Ricky Martin: Beyond the Bon-Bon

Ricky Martin, whose new album, A Quien Quiera Escuchar is out now  Photo: Nino Muñoz

Ricky Martin, whose new album, A Quien Quiera Escuchar is out now
All Photos: Nino Muñoz

Singer talks love life, shirtless selfies and how he’d react to having gay sons

By: Chris Azzopardi*/Special to TRT—

A single tweet changed Ricky Martin’s life, and then it changed the world.

When the internationally famed Puerto Rican heartthrob came out in 2010, declaring himself on Twitter “a fortunate homosexual man” who’s “very blessed to be who I am,” Martin, 43, stepped out of the closet and into himself. Reflecting the free life he’s currently basking in are the raw sounds and personal soliloquies on the singer’s 10th studio album, A Quien Quiera Escuchar (To Whomever Wants to Listen).

In conversation, Martin is notably laid-back, sincere and personal as he opens up about how his six-year-long relationship with Carlos Gonzalez Abella inspired his latest music (“I love being in love”), what he’s really trying to convey with all his shirtless selfies and the “powerful” coming out stories the LGBT community shares with him. And whether he’s ruminating on his two sons or anticipating shaking his bon-bon with more male dancers onstage, his smile radiates even on the phone. This is a new, happier Ricky Martin, and yes, we’re listening.

Chris Azzopardi: On behalf of the gay community, thank you for all you do. The world is a better place because of your shirtless selfies.

Ricky Martin: (Laughs) Oh, man – thank you very much. I laugh so much at the reaction of the people; it’s so funny. It really is amazing.

Q. I get a kick out of it too. Are you more comfortable without clothes? Or do you feel it’s just your responsibility as a celebrated sex symbol?

A. I just want to let people know how normal my life is, and I try to do it with a simple picture – that’s what Instagram is about. So the other day I was laying in the sun and I was like, “Hey everyone, I’m here. I’m in a good place.” You know, I’m a little bit obsessed with social media, to be honest. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I check out my Twitter, my HeyHey account, Facebook and Instagram, and I read what people have to say and what they need from me as an artist. It’s fun, man.

Q. You’ve always been a sex symbol, but how does it feel being a sex symbol for a community of gay men who know you’re playing on their team? Is it different when there’s that mutual attraction?

A. Listen, for me, it’s about liberty and it’s about being you—me, in this case—and living life with transparency and just being. It’s so amazing to know that you have nothing to hide, man. What you see is what you get. And this is me. And I don’t wear a mask to go onstage, and the support that I’ve received from my community since I came out has been amazing. It’s one of those things that (makes) you say, “Oh my god, why didn’t I do this before?” But then again, Chris, you know how it goes – everybody accepts who they are at their own time. When I sent that tweet a few years ago just letting people know that I am gay it was the most amazing day of my life after the birth of my kids. And it is what it is. Now my life is simple and honest and transparent, and this is me. And that’s what my social media’s about—being yourself.

Q. The ladies have obviously been infatuated with you since the beginning of your career – since you were in Menudo. But when did you first realize that LGBT fans enjoyed you as well?

A. It’s always been there. Before I came out the love was there and I was very thankful. Now, when I got to work directly with the community once I came out, it went to another level and it’s felt amazing, but once again, just being able to talk to the media about who we are and what we want and what we need, it’s just so powerful. The equality slogan translates so easily in any language.

Q. A Quien Quiera Escuchar sounds like you at your most authentic. I hear your essence, your spirit, your zest for life. How does it feel to be able to be yourself musically?

A. When I started recording this album I had no idea what I wanted to talk about, which is completely different to what it was like in the past, when I said, “OK, I think I wanna get into the studio,” and I had a blank canvas in front of me and all I did was throw colors and started working with amazing producers, and they helped me. It was the most amazing psychoanalysis, to be honest, to work with other writers and co-producers who helped me to put myself in order.

I started recording this album exactly a year ago in Australia and then we went to Los Angeles and we recorded in Miami. I also recorded in Puerto Rico. What I’m trying to say is that everything about this creative process was so organic and so relaxed, and I didn’t have pressure from anybody. I just allowed myself to open my book and I started reminiscing, remembering different experiences that I had in my personal life and being able to point out specific emotions that I’ve been through—not necessarily this year, but through my life. And then, I think, A Quien Quiera Escuchar was born, you know? I listened to it today and I’m like, “Wow—there is poetry and there is honesty in these lyrics.” And there are some powerful slogans that people are quoting through social media. People are gravitating to (these lyrics) and using them and turning them into their own slogans. Once again, it’s about honesty. It’s about vulnerability.

