Carin León saddles up his country cowboy dream at Grand Ole Opry debut

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Mexican-born breakout Latin pop superstar Carin León did not receive a standing ovation for his Grand Ole Opry debut on Friday evening.

Instead, he received a joyous, prolonged and deafening 10-minute scream from an Opry crowd largely comprised of his 10 million global followers on Instagram and TikTok alone.

León's one of many musical superstars of late with authentic ties to multiple eras of country's mainstream popularity pinnacles whose backgrounds defy stereotypical expectations in country music's history.

However, like the Latin pop favorite, their evident talent, regardless of stereotypes, attracts excitement and demands respect.

Carin Leon sits backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Carin Leon sits backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

The native of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico ― a northwestern city 500 miles south of both Phoenix and San Diego ― blessed the vaunted unbroken circle on the Opry's stage upon stepping into it and leaving.

It was not done frivolously.

Instead, it was a moment of earnest reverence for not just his accomplishment but in respect to those who had done so before ― and for those whose ranks, as Opry members, he'd likely one day want to join.

León's surge to stardom

For the past decade, tenor crooner León has very intentionally blended a myriad of Mexican regional genres from along a 2,000-mile stretch of Mexico's western border ― all of those sounds, including Baja California's Norteño accordions, Jaliscan grupero's 1960s era electric guitars and mariachi's folk guitars and yes, Oaxacan banda's marching band tubas, were all present on the Opry's stage.

Just offstage at the Grand Ole Opry stood two of León's creative compatriots and fast-growing American country and rock-to-pop crossover friends: Grammy-winning rock star Leon Bridges and 10-time country chart-topper Kane Brown.

León's North American crossover work hasn't just included tour dates in arenas and stadiums in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, among many other places.

León also signed with Universal Music Publishing Group in 2023.

Carin Leon performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Carin Leon performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

In 2023, he released a cover of Johnny Cash's "Man In Black" in tandem with Major League Soccer's Nashville SC.

Insofar as his guests at the Opry, León's yet to officially release work with Bridges. However, the two will appear ― along with Kane Brown ― at 2024's forthcoming Stagecoach Festival.

Regarding Brown, he and León share vocal duties on their latest single, "The One (Pero No Como Yo)." They premiered their new song together on Feb. 22 at the Premio Lo Nuestro Awards at Miami's Kaseya Center.

The track blends León's multitude of Mexican influences while Brown sings over sections of the song crafted to mimic tropical house-style grooves drenched in classic reggae vibes.

"It's a fresh hybrid of a Mexican folkloric love ballad with funky reggae and a Nashville-inspired energy that only Kane [Brown] can bring to a track," said León.

'Looking For Love'

Dig deeper with the performer and the place where his potential as a crossover superstar mixing country into his roots emerges almost immediately.

"Johnny Lee's 'Lookin' For Love,'" León offers, with no provocation.

The 45-year-old Texas country classic underpinned the soundtrack to John Travolta's star vehicle "Urban Cowboy."

As a young 12-string guitar player, countrypolitan classics like those inspired him.

Moreover, consider a unique scenario wherein Aventura's 2002 global bachata hit "Obsesion," acts like Blake Shelton and Keith Urban extending country's American pop crossover era and rappers and rockers splitting the top-ten of Billboard's all-genre Hot 100 in half also dominated his available listening choices.

León quickly fills in the missing 80s and 90s country eras by noting Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson and Kenny Rogers as occupying space next to guitar-driven cinematic regional Mexican ballads and heartbreak anthems in the inspirations of not just himself, but others like him who grew up in the regions of Mexico from which he draws his most prominent sonic inspirations.

Because the era that musically rooted not just León but performers like Colombian-born Maluma was so specifically driven by country and rock, with hip-hop's aesthetics underneath, their sounds move with an inherently connective energy driven by universal themes expressed through a century of unforgettable music and popular culture.

Those inspirations blend with Mexico's northern and western traditions of field workers hearing American country music on the radio and re-interpreting it into regional-specific sounds.

Carin Leon sits backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Carin Leon sits backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

Music, as with all things, generationally evolves.

However, León is keen on how well country music retains its "heartfelt, honest, natural and soulful roots," regardless of era or translation.

'Tennessee Whiskey'

2024 finds him not just in ownership of a trio of songs that have charted on Billboard's Hot 100 in 2023 (pairing with Grupo Frontera for "Que Vuelvas," Maluma duet "Segun Quien" and September-charting "Primera Cita") and a Latin Grammy, but traveling worldwide, plus having developed an easy-to-market, authentic style and swagger built off spaghetti Western films and Texas country classics have finally focused and settled into his creative scope.

The skillful singer of love songs' talents are translating beyond language and unifying cultures.

Recently, he's covered Ben Rector's 2018 piano ballad "Magic." Broadening his reach to something like Luke Combs' 2022 country smash "Going Going Gone" is well within his musical wheelhouse's versatility.

"I want the world to join me in honoring the great artists who deserve it," said León, whose last stop in Nashville for a performance occurred five years ago at Bridgestone Arena.

Carin Leon sits backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Carin Leon sits backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

Amazon Music paired him with Walker Hayes for a take on the latter's massive viral smash "Fancy Like" in 2021.

Have his continued journeys through Nashville in recent months also included appearing a Kid Rock's Lower Broadway honky tonk and serenading the crowd with "Tennessee Whiskey?"

They most certainly have.

Yes, León's at the Opry. But think of that moment as entrenching him in country's industry. Insofar as country's culture? He already embodies that quite well.

Embracing the 'cowboy spirit'

"You land in Nashville and before you leave the airport, you've already seen great musicians playing iconic songs in bars ― the whole world should be like this," León continued, smiling.

"I'm humbly honored to [gain the approval] of Nashville's country community. I want to be a representative of its culture and music."

Carin Leon performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Carin Leon performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville , Tenn., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

León's journey to this moment in his career has ultimately taken both six years of growing career acclaim and a lifetime to master.

With each song he releases, the "real cowboy" in León's heart emerges as much from his rancher boots as it does from preserving cultural ties and embracing the arduous labor required to retain a keen, sharp mind and an outlaw spirit.

"Everyone wants to embrace the cowboy spirit because [it arrives] from an undeniably good feeling [inspired] by hard work."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Carin León saddles up his country cowboy dream at Grand Ole Opry debut