Meet Feid, The Songwriter to the Latin Stars Finding His Solo Spotlight
Feid, presented by Samsung Galaxy, will perform at Billboard Presents The Stage at SXSW on March 17.
A leaked album was the best thing that ever happened to Feid.
In September 2022, the Colombian singer-songwriter was headlining three consecutive sold-out hometown dates at Plaza de Toros La Macarena — Medellín’s famed bullfighting ring and concert venue — where he performed for more than 30,000 people over the course of the three shows. He was due for some much-needed rest the following Monday. But that never happened.
Instead, the artist born Salomón Villada Hoyos, 30, who also goes by the nickname Ferxxo, received an agitated call from his manager, Luis Villamizar, with the news that his album, Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo — scheduled for a December release — had, without their knowledge, arrived much earlier, in the form of a 39-minute voice note first leaked as a link on the internet.
“All my spirits dropped,” he recalls today, still sounding disappointed. “It was incomplete. It was a mess, and I felt rage — but that feeling lasted about half an hour. After that, I talked to my mom to see how we could take advantage of the situation and thankfully, we reacted quickly.”
With help from his team, producers and record label, Universal Music Latino (UML), he took matters into his own hands, working relentlessly for 24 hours to release an album that wasn’t even mixed or mastered yet. Because all 15 tracks had been leaked, Feid changed the title to Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo Te Pirateamos El Álbum (Happy Birthday Feid We Leaked the Album) and had his sister, who’s also his longtime graphic designer, create new cover art that acknowledged how the songs had ultimately spread: Though Universal quickly took down the initial leaked link, the audio had already been shared to DropBox and then sent wide through a chain of WhatsApp conversations. (Six of the 15 tracks had already been released as singles at the time of the leak.)
On Sept. 14, just two days after it leaked, the album — powered by syncopated perreos, reggaetón swagger and chill house beats — officially came out. Feid remains unsure of who leaked the set and why. But that’s now beside the point: Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo earned him his first top 10 entry on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, surging from No. 25 to No. 8 in its second week, on the chart dated Oct. 1, 2022. It concurrently became his first entry on the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 5 on Latin Rhythm Albums. “Normal,” the set’s fourth single, also became Feid’s first Hot Latin Songs entry as a soloist, following five alongside stars like J Balvin, Nicky Jam and Karol G. The track peaked at No. 1 on the Latin Rhythm Airplay chart on Jan. 21.
To maintain momentum, Feid and his team made another swift change of plans, deciding to rebook a previously in-the-works club tour — his first headlining U.S. run — to theaters to reflect his rapidly growing popularity, and to execute the task, from booking to opening night, in less than a month. Hans Schafer, senior vp of global touring at Live Nation, the tour’s promoter, told Billboard at the time that, like the album’s assembly, “everyone worked really quickly to turn this around.” Tickets to the 14-date stint, which began Oct. 13 in Atlanta and wrapped Nov. 25 in Los Angeles, sold out in 24 hours.
Feid has always had a clear creative vision concerning his music, which laces innovative urban beats with the essence of early-2000s reggaetón and lyrics about love. But his biggest barrier to achieving solo mainstream success for himself was trusting that intuition, rather than worrying about others’ opinions. It took years, but Feid finally realized the importance of being faithful to his core identity. And while the album leak was jarring and unplanned, the foundation he laid over more than a decade of making music allowed him to seize the opportunity and explode in popularity. With the tour, his ability to pivot quickly kept yielding successes.
“It was very special to go to the shows and see people dressed as me with green clothes, white glasses and even a gold tooth,” Feid gushes. “After the first show, I told my team, ‘Look carefully at this stage because, God willing, we will never have people as close as we do now. We will have them further and further away.” In other words, Feid expects to be playing U.S. arenas and stadiums before long.
For a teenage Feid, even playing the theaters of his fall tour would have been unimaginable.
As a seventh grader at Colegio San José de La Salle in Medellín, he discovered his passion for performing during a school talent show. Singing Daddy Yankee’s “Rompe (Remix)” with a group of friends as The Three Fathers, “I liked seeing how people were enjoying something I was doing,” he recalls. “I was shaking with nerves, but when I started to sing it all went away.”
That performance and others like it, known as colegios (school tours), are common for aspiring teen artists in Colombia, and they eventually allowed Feid to connect with Alejandro Ramírez Suárez, who would become Latin Grammy-winning producer Sky Rompiendo — and Feid’s longtime collaborator alongside Mosty, Wain, and Jowan and Rolo of production duo Icon Music.
