Latin music is booming like never before, but are its artists getting their “flores”?
Reggaeton powerhouse Bad Bunny scored a Grammy for best música urbana album in February for “Un Verano Sin Ti,” but the record-breaking album fell short of making history with its loss in the album of the year category. Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía stole the show at the 2022 Latin Grammys when her album “Motomami” clinched the top prize for album of the year, yet the critically acclaimed album failed to garner nominations in the major categories at this year’s Grammys.
And despite his breakout success, regional Mexican star Peso Pluma – who scored 10 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Génesis” – didn’t receive a nomination for best new artist at the Latin Grammys or 2024 Grammys. Fellow música Mexicana exponents Fuerza Regida and Grupo Frontera also went unnominated in the category.
“What’s seen as the central music of U.S. Pop culture is English-speaking artists from the United States (and) African American tradition, and Latin music artists are sort of an outsider category that occasionally gains a level of acceptance,” says Ed Morales, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.
As the Latin Grammy Awards arrive Thursday, we take a look at the state of the genre.
Latin music’s ‘exotic’ status, technology limited mainstream recognition
From the mambo craze of the late 1940s to the Latin pop explosion of the late ’90s, Latin soundscapes have managed to penetrate the musical zeitgeist in America. But Morales says the media’s limited portrayal of Latin culture, coupled with the breadth of Latin music, made it difficult for the work of Latin artists to be recognized broadly.
“U.S. Media has still not shown the ability to project, translate, characterize or represent what U.S. Latinx culture is, so it remains an exotic category,” Morales says. “It’s difficult for Latin music to be in the mainstream because there’s so many different categories of it, and so people have to limit their perception of what it is to movements that have shown to be temporary.”.
Technology has also played a role in the spotlight Latin artists have received, says Jose V. Ruiz-Resto, founder and program director of the University of Florida’s Music Business & Entrepreneurship program.
“It’s not so much about whether there was an interest … People just didn’t have access to it,” Ruiz-Resto says. “The technological revolution has created access and opportunity for artists from Latin America to produce and release their work into the world and also access for non-Latin communities to be able to evaluate, judge, develop preferences, tastes and desire.”.
Awards are a career booster, but competition is stiff
Over the years, the glitz and glam of awards season has been infused with a Latino pizzazz. Latin music’s growing profile has allowed the genre to carve out a space at marquee events such as the Grammy Awards, the American Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards.
But instead of crowning the commercial reign of a hit song or blockbuster album, Ruiz-Resto says awards now play a critical role in artists gaining industry recognition, such as radio airplay and performance bookings.
“In order for you to get access and opportunity, you need awards in order to distinguish yourself to create an opportunity,” Ruiz-Resto says.
For Latin artists, such top honors are not always in reach, however. Latin-centric ceremonies such as the Latin Grammys, the Latin American Music Awards and the Billboard Latin Music Awards have emerged to highlight the “rich category” of Latin music, says Leila Cobo, chief content officer for Latin and Español at Billboard.
“We can’t expect every genre of music to be equally represented everywhere,” Cobo says. “When that music becomes really massive and really mainstreamed and really consumed on a bigger scale, then that’s when these all-genre award shows start to take note.”.
Social media critics can pressure entertainment ‘gatekeepers’
Bad Bunny was poised to make history at the 65th annual Grammy Awards when “Un Verano Sin Ti” became the first all-Spanish language album to be nominated for album of the year, considered the most prestigious award of the Grammys. His loss to Harry Styles’ “Harry’s House” sparked backlash on social media, with viewers criticizing the award show’s alleged negligence of diversity.
“Of course the Grammys threw Bad Bunny in for album of the year just to say they respect Latino music, just for them to only give him the one Spanish Grammy and nothing else,” X user @javid010 wrote in February.
The “Titi Me Preguntó” singer reflected on how the commentary changed his perception of the award in a September interview with Vanity Fair.
“I didn’t even feel like (album of the year) had been stolen from me until the media started saying (it),” he told the outlet. “And I saw that everybody thought I deserved the prize and everybody thought it was a robbery.”.
While it may not influence award show results, Morales says such media discourse can draw attention to the recognition Latin artists receive, which “puts a lot of pressure on Hollywood and other entertainment world gatekeepers.”.
“Before social media, the media was controlled by a narrow elite, and a lot of these criticisms didn’t surface in the mainstream media,” Morales says. “It does allow people who were not heard before to not only voice criticisms, but gain a kind of social power by collecting many voices who agree with this kind of criticism, and it shows corporations that consumers want certain things.”.
Musical ‘authenticity,’ diversified listeners help brighten spotlight on Latin artists
The metallic sheen of award show statuettes and the advocacy of social media peanut galleries aren’t the only venues where Latin artists can take center stage.
In an increasingly diverse music world, in which Afrobeats, K-pop, reggaeton and regional Mexican music are dominating the airwaves, Latin musicians are making a name for themselves thanks to their authentic style.
In particular, Latin urban genres such as reggaeton and Latin trap – which often reflect the cultural experience of marginalized communities in Latin America – have been able to resonate with listeners because of artists’ raw individuality, Morales says.
“So much mainstream pop music has this manufactured feel to it,” Morales says. “There really hasn’t been an original music genre creation in the United States since the 1970s with punk, hip-hop and disco all happening at the time, so the freshness and the authenticity of experience that urban Latino (has) is a huge reason why the music is successful.”.
Contributing to this growing recognition is the evolving tastes of music consumers, Cobo says, which have moved away from traditional genre categories.
“Listeners are far more open now,” Cobo says. “There aren’t so many compartments for the music anymore, and so Latin music has been normalized in a way that it wasn’t before among the mainstream.”.
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