Q. How much of the music on this album was inspired by your own personal love life, particularly your time with ex-partner Carlos Gonzalez Abella?

A. After six years of being in a very steady relationship with him, yes, we have a lot of stories and we have a lot of moments of love and lots of light and yes, he is part of this album. It’s not about what I’ve lived (through) this year that we broke up or even the last five years. It’s decades of allowing myself to really go back and remember specific relationships that really (affected) me in many ways. And it became music. It’s never too late.

Q. You’ll be touring all year across the world.

A. I’m addicted!

Q. Live, do you still even perform “She Bangs”?

A. If people ask for it, I will perform it. I would become the character in the video and I would perform it.

You’ve always been flanked by female dancers. Now that you’re out and proud, does that mean that more male dancers get in on the mix?

A. Hey, let’s be fair: Come on, it’s about equality, you know? And when I walk onstage I present different scenarios of life and, yes, I do have more one-on-one dancing with male dancers, but when you’re at a party, you just dance. It doesn’t matter who’s next to you, you grab a guy’s or a girl’s hand and you just go for it. And that’s what my show is about. It’s about freedom. And it’s about being comfortable in your own skin.

Q. That must be a great feeling for you to be comfortable enough to dance with a guy in front of millions of people.

A. It’s greaaaaat! And the reaction of the audience is even better! (Laughs)

Q. Now that you’re back on the market, what is dating like for someone as widely known as Ricky Martin?

A. (Laughs) Mmmm. To be honest, I love being in a relationship, Chris. I love waking up in the morning and, if you’re not with your boyfriend, (sending) that first message or text in the morning: “Hey baby, how ya doing? I hope you’re fine. I just woke up. I’m doing this and this and this today.” I loooove that. I really do. And I love picking up my phone and waiting for that reply from that text – it’s great. But at the same time, right now, I’m enjoying being single. I’m enjoying this process. I’m not saying that I don’t want to be in a relationship – I would be lying to you. I love being in love.

Q. You strike me as the hopeless romantic type.

A. I am, I am, I am! You’re damn right about that.

Q. How often have men used a pickup line on you that references your bon-bon?

A. Ohh, man. If someone goes there I’d be like, “Dude, you gotta start again. I’ll give you another chance because of your pretty face.” (Laughs)

Considering your own coming out experience, what would you tell your 6-year-old twin sons, Matteo and Valentino, if one or both were to come out to you one day?

You know what, for us, at least in my family, that’s not an issue because that is the normal in my house. So if my kids ever tell me that they’re gay, I’ll be like, “Yeah? OK, cool! Brilliant! Bring it on.” But it all starts from the day that we’re born, and every time they ask me questions about anything – Who’s your boyfriend? How come I had two daddies? – the important thing is to answer with honesty and transparency. And it doesn’t matter how old your kids are. If they are capable of formulating a question, it’s because they are capable of receiving the answer.

Q. Have you taught them the famous Ricky hip swivel yet?

A. Oh, it’s in their blood, buddy. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s there. (Laughs)

Q. As an out gay man with an enormous platform, what do you hope you’ve contributed to the LGBT community?

A. I had the opportunity to write a book that is called Me and I’m very proud to say that it is a New York Times best-selling book. There have been people who’ve come to me and said, “Because of you and because of that book I know my father better, I know my grandmother, I know my uncle, my aunt, my sister, my brother.” And that’s it. I mean, I will always keep on talking about the importance of equality and basic human rights that we as members of the LGBT community are longing for, but to this day, and every day – the book was released about four years ago – I get a tweet or a Facebook post from someone saying, “Ricky, thank you so much for that book; it changed my life.”

Q. What do those stories mean to you?

A. It tells me that my fears were just in my head and that I feel nothing but gratitude. And I get goose bumps, man, when I get these stories and these testimonies from people from all walks of life coming to me to say, “Listen, I was homophobic until I read your book.” It’s very powerful, and I’m very, very pleased.

*Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.

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