Music

Imagine Dragons Invited J Balvin Onto Their Single ‘Eyes Closed’ — This Is How It Came Together

When fans of Imagine Dragons got wind that the group was releasing a new version of their single “Eyes Closed” alongside J Balvin, some expressed trepidation. This, after all, is an important track: the lead single from the band’s upcoming sixth album (Loom, due out June 28). What the heck; was there really going to be reggaetón mixed in with Imagine Dragons’ usual pop-rock?

Never fear. The resulting track, where Balvin completely eschews reggaetón beats for hard-hitting verses over the rock groove — with Imagine Dragons actually redoing a section of the song — has managed to strike all the right notes, and turn one plus one into 3.

“I didn’t know I needed this til I saw it AAAAAAA,” wrote @AsaltodeMedianoche on Youtube.”This is insane. I didn’t expect that this was gonna sound so epic with him,” wrote another fan.

Which begs the question: How the heck did Imagine Dragons end up collaborating with J Balvin? And how does this remix sound so darn good?

Balvin and Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds spoke with Billboard and told us how it all went down.

How It Started

Reynolds: I met with the guys [bassist Ben McKee and guitarist Wayne Sermon] when we were working on the song [late last year] and it just felt like something was missing when we were in the studio. We really don’t often do collaborations, but this song in particular, [we felt] it really needs something to complete it. The three of us were in a room and we talked about things we were listening to and what was inspiring to us, and all of us were like: ‘J, love his music.” We reached out to him and within a week [it came together].

Balvin: I was in Rumania in a concert, and Chris Knight from my management team said, check this out. He didn’t even say it was Imagine Dragons: He said “Yo, they want you on this song, tell me what you think.” And I said, “Play it.” And when I heard that voice — and the production is mind-blowing, the production is so ahead — I was like, “We’re recording this tomorrow.”

I was going through a dark moment — that [kind where] you don’t know how to handle a certain moment, and it was [like], “This is perfect for what I’m feeling now; and I can express myself really easily.” And also, normally when people think about doing songs with Latinos that do reggaetón, they thought I was going to switch the beat and put it in reggaetón, right? And of course that was the fear of a lot of fans. And when they heard the song they [found out], “Oh, they kept it in the same vibe.”

And it’s because I love to jump with different genres. In this case, I’m a big fan of Imagine Dragons and I gotta give my best and follow the vibe — and say the same thing they’re saying, but of course in Spanish. We don’t want to be talking about different topics in the same song.

I just needed to let it out! The best that could have happened to me is when I received that song. Oh, I have these feelings right now. Thank God someone just sent me a great song to let it out, and be open and honest about how in a certain moment of my career people wanted to see me fail, or I went to a dark moment that I thought that it was going to be — and then, I can do this with my eyes closed. I’ve been in this game so long that it makes me stronger every day. Doesn’t mean I’m the strongest; I still have a lot of weak things, I’m still healing. But now I know how to swim way more and better in the maze, with my eyes closed.

The Process

Reynolds: It was the first version. There were no changes. It was just like, he got it. I had a feeling he would catch the vision, just because I was familiar enough with his work to know that he can do a lot of different things. And sure enough, [the song] doesn’t need anything [after he finishes recording]. No changes. Mix it. Send it out.

Balvin: Sometimes less is more. And I felt that was what I wanted to say, those were the flows we wanted to bring. The verse was perfect to me. I love the song. And this is what I can give to them. It’s about the quality, not quantity. What if I gave another verse but it didn’t really stick out? I’d rather make one verse that is really concise and precise.  

Reynolds: We just left openings throughout the song, showed him different versions and really left it up to him to go as long or short as he wanted. We’re like, “You do you.” And sure enough, he sent it back, and we were like, “That’s it.” The only thing I changed was, I rewrote the bridge after he sent his part back, because there was a specific melody in it that I really loved that he did in the pre chorus.

Balvin: We were super happy when we heard that melody. We were like, “He did that melody, man!”

Rapping in Spanish

Balvin: You know I’m always a big supporter of “just keep it in Spanish,” because that’s the way I connect with the people. And it’s not going to sound the same when you really want to express your feelings in your own language. So, of course Spanish, and the guys agreed with that. I think it’s all about feeling and even the people who don’t understand Spanish, they know that we really flow in that instrument the way it should be. And I feel super proud of it and I feel grateful that [I worked with] one of my favorite bands and, also to meet Dan.

Reynolds: The way this band has always operated is we always try to make music that we like and make decisions that feel good to us. Fans are always not going to love certain songs, that’s just part of life. And I think the worst thing you can do as an artist is try to cater to that. That’s when you fail as an artist. You try to create something a critic will like, something a fan will like, and then nobody likes it, and then you also feel bad about yourself because it wasn’t’ even honest. So, for us, it was, “Man it would be really cool to work with J on this song. And it would be really cool to have multiple languages in a song.”

I think It’s a reflection of where music is today. One of the blessings we have as a band is being able to play all over and experience all different people from different cultures and languages; even when people don’t know what I’m saying, they feel it as if English was their first language. The second I heard J’s verse I knew, even though my Spanish is three years of high school, the feeling that I got from it was all that matters.

Balvin: They were expecting maybe that I would bring some reggaetón, but to me it’s crazy, because I respect art and I know when I can add reggaetón. This is like the Mona Lisa, it’s a beautiful piece of art. Don’t touch it a lot. We gotta do music that we feel is right, otherwise you’re a sellout. I was honest with me, and I have no regrets about any word that I say in the song. This is what I wanted to do and I’m proud of it and I gave my 1000% percent.

Finally Meeting

Balvin: When I met Dan I had no expectations because you don’t know. Sometimes you don’t want to meet your idols, right? You get there, and he was super humble, and he’s huge [in height] so I was just looking up at him like, ‘Yo, what’s up.’ But he’s really down to earth and I’m grateful for the way you treated me, guys. I felt like home.

Reynolds: I think that really speaks to Jose and who he is as a person. You never know what to expect when you’re working with a really big artist. Are they going to have big egos, what’s that going to feel like? And it was obvious when I met him, “Oh this is just a really good, normal human being.” It was all about, “Do we make a great video together?” And we were both open to direction and guidance, and there were no diva vibes. It was really refreshing.

It didn’t surprise me, though. I’d done enough research about J to know a little of who he was and where his heart was and to see him in person felt like the unvierse just put this together. It was very serendipitous and easy. It was just two artists having fun together which is what it should be.

The Big Picture

Balvin: I’m just grateful because I’ve always been a huge fan and the guys gave me the opportunity to keep expanding our sound. Because it’s not about J Balvin, it’s about our culture. The fact that they care about a Latino artist, is something that makes me really proud about our culture.  

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