It’s April 27, one day before the first of Rauw Alejandro’s two sold-out concerts at the Los Angeles Forum. His team is gearing up to bring next-level surround sound to the storied arena – which will see Alejandro singing and dancing for nearly three hours on a 360-degree stage – as they’ve done only twice before on the “Saturno World Tour,” in Miami and New York.
Putting on a 360-degree concert is not only complicated and costly, it is enormously physically demanding for the performer, who must project in all directions instead of one. It’s taking a toll: In the hour leading up to showtime, Alejandro, swatched in bandages, hops from an exercise machine to a massage table where a team of physical therapists gets to work on his lower body. In the week that follows, doctor’s orders force him to postpone a show in Palm Springs due to injury – despite his constant efforts to go ahead.
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“When you’re exposed on a 360-stage, you can’t be on one side more than the other at any point throughout the show,” Alejandro tells Variety. “There’s a formula to the choreography and a science behind knowing ‘I’ve been here for a while, I need to change it up – give the same level of energy, equally to every person on each side of that stage.’ It’s harder than just singing on a traditional front-facing stage. After this, I’m probably not going to do it again.”
It’s not hard to see why the 360 stage is being abandoned for the rest of the tour, which will see Alejandro (real name: Raúl Alejandro Ocasio Ruiz) bring “Saturno” to stadiums across Mexico, Europe, Latin America and South America. (Dates for Latin America and South America have not officially been announced yet.)
Instead, those fans will be getting a taste of his album: Alejandro says a “spinoff” of “Saturno” is nearly complete and will be released later this summer. “It’s not a prequel,” he clarifies, struggling to find the right term in either English or Spanish. “It’s like when you’re watching a movie and there’s another storyline that happens while the movie is happening in parallel — I have an album like that of ‘Saturno.’”
Alejandro didn’t confirm that the record is finished since he’s “always adding, removing and changing” his work even in the days leading up to a release – but “it’s a big project. I like to do big stuff,” he says. “It’s all connected to ‘Saturno’ because I’m touring that album until the end of the year so we’ll probably mix in some of those songs into the setlist.”
The “Saturno World Tour” has evolved throughout its run, from shifts in sound and lighting to the arrangement of songs — and all changes require the approval of Alejandro. His directions are meticulous, but all share the same intention: “It should feel like a giant party.”
The aesthetic behind the 18-song “Saturno” is one Alejandro envisioned long before any music on the album had even been recorded. Alejandro crafted the songs with a cosmic blueprint in hand using an eclectic toolbox of sounds that range from heavy synths and rolling snares to produce a kaleidoscopic mosaic of electronica, hip-hop and reggaeton inspired by the glittery Miami bass of the 80s and 90s.
The concert’s directorial production features galactic animations and a space-themed custom wardrobe designed by Acne Studios that Alejandro sports on stage. Outside the Kia Forum, concert-goers mirror Alejandro: they arrive in asymmetrical metallic blues and silvers while the pulsating bass of “Saturno” blares through their car speakers. Online, they’ve been regularly circulating “Saturno concert outfit ideas” that pull inspiration from what Alejandro wears on stage — that’s anything ranging from a long, reflective trench coat to a pair of over-the-top space goggles.
“I never thought that would happen,” Alejandro says of the viral fashion moment. “I still remember seeing all the outfits for the first show and being so happy. I had seen fans dress up at my girl’s concert,” he says, referring to his fiancée Rosalía’s seismic “Motomami” tour. “We had so much fun watching people get into the show dressed up in motorcycle gear. I think the character of ‘Rauleeto’ and the blue hair and neons, the overall vibe – it resonated, and it’s been really cool to see that people fuck with that a lot.”
One of Alejandro’s proudest achievements for this tour is the seamless creative direction. “It was always a dream of mine to perform on a 360 [degree] stage and it only made sense that we finally chased that dream with the design of ‘Saturno’ being a circular planet,” he says.
