Pop Hero

Why Enrique Iglesias Is Still Hot

With most acts from the ’90s in retirement, Iglesias is churning out hits. He talks to Ramin Setoodeh.

Carlo Allegri / AP Photos

On a recent November night, the crowd inside Madison Square Garden swelled to Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga capacity, but the main attraction was from a different era: the ’90s. Believe it or not, Enrique Iglesias is still going strong. His ninth album, Euphoria, shot to the top of the charts last year, with four No. 1 singles and collaborations from Pitbull and Nicole Scherzinger. He sat in as a guest judge on The X Factor. He spent Thanksgiving shimmying with Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders at the team’s halftime show. His latest tour is one of the most successful of the year, with 630,000 tickets sold and $1.8 million in merchandising alone.

He’s outlasted Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync, and the Spice Girls. It’s not just his voice or his songs that make his groupies swoon, but his touch. At Madison Square Garden, a lucky dude is invited onstage to drink rum and reminisce with the singer. An even luckier girl is called onstage for a kiss—on the lips. She crawls inside his shirt and gropes him, to deafening hoots.

How did he come up with this routine? “A routine for me is exactly the same with the same person, and you know how it’s going to go,” Iglesias says a week later in a phone interview. “I remember growing up and watching Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty or Bono, some of these acts that were unpredictable. They would bring someone onstage, and you never knew how that person was going to react. You could tell it wasn’t rehearsed. Sometimes it would go well, sometimes it doesn’t.”

But Tom Petty never kissed a girl like that. Doesn’t his girlfriend mind?

“She never gives me a hard time,” says Iglesias, who has been dating the tennis star Anna Kournikova since 2001.

Most musicians don’t normally stay with the same woman for a decade, but Iglesias isn’t afraid of time. At 35, he looks not a day older than when he debuted his first English-language album in 1999, as the youngest son of Julio Iglesias. Onstage, he wears a white T-shirt and pair of baggy jeans (“I wear so much G-Star, I should be the promoter”). His face is as smooth as Justin Bieber’s. His arms are perfectly sculpted, even though he insists he doesn’t live at the gym. “I work out like once a week,” he says. “But you would laugh at my workout. I’ll pick up a dumbbell and do 10 reps, and then I’m like, OK, that’s it.”

He attributes his youthfulness to his mother, the Filipina socialite Isabel Preysler. “My mom is 59 and she looks unbelievable,” he says, “and my mom always used to say, ‘When you mix races, the kids are stronger, tougher, and age better.’ My brother is two years older than me—he’s 37—and he looks 27.” Iglesias would like to have kids, but he says he doesn’t know if he has the patience for them, especially when he sees kids crying at a restaurant. He recently texted Usher and was surprised to find him awake at 6 a.m., being a dad. “I think 35 is kind of young to have kids nowadays,” Iglesias says.

He’s found a similar fountain of youth in his work, in his sound, which has stayed current while most of his contemporaries have fallen off the radar. Iglesias is something of an anomaly, a male solo pop singer in an industry now dominated by women such as Katy Perry and Rihanna. He’s sold 60 million albums, and he holds international appeal from England to Australia. (His record label says he’s the most successful artist of all time in India.) But in the United States, as late as 2007, he was fading. As some of his albums were underperforming, Iglesias felt bored. “We kept having hits outside the U.S.,” says his manager, Fernando Giaccardi. “It all comes down to song. Enrique is a firm believer in that.”

Iglesias recorded a song called “I Like It,” with a speedier melody than his previous hits. “I think when you’ve had successes and failures, you’ve been up and you’ve been down, you think, ‘Who the hell cares?’” he says. His label hated it. But Iglesias was so certain that it would be a hit, he personally lobbied Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine. “I was willing to kill for this song,” Iglesias says. “I knew that song was amazing. I wouldn’t listen to it for three months and then I’d play it, and it would still give me a good vibe.”

He eventually moved to Universal Republic and got his song out. “I Like It,” which sold 5 million copies worldwide, paved the way for his comeback. “It’s crazy when I listen to a song like 'Tonight' or 'I Like It,' and then I go back and listen to my first album, I’m like, holy s--t,” Iglesias says. He’s kept current by pairing with hip new artists and producers, such as Akon, Ludacris, and RedOne (who played Gaga’s “Poker Face” for him before it hit radio stations). And he’s good friends with his “I Like It” collaborator Pitbull, who recently opened for him at the Garden. By his own admission, Iglesias is a workaholic. “I sleep like s--t,” he says. “Throughout the years, I’ve always been hyper, ever since I was a kid. It’s a mixture of stress. I try to tell myself, ‘What the hell are you stressing about?’”

When he’s not working, he lives in Miami, where he loves to go to the movies. “The last movie that I saw was Drive,” he says. “That was my favorite movie of the year. I was watching that with my girlfriend, and I remember telling her, ‘This dude should win an Oscar.’ I didn’t even know who the guy is. Holy s--t, this guy is badass.”

As much as Iglesias appreciates films, though, he doesn’t seem himself transitioning into acting like Justin Timberlake or Beyoncé.

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When director Robert Rodriguez wanted him for a small role in 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Iglesias said he was in as long as he didn’t have to audition. “I thought I’d be so nervous, I’d puke.” He enjoyed the experience, “but in comparison to music, it’s a lot of waiting. That waiting can drive you nuts. The feeling of being in front of 15,000 people live—anything can go wrong, anything can f--k up—it’s pretty much unbeatable.”