Pitbull occupies a weird space in our culture.
The 36-year-old rapper has been recording music for 15 years—first unapologetically raw crunk, then unapologetically infectious pop. In that time, he’s not only endeared himself to a devoted Latinx community and a broader audience of hit seekers, but also to a slew of people whose appreciation for the flamboyant Mr. Worldwide took root in hipster irony yet somehow bloomed into a genuine fondness.
Discussing Pitbull earnestly feels goofy. It’s not like his music has grown any. He didn’t put out his Rubber Soul, nor is there any indication he aspires to develop artistically. This is a guy with a song called “Ass” in Spanish. And like the Fast & Furious movies that feature his tunes, Pitbull seems aware of his ironic capital and leans into the ridiculousness.
Take his show at the Xcel Friday night, co-headlined with Enrique Iglesias. The lights drop, a massive screen behind the stage lights up with ’80s style graphics, and cheesy pump-up music kicks in. A CG vault unlocks with the combination 305 and a voice fills the arena. It’s motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He’s reciting the tale of one Armando Perez—entertainer, entrepreneur, a man who turned his life from a negative to a positive, as we’ve heard before in 2011’s “Give Me Everything” and as we now see spelled out in digital neon. Pitbull rises from beneath the stage floor, dressed head-to-toe in black, grinning as the crowd, mostly women over 30, begins to shriek. It’s a hilarious spectacle, in the best possible way.
The band kicks into “Feel This Moment,” and Pitbull works the crowd. The seamless and rowdy concert experience that followed was pretty much what you’d expect. Pitbull would rap a bit, then the chorus would hit and he'd soft-shoe or interact with the scantily clad dancers running around the stage, and finally the inevitable go-bonkers moment would arrive and Pitbull would incite the crowd to jump around or throw their hands in the air. Most of the songs were condensed to create an even more riotous experience—after all, in the club nobody wants to hear the DJ play anything all the way through.
Pitbull gets his fans, and he genuinely appreciates them. When an Internet prank sent the Miami-born musician to Kodiak, Alaska as part of a Walmart promotion, Pitbull upheld his obligation, stating, "You gotta understand that I will go anywhere in the world for my fans.” St. Paul received similar love, with Pitbull thanking the crowd for the opportunity to be there after the first song, and further expounding on his gratitude between songs for the rest of the show.
He’d also take a minute to philosophize in these brief interludes, discussing hurricanes, earthquakes, politics, and life, dropping kernels of Truth like, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” and, after asking the crowd who among us was bilingual, “Life treats you better when you know how to use a tongue.”
Pitbull’s schtick centers on a glitzy party-vibe sexuality, and given particular lyrics and the amount of spanking that occurred on stage, there’s at least a modicum of underlying sexism here. That said, the aforementioned makeup of the audience, combined with repeated crowdwork praising not only the sexiness but the sophistication of the many women in attendance, certainly raised many complex sociological questions that are beyond the scope of this concert review blog to answer.
Pitbull’s set crescendoed with a string of hits: “I Know You Want Me,” “Time of Our Lives,” “Timber,” and finally “Give Me Everything.” The visuals throughout were dazzling, further playing in that weird space between ironic and legitimately cool, and culminated with smoke and confetti shooting into the air. When all was said and done, Mr. Worldwide again thanked the audience, his band, his dancers, even his production team, and the lights dimmed.
It seemed odd that Enrique would follow Pitbull, and the dip in audience energy during the latter performance made this decision even more questionable. Despite being on the scene longer, Enrique is less of a pop force in the present, and his music doesn’t quite build to the insane climax that Pitbull’s does. After a brief intermission, Enrique appeared. Though the frenzy started up again, it felt less enthusiastic and proved to be unsustainable. Enrique’s performance style was one of playful aggression, with the star sprinting around the stage and posturing with tough-guy attitude before breaking into a smile.
There wasn’t much to the music, which served mostly as the soundtrack for Enrique to run into the audience and make people go nuts. Both the band and his vocals sounded too slick, with Enrique not even singing a lot of the time, resulting in a lackluster experience for those of us not within arm’s reach. Iglesias did seem to find his groove toward the end, as throwbacks like “Escape” and “Hero” brought us back to the youthful Enrique of yesteryear. But it wasn’t enough to recapture the energy of the first act. Ultimately, this was Pitbull’s show.
Click here to see photos of all the spank-tastic action at Xcel
The crowd: Mostly 30+ women.
Overheard in the crowd: Dude a few rows behind me, yelling during one of Pitbull's motivational speeches: “C’mon, Pitbull—show ‘em what’s up! Yeah, tell ‘em what’s up! Woooooooooo! Woooooooooo!” Pitbull says something else inspirational: “Woooooooooo! ”
Random notebook dump: “Lotta spanking.”
Critic's bias: I legitimately like Pitbull and have a soft spot in my heart for Enrique. “Hero” came out when I was in middle school and for some reason all the guys in my grade were obsessed with it. Somehow we liked things ironically before we even knew what that meant.
Feel This Moment
Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)
Don’t Stop the Party
Rain Over Me
Hotel Room Service
I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)
Time of Our Lives
Give Me Everything
Súbeme la Radio
I’m a Freak
I Like How It Feels
Duele el Corazón
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Be With You
Seven Nation Army (White Stripes cover)
Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)
I Like It