Twenty years ago today, Juanes released his groundbreaking album, A normal day. Juanes had already released Fíjate Bien, his debut album, which had local success in Colombia. However, with its mix of catchy pop, cutting rock and traditional Latin sounds, Un Día Normal took it to a whole new level. It spent 92 weeks on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, setting a record at the time, and it produced back-to-back mammoth hits such as “A Dios Le Pido”, “Mala Gente” and “Es Por Ti”. . all the songs that helped define pop-rock in Spanish for that time. The album won six Latin Grammys, including album of the year, song of the year and record of the year – and made Juanes a star.
Below, he recalls creating the album during a turbulent and emotional time filled with ups and downs that inspired the sound of the record. He talks about the changes he was going through at the time, how he drew inspiration from his past and how a normal day changed the game for him and Latin artists more broadly.
I was living in Colombia at that time, then I moved to the United States. When I was in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to sign with Universal Music and started working with Gustavo Santaolalla. I was going through a very dark time and a very light time, and I think a normal day really shown only in the music. Songs like “A Dios le Pido” and “Es Por Ti” were inspired by my family, my hope for better days, and also my wife, in fact. I was completely in love and thought at one point that my life was really changing in a very positive way. a normal day reflects all of this.
At the beginning of my musical journey, I started with folk music from all over South America. It was quite normal for me to listen to tango and bolero, rancheras, vallenatos, cumbias. Then, when I became a teenager, I went crazy for rock music. I was a huge heavy metal and Metallica fan. And then, at some point in my twenties, I realized that I needed to go back to my roots and I wanted to bring elements of all of that into my music.
So when I was doing “A Dios Le Pido”, for example, I was playing rock, but with Latin soul. I was trying to bring all the elements of vallenato, or the accents of cumbia, and translate them to the electric guitar. “A Dios le Pido” was a perfect example of a mix between funk and vallenato and rock. I had the first half of the song, I had the verse, I had the pre-chorus. And then I spent about six months trying to figure out the chorus. It took me a long time. One day in Mexico, finally, I hit a G major chord by accident and said, “Oh, that’s the way. It’s the door. So let’s go over here. And finally, after six months, I realized that the chorus of “A Dios Le Pido” was going to be major if the song was minor the rest of the time. For me, it was a very, very special song. It was also related to my childhood, because in my family, my mother used to pray every evening after dinner. This kind of stuff stuck with me, and then it became a song. It was fantastic to see audiences around the world singing this song. It was simply magic.
“Mala Gente” is a song I wrote based on my memories of relationships, and the coolest thing is that it made her laugh. I was just like, “I want to do something funny, but also with a rock attitude.” It’s like a typical breakup story, when you really want to be with someone, but that person doesn’t want to be with you. Then you change your mind, then the other person changes their mind, but it’s too late. It’s like, “You know what? Don’t hurt me anymore. I’m tired and I’m going to move on. It’s a bit of a sad song, but with attitude.
When I started my solo career in 2000, pop radio stations were saying, “No, no, that’s too rock.” And the rock stations said, “No, no, that’s too pop.” I was in the middle of these two different worlds, but I didn’t belong to either. I was a little weird at first. But in the end, I think people started to understand that it was just another way, a different way, of making music. I’m proud of that, because I wanted to do something different. I always try to do something different to this day.
When I wrote “Es Port Ti”, I was back in Bogotá at the time. It was 2001, maybe, and I was living in a small apartment with my girlfriend. She was working on a soap opera, so she normally worked all day and I spent pretty much all day in my home studio trying to make music. I remember one night she came home and the first thing I wanted to show her was this song. I said, “Hey, what do you think of this song? I wrote this song for you. And then she listened to him and she started crying. I was so touched by his reaction, and I really felt there was something special about that melody and something very honest about those lyrics. To this day, it’s one of my most listened to songs. It’s crazy. People really connect with this song, which is fantastic.
For “Fotografia”, I was working on my album and a friend had a connection with the management of Nelly Furtado at the time. Somehow they sent the demo to Nelly and she started listening to the song and she fell in love. She wanted to do a duet. For me, it was an incredible moment, because Nelly had a lot of success at that time with her album. Her family is from Portugal, so she can sing Spanish without any accent. We met in Nashville to record, and it was a very emotional day for me. From the first moment I heard Nelly sing in Spanish, I wanted to cry. I really respect her, and I will always be very, very grateful to her, because she made this song even bigger.
Joe Arroyo was on a normal dayand he was also on Origin, a very important album because it spoke of the link with my origins since I was very young. I always go back to my roots, see what’s going on there, see if I missed something. I try to look out there and connect with that, because I think that’s what makes me feel different and makes me make different music. When you’re writing music all the time, it’s easy to get lost. But now, when I look at myself right now, I can say, “I made mistakes, but all those mistakes brought me back to my center.”
I remember what was happening in music on the radio and in general in pop music at that time. a normal day changed the situation. He showed different ways of approaching pop music. I think the coolest thing was that no one was thinking, “We’re going to change that!” We were just doing our best and people loved it. We had done little shows here and there and then, from one moment to the next, it really gave me the opportunity to experience the world from a different angle. I think about everything that happened and it’s like a dream, you know? I’m so, so grateful, and it’s crazy how people come to see me at concerts or on the streets. There are also young people who say: “Hey, my mother listened to this album a lot and that’s the reason why I like your music. Thus, different generations connect to the album. For me, it’s just fantastic. I feel very, very grateful with that. It means a lot to me. In the end, that’s really what matters in music.