Above the stage, a ring of LED screens meant to mimic a flying UFO (which at one point in the show “abducts” him by lifting him up into the air) projects futuristic images and animations along with intimate close-ups of Alejandro singing. He regularly makes zealous eye contact with a camera that’s held by one man who regularly joins him on stage when slower songs play.
There’s also synchronized automation in the show, with ring lights moving up and down on either side of the stage as the evening carries on.
“When we were prepping for our show in Puerto Rico, it took us five hours to perfect the stage exactly as he wanted it,” Jose “Sapo” Gonzalez, Alejandro’s musical director, tells Variety. “He would run up and down the stadium, and stop in each section – from the VIP area to the very last row — saying ‘Okay – press play,’ and then he would request changes that way.”
When surround sound is utilized, “around eight additional speaker clusters [are] placed behind audiences. There are also sound effects like rain and single keys or music stems that are implemented to move behind the audience,” says Sapo, who is also a musical director for Latin music stars like Daddy Yankee and Natti Natasha.
“It takes a lot of work to create an experience like that and have it not feel like a gimmick — you’re not supposed to outwardly notice the tricks — it’s more like a feeling, a feeling that you are inside the music.”
It was Rosalía who introduced Alejandro to the owner of Sturdy Co., the creative house and digital production company that worked on animations and other graphic designs for the “Motomami” tour and helped conceptualize the “Saturno” tour along with his Billboard Awards and Latin Grammys performances.
“He’s so involved in all facets of his creative process that we were able to stay on the same page all the way through from concept to execution,” says Sturdy’s owner Adrian Martinez, whose previous clients also include Drake, Bad Bunny and Kendrick Lamar. “Rauw has this unwavering focus and attention to detail which is seen all the way throughout his show…every bit of the rollout — all of the imagery, themes, [are] extremely important in creating something that felt true and authentic to this era of Rauw’s touring career.”
It’s a labor of love – one that requires a team of mind readers with the ability to know, anticipate, and back your every move. That’s where Eric Duars, owner of Duars Live and Alejandro’s manager, comes into the picture.
“I know where he comes from, I know his dreams, his frustrations and obviously along the way, after enduring many challenges together, he’s been able to sense the same from me,” Duars says of his client, who first discovered as an R&B-trap artist in Puerto Rico around the beginning of 2016. “Professionally, we are both very demanding and we defend our points ‘til the end – it’s a good balance to have especially when it comes to winning over global markets.”
Duars continues, “The people who normally work in huge venues like these [across the U.S.] are [Americans], big executives who know the artist and know the music. For them, it’s about investing in an artist’s vision and trusting what they can do.”
Alejandro often works a few steps ahead of what’s in front of him. He jokes it must be because of his short attention span but Duars has a different theory: “He’s just so secure. Raúl, from the day he stood in front of me, has maintained the same incredible confidence in what he wants to do. And as I say, discipline beats talent, commitment beats talent, attitude beats talent.”
The timing of the “Saturno” tour was a strategic move that was years in the making. Duars had booked 2021’s “Vice Versa” tour across cities in the U.S. and Latin America just as the world was beginning to reopen post-pandemic. And even before that, Alejandro and his team were riding high off his debut performance at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico which was live-streamed for over 1 million spectators around the world at the height of the pandemic.
“We definitely felt the impact of that show because it’s every artist’s dream to play that venue and we saw it as an advantage that it was being live-streamed and then made into a live album experience,” says Duars. “The people could see Raúl, they could see that he dances. And then, when they started to lift the pandemic orders, it became clear to us which markets wanted to see him the most.”
Each and every song Alejandro plays has a visual counterpart that evolves throughout the show to envelop audiences and lead them to a final climax. Before he leaves the stage, Alejandro exudes one last blast of energy for the closing song on the setlist: a colossal club banger titled “De Carolina.”
“Everything keeps getting bigger. The stages, the fans…the euphoria,” he says. “We did one show last year at the Kia Forum and now we’re here to do two. I think that’s a good sign.”
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