We swooned last year when Beyoncé announced her appearance on the much-hyped remix of J. Balvin’s mega-hit “Mi Gente,” a project that sent its proceeds to victims of Hurricane María and the 2017 Mexico earthquakes. But her verse on the song hardly marked Bey’s high water mark when it comes to content dedicated to her Latinx fans. For that shining era, one must turn back the clocks to 2007, when the performer was appearing on the cover of People en Español “50 Más Bellos” edition, logging studio time with Mexican singer Alejandro Fernández, and telling the host of MTV Tr3s’ “Mi TRL,” “I pretend that I’m Dominican.”
The cycle had much to do with Irreemplazable, an eight-song EP that Beyoncé released that year. Largely comprised of Spanish versions or Spanish-added versions of songs from B’Day, Irreemplazable was the result of her collaboration with Cuban producer and composer Rudy Perez. Its track list includes a rework of “Get Me Bodied” with a verse from Puerto Rican reggaetonero and Masters of Funk alum Voltio, not to mention a version of Bey’s Shakira duet “Beautiful Liar” that added Calle 13’s Visitante to the roster. The EP was subsequently bundled with her previous album in a B’Day deluxe edition.
“I have so many fans from all over the world, and my Latin fans were like, ‘You have to give us some love,’” Beyoncé explains in a MTV Tr3s documentary released on DVD that focused on her Spanish language projects and is still available for viewing in three parts on Youtube. “So I did it for them and they seem to be so grateful, and I’m so grateful to be embraced.”
In the documentary, one gets the glittering highlights of this era of the Spanish-speaking diva. In one scene, she rubs elbows with Mario Lopez of A.C. Slater fame at the “50 Más Bellos” shoot. “I’m glad you’re doing this,” he tells her. In another shot, Bey tells the story of how she came to realize the magnitude of recording “Amor Gitano” with Fernández — she had to be schooled on his eminence by Latinx friends. In yet another scene, Beyoncé delivers an impeccable rendition of “Irreemplazable” to an al fresco “Good Morning America” crowd. She wears ringlets and a swingy zebra-striped mini dress. The crowd is in parkas. Their queen does not shiver, nor does she befoul her lyrics with Bieber-style insouciance. “I spent a lot of time on [my accent] making sure it was perfect because I didn’t want to disrespect the language,” she told People en Español for an article examining her “Latin soul.” In the same interview, she pins her connection to Latinx culture on the fact that “the rhythm of the music and the drums and the spiciness reminds me of Creole. It reminds me of my heritage and where I come from.”
Irreemplazable was not, perhaps, immune to the clichés of major label efforts to reach Latinos — consider Bey’s misguided flamenco ‘fit on the EP’s cover. But the work she put in for Spanish-speaking fans was obvious, and turned out to be far from a fleeting whim. Two years later, Beyoncé released “Si Yo Fuera Un Chico,” a Spanish version of a ballad off the I Am … Sasha Fierce album. She continued to perform “Irreemplazable” for Spanish-speaking audiences, hopefully a sign of ongoing commitment to delivering her work en español.