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MIAMI (Billboard) - Earlier this year, before a single Justin Bieber album had been released in Latin America, the teen star from Ontario, Canada, was already an Internet sensation south of the border.
"I remember getting a call from Island Def Jam saying Brazil was the No. 2 country after the U.S. with YouTube hits for Justin Bieber," says Gabriela Carrilho, vice president of international marketing for Universal Music Latin America.
By now, it's clear that Biebermania knows no boundaries in terms of language or ethnicity. But in Latin America, Bieber's rise has been swift and region-wide despite the fact that he has yet to set foot in any Latin country and has done only one interview with the local press (for Brazilian magazine Epoca).
The success highlights the Web's tremendous -- and often untapped -- potential for developing acts in the region.
"Bieber is real proof that the way kids are listening to music these days is different from five years ago or maybe even two or three years ago," Carrilho says, noting that Bieber was a Latin American phenomenon not only before the album's release but also before the label did any radio promotion.
As of May 14, Bieber's album "My Worlds" -- an international release that combines "My World" and "My World 2.0" -- was the top-selling album in Mexico and Colombia and No. 2 in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, only weeks after its March 22 release. With the exception of Mexico, which released "My World" earlier this year, this is the first and only Bieber album to come out in Latin America.
Other teen acts, most recently Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez, also have developed avid fans in the region. But their rise was more gradual and benefited from exposure on their Disney shows and visits to Latin American countries. Even pop superstars like Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas have visited the region.
"You can tell it's a very real and very organic kind of demand," says Jesus Lara, senior vice president of music, programing and talent relations for MTV Latin America and MTV Tr3s.
At MTV Latin America, Bieber's "Baby" is No. 1 on the channel's "Los 10 Mas Pegados" (Top Ten Requests), a position it has maintained for 11 consecutive weeks except in Mexico, where it's been No. 1 for five weeks. Bieber's videos are also among the most streamed on the channel's website, something that usually takes more than a few months to accomplish.
Bieber's runaway popularity also may have benefited from a void in the Latin market for a solo male teen heartthrob.
The opportunity that presents is particularly apparent in Argentina, which in the past decade has aggressively developed teen acts on TV and then online.
"Once they finish watching the TV show, they're anxious for more and they actively search and interact on the Web," says Florencia Mauro, a music producer for Argentine channel Telefe Internacional.
"With shows like 'High School Musical' or Argentina's 'Teenangels,' young fans constantly look for images they can identify with," Mauro adds. "That's how they find and almost instantaneously idolize a young man that they themselves describe on social sites as 'beautiful, tender and perfect.'"