Latin Music Is Reaching More Listeners Than Ever — But Who Is Represented?
One of the most important narratives in contemporary pop has been the emergence of Latin music as a potent commercial force in the United States. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of Spanish-language entries on the Hot 100 jumped from a mere four to 19. So far this year, there have been at least 16 more charting singles. After years of calling up English-language acts and trying to convince them to collaborate, veteran A&Rs in the Latin music industry can now enjoy being chased by Anglo artists desperate for a streaming boost.
But some industry figures are concerned that Latin pop’s gains are too heavily concentrated in just one area — what’s known as “urban” music, which primarily encompasses reggaeton and trap. As songs in this space rack up stream counts in the billions and labels follow that money, some fear that other Spanish-language music genres will no longer be seen as profitable and may become niche products, abandoned by the mainstream.
“It’s a conversation I hear everywhere, but especially in the U.S.,” says Juan Paz, a former major label employee who now works with Trending Tropics, Monsieur Periné and Superlitio, none of whom adhere to the standard urban sound. “Even Mexico — which used to be a pop and rock market for a long time — is turning into an urban market. When everything becomes a monoculture, it’s dangerous for the sake of artistry.”
Some industry figures believe that a trickle-down mechanism will gradually assert itself. “Urban-leaning tracks are driving Latin music, but as Latin music has started to cross over and artists like Bad Bunny and Balvin have started to break barriers, it’s opening the door for other artists to come up and have the opportunity to shine with music that’s not necessarily urban,” says Roc Nation’s Borrero.
The primary example presented as evidence of the trickle-down theory right now is Rosalía, the Spanish singer praised for her revisionist approach to flamenco: In the U.S., it’s hard to imagine her getting support from, for example, Apple Music without the initial breakthroughs of various reggaeton and trap artists. But despite all the praise Rosalía has earned for her new album, El Mal Querer, it has not yet become a streaming success on par with many of the trap or reggaeton records, and it is most definitely not on the radio.