By their early 20s, both Feid (whose moniker sounds like “faith” when spoken in Spanish) and Sky were making names for themselves in their hometown. Feid had already independently released singles such as “Bailame” and “Morena,” both of which gained traction in Latin America; Sky was the mastermind behind J Balvin’s first No. 1 chart hit, “Ay Vamos,” which peaked in March 2015.
Around then, Feid “unintentionally” fell into songwriting after Colombian artist Shako asked if he could record a song Feid had written for himself, called “Robarte Hoy.” “I was still new in the industry and didn’t even know writing for other artists was a thing,” he recalls (a year later, Shako invited him on the remix). One of the first popular tracks Feid wrote was Reykon’s “Secretos,” which ultimately led him to work with Balvin as a writer on the 2016 hit “Ginza,” nabbing Feid an ASCAP Latin award along the way.
“I started taking him to the studio when we had camps for Balvin because he has always had great chemistry,” Sky remembers. “Yes, he helped us write ‘Ginza,’ but the song where he proved himself as a songwriter was ‘Sigo Extrañándote,’ ” another track for Balvin that showcased Feid’s heartfelt, relatable lyricism. As Balvin tells Billboard, “He always brought something fresh to the table, and I always let him know of his potential.”
Suddenly, Feid’s “reggaetón music with pop lyrics” had made him the hip, on-demand songwriter that artists from Thalía to Ximena Sariñana to CNCO wanted to work with. In 2016, he signed an exclusive worldwide publishing administration deal with Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) through management and publishing company Dynasty Music Group, helmed by his then-manager, Daniel Giraldo, and Juan Pablo Piedrahita. Soon after, he signed his first record deal with In-Tu Linea, a label then under the Universal Music Latin Entertainment (UMLE) umbrella that was launched by industry veteran Jorge Pino and his longtime colleague Fidel Hernández as COO. Although “many labels showed their interest,” Feid says, Pino and Hernández were the only ones to make the “very special” gesture of meeting him in person.
Feid made his major-label debut with the Balvin-featuring “Que Raro,” which became his first Billboard chart entry, debuting and peaking at No. 26 on Latin Digital Song Sales and peaking at No. 16 on Latin Rhythm Airplay in 2016.
“Today, I highly value that moment that Balvin gave me — the spotlight in which he put me, the type of song it was,” he says. “It was super cool for my career, for my life, for everything I have been building. There are still people who tell me that they followed me or discovered me with ‘Que Raro.’ ”
Soon after, Feid collaborated with artists such as Maluma and Nacho; released his debut album, Así Como Suena, in 2017; received a Latin Grammy nomination for his next one (2019’s 19); and joined “The Avengers,” a collective of urbano artists that included Dalex, Dímelo Flow, Justin Quiles, Lenny Tavárez and Sech and released club bangers such as “Cuaderno” and “Quizas.” Around then, he also stopped writing music for others.
“I needed to find myself as an artist,” he says. Though Feid was gaining popularity writing for big acts, he hadn’t yet discovered his own strong artistic identity, and admits he was following the standards he observed in the industry by being “an average singer releasing average music.” As other Colombian artists of his generation such as Maluma, Karol G and Balvin skyrocketed to stardom, he wondered, “When will it be my turn?”
Then one day, after more than a decade of work, it clicked.
“I decided to take an arepa with cheese in my hand and say that I was paisa,” he proudly states, referring to the local word for someone from Medellín. “I began to be more faithful to who I am and my Colombian roots. At that moment, I opened the coolest door that I’ve ever opened, which was finding my identity and introducing El Ferxxo. It took me a long time to realize that this was what I had to do to really, really connect with people.”
Putting his new alter ego to the test, Ferxxo (pronounced Fercho) began incorporating local Medallo slang into his lyrics, like mor (love), que chimba (how cool) and parchar (hanging out) and replacing letters in his titles with X’s to pique curiosity.
It worked. The Latin Grammys nominated 2020’s Ferxxo (Vol. 1: M.O.R.) and its Justin Quiles-featuring single “Porfa” for best urban music album and best reggaetón performance, respectively. On the strength of an all-star remix featuring Balvin, Maluma, Nicky Jam and Sech, “Porfa” earned Feid his first No. 1 hit on both the Latin Airplay and Latin Rhythm Airplay charts.
As he established his musical identity, Feid recognized that creating a visual one was similarly important. He adopted the color green (most often, a lime shade) as his trademark, starting in early 2022 with the release of the single “Castigo”: Its cover art features a green monster truck and in the music video, Feid is clad in all green.
“It reminded me of the time when I was a huge fan of artists and wanted all the merch that had to do with them. I try to put myself in the shoes of a fan so that the people who follow me have a better chance of feeling closer to me,” he says. Now, he always finds a way to wear it — the color of growth and new beginnings.
