time.
Did the success of “Reggaetón Lento” inspire you to remix “Hey DJ” with Sean Paul and Meghan Trainor?
Richard: Yeah, we saw that things were going super well with the English record, so we wanted to do another one to see how they accept us. We recorded “Hey DJ” in English and then showed it to the label and to the team. Then it came back with Meghan Trainor’s voice! She added Sean Paul… it wasn’t even planned, you know? We talked with the team, we thought it was a smash, and we just released it. Meghan and Sean Paul were super cool and super genuine. We had fun with them.
Do you have a whole new group of fans since releasing the remixes?
Christopher: Yeah, I think it helped us a lot. Particularly with Europe. Little Mix is really big over there, so they helped us to grow over there. When we went there with our tour, we didn’t expect fans to be in the airport, or at the hotels, and it was really, really amazing. We feel really blessed to be in this position right now. I think that they gave us a lot of fans.
I really love “Pretend.” Is it the first single from your third album or a stand-alone single?
Richard: It’s just a single. To be honest, we released this one to test the waters. It’s not the first single from the album. But, right now, we’re not even planning on making a third album. It’s in the future, of course, but it’s not planned. It’s still not scheduled, it’s still not being talked about. Right now, we’re just releasing singles and making good music. We’re getting more involved in the music as well. So “Pretend” was to test the waters and give our non-Spanish speaking fans some music. It’s going very well, which means we can do Spanglish songs more often.
The video is incredible. I didn’t realize that you were such good dancers. It really sets you apart from other bands.
Joel: Thank you! I think that dancing sets us apart too. There are a lot of boy bands that just like to sing, and that’s pretty much it. But we like to bring it back to boy bands like NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. We’re inspired by them. We think it makes us more complete. It makes us feel better, you know?
Is choreography a big component of your live shows?
Erick: There’s a lot of dancing in our live shows. We dance for every single song I think, except for the ballads. They all have dance, they all have choreo. It’s super cool, sometimes when the song doesn’t have choreo, I feel weird. We don’t have to have choreo, but we are excited for that. You have to come to the show, bro!
I would love to. Did they teach you how to dance on La Banda?
Christopher: From the beginning of La Banda, we started doing a lot of choreo. They teach us. For me, it was really hard to incorporate singing and dancing at the same time. But, with time, we did it. They helped us a lot with the choreo, they helped us with the singing too. It was a really fast and quick process. Every single Sunday we learned a new song, a new routine and a whole new performance. It was really hard and intense, but really, really cool. It was a unique experience.
In the US there is a bit of a stigma about being on a talent show. Is it different in the Latin world?
Richard: It’s kind of the same vibe. But the show was amazing because it actually worked, you know? The show was very big and only lasted one season. Everybody cared. Ricky Martin, Simon Cowell, the whole production of Univision. Everybody was super involved. So, as soon as we came out, things were crazy. The show ended and the next day we had to rehearse for a show in Times Square for millions of people on TV. Then, we opened for Ricky Martin on his tour in front of 45,000 people. It was super intense from the beginning. We thought the show was hard, but as soon as it ended things got really crazy.
Christopher: We like it, though.
Richard: Yeah. It made us grow, it made us see things differently. And it made us stay grounded as well, because we didn’t feel famous. We were working so much that we didn’t even get to see what was going on outside of our circle.
What was it like when you first realized that you were big stars?
Zabdiel: I don’t know. I think something that works for us is spending time with our families and our friends. Whenever we have time, we talk with them and visit home. It helps us to keep grounded. Also, we help each other. We have a good communication and it works for us. The team is really helpful too. I think without them we wouldn’t be here. Or without our fans.
Do you live in LA now? Where are you based?
Christopher: We are based in Miami, that’s where we rehearse.
Erick: But we live in different places.
Christopher: Each one of us lives in our country. We all go home maybe three times a year, that’s the most. But we’re doing this for our families.
Erick: We have fun. We’re like five brothers on the road. Can you imagine? It’s a lot of fun, a lot of energy. It’s cool.
Christopher: A lot of fights too! Just kidding.
Erick: It’s normal in a family, the great thing about it is that we have great communication and we really know how to talk everything through. So it doesn’t really get to the extent that it’s a big fight. A little misunderstanding and then we fix it and get to an agreement and it’s over.
You mentioned that “Pretend” is just a one-off single. Will your new material also be in English or Spanish, or mostly just Spanish?
Joel: I think after seeing the success of “Pretend”, and how everyone received it, we are going to continue to do music in Spanglish. Not only because our fans like it, but we like it as well. We really enjoy trying new things out. For example, Zabiel and Erick, they’re kind of still learning to sing in English, but they like a challenge. So, you can expect a lot more Spanglish songs from CNCO.
How many songs have you recorded?
Joel: We have a bunch ready to go, we just don’t know the dates yet.
Christopher: We have a lot of collaborations coming up.
Who are you collaborating with?
Joel: We have a lot of songs that are with other artists but we can’t say who. Sorry! I feel like it’s better if it’s a surprise.
Latin music is so successful at the moment. Do you look up to artists like J Balvin and Bad Bunny?
Erick: Of course. I feel like they are the people that set the wave, the trend. We’re all on the same vibe, the same wave, just spreading our culture and our music. So that’s cool that they’re doing it as big as they’re doing it. We respect them, we admire them, and we would love to collaborate with them. The cool thing about the Latino culture is that we support each other so much.
Who were your favorite artists going up?
Erick: For me, it’s a lot of Latin music.
Joel: As a little kid, I would listen to Bruno Mars. I started listening to Ed Sheeran as soon as he came out. Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake. Many different artists.
Zabdiel: I was born with the Latin music, and grew up with the Latin Music. With Marc Anthony, Chayanne and Daddy Yankee too. All the Latin artists.
Christopher: I love all kinds of music. I grew up with Daddy Yankee, but I also love the Anglo music.
Richard: I also grew up listening to Latin music but also R&B. You know, so my guys were more JT, Chris Brown, Usher, Omarion, B2K, Boyz II Men and Dru Hill.
Reggaeton is so huge around the world right now. What’s the next trend in Latin music?
Erick: Who knows, man. I feel like reggaeton isn’t going anywhere. Maybe new melody, new sounds, new instruments, who knows. But all I know, it’s going to be danceable.
Joel: People love to be happy.
Erick: Yeah, the feel-good music, you know?
How does it work in the studio? Who does most of the songwriting?
Richard: All of us. I feel like we all have equal parts. When it comes to writing, we all get to write our own parts.
Was songwriting hard to learn?
Joel: I feel like we have really creative mindsets, so we just imagine a scenario and then write it down. It comes out pretty good.
Erick: With a lot of practice, it can come out very well.
What was the first song that you co-wrote?
Joel: We’ve written more songs before “Bonita,” but that was the first one that we actually released.
One last question. Which member makes the girls go crazy?
Erick: All of us! For example, if we are in Ecuador, he’s the king. [Points to Christopher]. If we are in Dominican Republic, it’s Richard.
Zabdiel: I feel like that’s what fans like, they get to pick and choose. They’re feeling a vibe of Joel today.
Joel: If they want something a little more tropical, they go for Zabdiel.
Zabdiel: More sexy, you go for Christopher. [Laughs].
I can’t wait to hear new music. Good luck with everything!
CNCO: Thank you so much!