Dani Martín Is a Superstar in Spain — Can He Conquer the Rest of the World Too?

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The pop-rock singer can sell 12,000 tickets in Spain on the night the Champions League soccer final, but recognition abroad still eludes him.

On the afternoon before his May 26 concert in Barcelona, Dani Martín expressed amazement that he could compete for an audience with the Champions League soccer final, which would be broadcast the same night. As his home-town team Real Madrid beat Liverpool, Martín performed for a sold-out crowd some 12,000 people at the Palau St. Jordi, an arena built for the 1992 Olympic Games.

Modesty aside, Martín has no problem filling a stadium in Spain. He is the former frontman the pop-rock band El Canto del Loco, which from 2000 to 2010 sold a couple million albums and set touring records, giving 300 concerts one year and packing Madrid’s 24,000-capacity Plaza de las Ventas bullring three nights in a row.

Influenced by British pop, with lyrics in Spanish, El Canto del Loco's music was a cocktail romance and rebellion that captured the late-night spirit Spanish cities’ ubiquitous outdoor bars. Martín’s latest single, “18,” looks back at the band’s euphoric run, remembering “things that have happened to me and have happened to people those generations.”

“I think it was kind a game for us,” Martín says the rock 'n roll years the group that he formed with his cousin, David Otero, who has also since gone solo. “We drank, girls came to see us, and we enjoyed the moment without thinking anything else.”

Three studio albums into his solo career (2016's La Montaña Rusa is the most recent), Martín is booked to perform more than 20 dates in Spain on his current tour. His star quality was clear at the Barcelona concert, where he seemed to spend as much time holding his mic out, listening to the crowd sing his songs, as he did singing them himself. Women varying ages held “I Love You Dani” signs. Some 30-something parents came with young children, the whole family wearing Dani Martín t-shirts.

During a rehearsal for the tour in a warehouse in Madrid, members Martín’s large production crew were wearing his own merch. Their shirts said “Who the Fuck is Dani Martín?”

Martín explains that the shirts were a joke that riffed on the “Who the Fuck is Mick Jagger” t-shirt Keith Richards wore on the Rolling Stones' 1975 U.S. tour, a look that's since been copied by Liam Gallagher and other artists.

“I always have that need to get away from my image and laugh at myself,” says Martín, whose attempts to appear as just another regular guy are somewhat thwarted by his Hollywood-handsome looks. (He is also an actor who has appeared in movies and played a detective on a prime-time TV show.)

But the crew t-shirts also allude to the fact that Martín is not widely recognized outside Spain.

“Up until now I’ve made records with my reality, and my reality is that I’ve spent 41 years living in one country,” he acknowledges during an interview with Billboard at a Barcelona hotel. “When you come from a place and spend a lot time there and build relationships with the media and your fans, your career establishes itself in that place. Then there are those songs that cross borders and break barriers and make an artist become global and an international name. That hasn’t happened to me yet.”

Martín could just as well be describing other artists in Spain, where national stars can easily fill their touring schedule without leaving the country. Spanish artists have typically swept the charts in Spain, although in the past few years that has started to change as they compete for the public’s attention not only against American and U.K. bands, but also against a new breed Latin superstars. This week’s Spain Top Ten albums chart include Spanish rock, pop, and flamenco artists, as well as Shawn Mendes (No. 1) and Maluma (No. 7).

The Spanish artist has toured in Latin America and will give two concerts in Mexico in September. La Montaña Rusa includes “Que Se Mueren De Envidia,” a duet with Mexican indie darling Carla Morrison, who could be expected to appear at Martín’s Mexican shows.

“If we fill a 3,000-person venue in Mexico, it’s like filling a huge stadium here,” he says. “The reality is I’ve consistently been here in Spain, so my music is played more here. When you can go once every three years to Mexico, or once every four years to Argentina, it’s more difficult, it’s more complicated.”

No concerts in the United States are scheduled for Martín’s current tour, although one his songs, “Cero,” made Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart in 2013, and Tony Bennett fans could recognize his voice from “Are You Havin’ Any Fun” on Bennett's Viva Duets album from 2012. El Canto del Loco performed in New York once, in 2009, and Martín says he’s hoping a return engagement will happen at some point.

“If I go to New York and 200 people come who know my songs, I’m going to go to bed happy that night.”

On June 17, Martín will perform for the first time in London, a leap he wanted to take after recording his last album at Abbey Road Studios. The concert is at the club Koko (the former storied Camden Palace), which holds under 1500 people.

“You have to give yourself permission to get out your comfort zone” says Martín, who is planning his next album, one that will be “more irreverent” and encompass different musical styles. “Now I see my career and my moment from a completely different perspective than before. You have to keep doing new things.”