A CHAT WITH NEON16 CHIEF LEX BORRERO


NEON16
co-founder and CEO Lex Borrero is no stranger to investing in Latin culture. Alongside super-producer Tainy, Borrero built NEON16 into this decade’s premier Latin-music factory, serving as the launching pad for global hits from virtually every Latin star in the biz as well as major collabs with such big names as Dua Lipa and Maroon 5.

In his latest undertaking as Latin cultural ambassador, Borrero created and produced streaming TV series for Netflix (La Firma – The Signing) and Disney+ (Los Montaner)—in both cases via Ntertain, the visual content house formed with Tommy Mottola—with the help of some of Latin music’s most prominent entertainers.

For the urbano music competition series La Firma, Borrero tweaked the traditional format by exclusively using original music—courtesy of NEON16 producers—throughout the season, while homing in on the compelling stories from each of the aspiring talents, who represented territories across North and South America. A last-minute addition as a judge himself, at the suggestion of Netflix execs, Borrero convinced Latin stars Tainy, Rauw Alejandro, Nicki Nicole and reggaeton legend Yandel to be La Firma judges.


Nashy-Nashai, a 21-year-old Buenos Aires native, was crowned as La Firma’s first winner. Nashai’s growth throughout the competition as a writer and singer—her vocal chops have been compared to those of Ariana Grande—caused her to stand out among the field. But all four of the finalists—Nashai, Rmand, Diego Smith and Wanda Original—show promise as recording artists and have a new base of fans across the globe rooting for them. Original songs from the finalists have generated millions of streams since the series aired.

Following the interview, it was reported that financial player Firebird would be investing in Ntertain and NEON16, the company viewing Borrero as a “superstar” and trendsetter in the Latin market. We caught up with Borrero after La Firma’s Netflix launch to discuss the process of the show, what it's like to be a the harsh judge on a competition show and his discovery of a new crop of viable young artists. Surprisingly, manually shredding HITS magazines wasn't the inspiration for his contract-tearing dismissals.

Let’s talk about the contestants. How did you find them? What were your expectations?

We worked with casting directors who understood our vision. We wanted candidates who were no strangers to expression—someone who is already releasing music, has a specific style, creates visual content. That’s the foundation of the show—finding real artists and giving them this platform. So we received a ton of casting videos, which we spent months and months rating.

Another aspect was the territories the artists represented. Netflix had very clear goals with regions that were important targets to them. There was a lot of back and forth with that.

I was really impressed with the level of talent, to be honest. We knew they’d be able to write, based on the audition tapes, but I did not expect it to be so tough to eliminate contestants, especially at the end of the competition.

In the last year, you dived head-first into producing several big-budget TV series. What was that experience like, and how did it differ from music production?

Every single part of this process has truly been a learning experience. In music, you learn to hustle and wear every hat possible. In TV, a person is assigned a job and that’s all they’re responsible for. Any production turns out to be a massive group of people working together.

I’m privileged and blessed to have sold my first three shows. They all have huge stars attached, which becomes a daunting task trying to manage them, getting them excited to show up on set and film for eight hours or longer.

We have things in motion on the scripted side as well, so I’m very excited about what’s to come.

What other crucial decisions were made throughout production?

For us it was important to have control in post-production—especially because we were so intentional with the music placements. We didn’t use a music library; all of the music was from our NEON16 producers. That’s why it took nearly a year to get done.

How was the show conceptualized?

I first came up with the concept the week Kobe [Bryant] passed and started having meetings during the beginning of quarantine. We were greenlit in January 2022.

I wanted to make a competition show that brought me back to Diddy’s Making the Band. We wanted to showcase the reality of how an artist lives and creates. Original music, paired with our bet that audiences want artists that have something to say, is not only part of the show’s DNA but also key to the contestants sustaining a career after the show.

The records released from the show are very polished and prove that several members of the first La Firma class can hold their own. How are they being received by fans and the music community?

You’re seeing it right now with Diego. He’s exploding at TikTok. I wouldn’t be surprised at any moment if he catches one and goes Top 50; the fanbase he earned from the show is real. Same with Rmand; he gained fans, but within the industry. Established artists and producers became fans of his, and he already has sessions with huge names. We’ll see what happens, but they’re all getting the opportunity to play the right way.

The [performance] records that are out are very short, only like two minutes or less, and they’re doing well. Getting a million streams is not guaranteed for brand-new artists.

How will NEON16 be involved with the contestants after the show?

We’re involved with everyone—some through an official partnership, which will be announced soon—and we’re prioritizing mentorship for the contestants. Our goal for the show was that these artists actually make it. Whether it’s through guidance, publishing, or a record deal, we will be creating opportunities for all of them.

Right, the point of the show wasn’t just to sign a bunch of artists—it’s about their development.

Exactly. That’s the model for everything that we do—we want to have a positive impact with the content and opportunities that we create.

Throughout the season you played the role of the tough judge, delivering harsh truths to the contestants, not to mention the viral contract-shredding eliminations. Is that normally how you operate as an executive?

When we were developing the show, we had the music and reality down, but we were missing a “TV moment.” One of my assistants randomly suggested we terminate somebody’s contract we were working with, and it hit me—that’s our moment. So I had someone come in and film me tearing a contract. We showed Netflix and they loved it; they said, “Let’s call the show The Signing.”

I wasn’t originally signed on as a judge. We did our first casting call with all the judges, and Netflix felt there was tension missing—the stars were too nice. They said, “We’ll greenlight the show if you do it.” I was hesitant, but I thought, I’ll just be myself. What you see is how I am with my team—maintaining the expectations of excellence.

The show was extremely candid and spontaneous.

We wanted to give them the experience of every part of the music industry, from the struggle of having to create and perform under pressure [to] the blessings, like hopping on a private jet to Puerto Rico and getting a tour of Coliseo from Yandel.

What are your thoughts on the entertainment industry’s appetite for Latin content?

From a U.S. perspective, I understand labels’ and studios’ interest in investing more into Latin. But there’s still a long way to go. The success the world is seeing from Latin is because of the access we have now. What still needs to evolve is Hollywood. The opportunities for Latino creators to take big risks still aren’t there yet.

Overall, it’s very exciting. I knew this would happen when I started NEON16. I knew that Latin culture and music would break through to the point where it’s at today, and I knew that corporate America would need a curator for that. That’s who we are—we are curators for this culture.

What’s on NEON16’s radar in the months to come?

Tainy is dropping soon. We are working on a project for Sean Paul. We have the La Firma artists we are excited about as well as a new artist Alex Ponce. Also, we’re continuing to put out great music with our songwriters and producers. That’s the core of our business.

Going forward we will be more aggressive. We’re going to sign more artists and compete for big acts. We’re going to play ball with the big boys. We just had to build the motor correctly before selling Ferraris.

Watch La Firma here and listen to music from the show below.

Photos (from top): Borrero; judges Yandel, Nicki Nicole, Alejandro, Borrero; La Firma finalists Diego Smith, Nashy-Nashai, Rmand, Wanda Original; judges; Borrero eliminating a contestant

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