SXSW: Pitbull Debuts World Cup Song, Brings Out Austin Mahone, G.R.L.

iTunes Festival at SXSW

The Cuban-American rapper headlined at ACL Live's Moody Theater on Friday, March 14.

Pitbull’s iTunes Festival performance at South By Southwest was not a particularly strong draw for conference badgeholders looking to discover the next big -- namely because the Cuban-American rapper is already among the most successful acts to headline the Austin festival.

Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find another performer with as many recognizable hits in his pocket -- and Pitbull doesn’t skimp, delivering in quick fire succession such chart-toppers as “On the Floor” (his smash with Jennifer Lopez), “I Like It” (Enrique Iglesias) and “DJ Got Us Falling In Love” (Usher), giving shout-outs to the Holiday Inn and Barbra Streisand and amping up a college student-heavy crowd with Miami anthems like “Culo” and “Calle Ocho.”

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The 90-minute set kicked off with an introduction to Mr. Worldwide, followed by starter songs like “International Love” and “Dance Again.”  In between songs, Pitbull addressed the audience almost as if it was a pep rally, encouraging fist pumps during “Rain Over Me” (featuring Marc Anthony) and “Don’t Stop the Party,” with hands to the sky on the anthemic “Feel This Moment” (featuring an A-Ha sample and vocals by Christina Aguilera) and, of course, previewing his biggest smash, “Give Me Everything,” by emphasizing how he took his life from “a negative to a positive.”

Pitbull also debuted a new song in Austin, the track “We Are One,” which serves as the theme song to June’s World Cup in Brazil and featured a video projection of international flags.

Two of his most recent collaborators, the girl group G.R.L. and newcomer Austin Mahone, were there in the flesh to perform their songs “Wild Wild Love” and “Mmm Yeah,” respectively. Their appearances, however, felt more like footnotes in light of the rapper’s ridiculously energetic solo set during which he was accompanied by four dancers and a six-member band.

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The fact that Pitbull too got his start with an early-in-his-career South By Southwest show was not lost on the hitmaker, who shouted out Austin and the festival several times over and, at one point, declared, “Let’s pay South By Southwest back.” With so many locals in the crowd, it was a smart acknowledgement, much like the portion during Pitbull’s show when he runs down a list of Latin countries to pump up attendees who hail from those cultures. On Friday night, it was “Mexicano” that got the loudest cheers. While not surprising considering Texas’ proximity to Mexico, Pitbull upped the ante with another scream-worthy declaration. “No matter what,” he told the crowd, “we’re representing the beautiful country that is the United States of America.”

Pitbull’s remark inspired instant chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and, once again, you could sense an appreciation coming from the stage. After all, the land of opportunity has certainly provided plenty for this artist. 

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin