Clocking in at just under half an hour, about as long as his 2021 reggae escapade #7DJ (7 Days In Jamaica), The Love and Sex Tape by Columbian singer Juan Luis Londoño Arias aka Maluma shows that he knows sex sells. Just refer to his last full-length effort, Papi Juancho released in 2020, which returned him to the X-rated form following 11:11, the fourth studio album by the Colombian singer-songwriter. He can swing between the after-hours sinful pleasure-seeking of Felices Los 4 (from his third studio album, FAME of 2018) and J Lo starrer Marry Me where Latin superstar Kat Valdez decides to impetuously marry an audience member during her concert after she learns of her fiance’s infidelity before her live performance. And that shows, in the music industry, he follows the money.
Since Papi Juancho in 2020, the Latin pop landscape has somehow both widened and narrowed. Shadowed by the phenomenal rise of Bad Bunny and the fits-and-starts ascent of Karol G, late 2010s stars like J Balvin and Ozuna now appear to scramble to preserve their prominence if not their relevance. At the same time, the competition widens, with R&B heartthrob Rauw Alejandro and parvenus like Maria Becerra and Mora claiming their market shares. These nouveau debutantes may push things in different musical directions than their immediate predecessors, increasingly favouring a broad variety of styles and genres over the familiar, languishing sound of what originated as Reggae en Español in Panama during the late 1980s and was later popularised in Puerto Rico: Reggaetón.
Maluma does seem at least somewhat aware of these proverbial winds of change on The Love and Sex Tape, where a relatively conservative stopgap extended play blends in a few marketing alliances that tell what is trending now. He ropes in singer Jay Wheeler for the explicit Sexo Sin Título and exploits the current Chenco Corleone resurgence with the blistering Nos Comemos Vivos. An obvious single replete with pop-wise turns, the jaw-dropping Mojando Asientos with fellow Medellín native Feid leaves relatively little to the imagination.
But Maluma hardly moves away from the predictable dynamic of his 2015 LP Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy, clearly a product of its dependence on longtime production partners the Rude Boyz. Though Cositas De La USA and the tracks mentioned above still deliver the reliably bawdy and corny charms relished by Maluma fans, the Afrobeats-informed and emotionally resonant closer Happy Birthday leaves a stronger impression. Furthermore, he does himself relatively few favours by bringing Arcángel and De La Ghetto together for the middling Tsunami, the novelty of reuniting that seminal reggaeton duo on record having largely worn off by now. (Quite frankly, this trick was executed with more panache by De La Ghetto himself on 2020’s underrated Los Chulitos).
Due to these orthodox choices, The Love and Sex Tape proves something altogether too safe for an artiste sporting a discography that spans a decade. Already showing off massive venues worldwide and regularly selling them out, as he did on his recent Papi Juancho world tour, Maluma has seemingly little to fear about losing the audience. But as with Balvin and Ozuna, the threat of losing the shine as a recording artiste should not be taken for granted, especially for Latin music’s most lascivious practitioner. He was still in his adolescence when his debut Magia dropped in 2012. Yet, the looming prospect of becoming a de facto legacy act before turning 30 should instil some existential fear into his sybaritic heart. One hopes this bite-sized collection is like a tray of passed antipasto in advance of a more luxurious album-length feast.