As 2021 progressed, it seemed like everything was falling into place for Feid. He inked a worldwide publishing agreement with UMPG, fully transitioned from In-Tu Linea to UML under president Angel Kaminsky’s team and opened Karol G’s Bichota U.S. arena tour.
Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing — and in fact, his month on the road with Karol was a tough wake-up call. “I feel that 90% of people saw my show for the first time,” he says. “Coming from being a big deal in Colombia and being at the top of the charts to doing a show in Sacramento [Calif.] and having only five people yell ‘Wooo!’ was challenging for me.”
Then, shortly after returning home, a motorcycle accident left Feid with a severely injured left knee that required a two-month recovery. But instead of wallowing in his pain (or just kicking back to watch Netflix), Feid got to work on his next album.
“There were moments of doubt and complications,” says Jesús López, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula. “It was bad luck for his leg but good luck for his head because he was able to be calmer for a while and work more on the creativity of his album Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo.”
Hunkered down with his leg in a cast, Feid organically started engaging more with fans on TikTok. He would flirtatiously react to viral videos in his suave Medallo, create simple dance challenges for his music, tell jokes and, most importantly, preview tracks he was working on, like “Normal.” On TikTok, he realized, it was easier to promote himself (and go viral) than through an interview with a major news platform, and it became one of his biggest marketing tools, attracting new fans outside Colombia in places such as the United States, Mexico and Spain. (Feid now has more than 7.5 million TikTok followers.)
But it wasn’t until two trips to Mexico in 2022 that Feid truly noticed the effects of his social media presence. When he arrived in May for a festival in Monterrey, thousands of fans greeted him at the InterContinental Presidente hotel in Mexico City, prompting Feid and his team to schedule shows of his own in the country. In August, the three resulting headlining gigs — at Auditorio Nacional (Mexico City), Auditorio Citibanamex (Monterrey) and Auditorio Telmex (Guadalajara) — sold almost 20,000 tickets and grossed nearly $1 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. Previously, Feid had only performed in Mexico as a surprise guest for other artists.
“I feel that everything has been gradual in my career, but this was definitely an alert to us that something was happening,” he says with a laugh. “I still don’t want to realize what’s happening. I just want to keep making my music, be with my family, eat frijolitos (beans) and relax, but I can say that Mexico was that moment when we all wondered, ‘What’s going on?’ ”
Today, speaking with me in Miami’s hip Wynwood neighborhood, fame doesn’t seem to have changed Feid — and he’s embracing his paisa identity more than ever. He’s wearing his laid-back, go-to uniform of shorts, sneakers, baseball cap and graphic T-shirt and proudly rocking the first-ever backpack from his collaboration with Bogotá-based brand Totto. He’s polite and warm, arriving early for his Billboard photo shoot (“People’s time is valuable”) and greeting everyone in the room with a chiseled smile and a tight hug. “Que más mi reina? Todo bien?” he asks me — “All good, my queen?”
While it may have taken some extra time to get here, Feid’s down-to-earth appeal is central to why, finally, he’s prospering. Feid attributes his success to “the perfect timing of God,” but those around him know there’s a bit more to it.
“He is real and authentic,” says his manager, Villamizar. “In his music, what he writes, what he says. The DNA of all this success is him and people notice and feel it.”
“He has a lot of perseverance and a lot of persistence that few have,” says Balvin. “Many [artists] would have gotten out of the way by now, but he was always there. Now he is living his best moment, and I’m sure many more blessings will come his way.”
Late last year, Feid released his second collaboration of 2022 with Yandel, and he’s carried that momentum into 2023, earning his first Hot 100 entry with the Ozuna-assisted “Hey Mor” and embarking on his first proper Latin American trek, the sold-out Ferxxo: Nitro Jam Tour promoted by CMN. He’ll headline Chicago’s Sueños Music Festival in May and tour Europe this summer, all while working on his next album. Its “whole concept has to do with how I went from being in the shadows as a composer to everything I am achieving now [as an artist],” he explains.
Feid is covered in tattoos, but one on the right side of his neck is particularly noticeable. In cursive, it reads: Nunca olvides porque empezaste (never forget why you started) — a reminder to stay grounded. “Fe,” or faith, is at the core of what got him here, and what will keep him going forward.
“From the beginning, it was [my dream] to have a vision that only I could have and could spread to people and also surround myself with a team that understood what I wanted to do,” he says. “I have always had a lot of faith in myself and my career — and that is why Ferxxo is called ‘Feid.’ ”
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This story will appear in the March 11, 2023, issue of Billboard.
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