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What the 2020 Grammys Got Right and Wrong About Latin Music

on January 23, 2020, 2:00pm

The biggest stars in Latin music today will be represented at this Sunday’s Grammy Awards. Though the representation in question is a bit wonky, it’s a start to what will hopefully mean the music industry at large is taking more notice of the Latinx artists who are dominating globally alongside Anglo pop stars.

Colombian reggaetonero J Balvin and Puerto Rico’s Latin trap star Bad Bunny are first-time nominees, though they’ve been relegated to the Latin music categories. According to the most recent numbers from Nielsen in 2019, Latin music in the US was the fourth most-streamed genre on DSPs like Spotify (trailing R&B/hip-hop, rock, and pop with 74.6 billion streams) while moving into third place, ahead of rock, in on-demand video streams (places like YouTube) with 46.5 billion streams. A bulk of those can be attributed to Bad Bunny and Balvin who both deserve a place among the main Grammy categories.

One thing is for certain: as Latin music continues to thrive in popularity the world over, the Grammys will have to rethink how it handles the genre and its biggest stars. In the meantime, let’s break down what the Recording Academy got right at this year’s Grammys and what can be worked on in the future.


La Rosalía Makes History

Catalan singer-songwriter Rosalía is making history as the first artist who sings primarily in Spanish to be nominated for Best New Artist, one of the coveted Big Four categories. To see music in Spanish be that highly regarded is amazing and it’s well-warranted with Rosalía’s interesting fusion of flamenco and pop music on her 2018 album, El Mal Querer. The very definition of “Latin music” has been reassessed following Rosalía’s ascent since she is from Spain and not Latin America. But like Enrique Iglesias before her, Leila Cobo, the director of Latin Content for Billboard, noted, “Even though Rosalía wasn’t born in a Latin country, her music is under the great umbrella of what we call Latin music.” That’s fair, but for any mainstream media that previously marketed her as Latinx or Latina, that wasn’t fair to say. Rosalía is a talented artist period, and it would be major to see her win one for music en español.


J Balvin and Bad Bunny Go Head to Head in One of the Worst-Titled Categories

Believe it or not, there’s a winded category at the Grammys titled Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album. Three genres are stuffed into one single category, oddly echoing the words of RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Gia Gunn: “My God, there’s room for everybody. Let’s just say that.” This year, Latin rock is shut out with most of the nominees falling under the música urbana genre like Bad Bunny’s sad boy manifesto X 100pre (meaning por siempre or “forever”) and his Latinx Watch the Throne-like Oasis album with J Balvin. Also in the mix are La Rosalía’s El Mal Querer, iLe‘s Almadura, an album that she dedicated and shaped around her Puerto Rican homeland and the surrounding Caribbean islands, and the all-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache’s Indestructible album. Rosalía seems cinched to win this one with her Album of the Year victory at last year’s Latin Grammys and Bad Bunny pretty much splitting the vote between his two nominated opuses.


“Despacito” Rides Again

In the category for Best Latin Pop Album, Puerto Rican superstar Luis Fonsi’s Vida is nominated. The album is home to his global, game-changing smash “Despacito”, which was nominated for Song and Record of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards (the Justin Bieber remix, though). He faces competition from Colombian heartthrobs Maluma’s 11:11, a Madonna-featuring album that Maluma famously got emotional over for getting shut out of last year’s Latin Grammys, and Sebastián Yatra’s Fantasía, where Yatra eschews the reggaeton music of his debut for pure pop balladry. Stalwarts like Argentine crooner Ricardo Montaner’s self-titled album and Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz’s #ElDisco are also up for the award. Once upon a time in 2012, this category was also merged with Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album. Fortunately, Latin Pop Album was liberated again the following year.


No Dice for Nodal

All the acts up for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) — yes, these parenthesis are part of the award’s official title — deserve the nomination, but one of the genre’s biggest stars was overlooked, 21-year-old Christian Nodal. The Nogales native refined his self-proclaimed mariacheño sound (a mix of mariachi and norteño music) on last year’s Ahora. It was a crime that his debut album, 2017’s Me Dejé Llevar, wasn’t previously nominated for this category either. With most of Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart taken over by música urbana stars like Bad Bunny and J Balvin, Nodal has been one of the few regional Mexican artists charting alongside them. His fresh face and beyond-his-years voice have popularized the age-old genre among all ages. By the way, regional Mexican music is a catch-all term for genres like mariachi, norteño, banda, and corridos, so this packs even more artists into one category than Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album does. Phew.


Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?

It’s hard to believe that one of the most successful artists on the planet regardless of genre, Dominican-American singer Romeo Santos, does not have one Grammy to his name. The opportunity was there this year to nominate his latest album, Utopía, for Best Tropical Latin Album, but alas, he was left out yet again. According to Billboard, the King of Bachata has the top-selling Latin album of the last decade and two of his other albums place at No. 3 and No. 22 on that same list. On Utopía, he even reunited his old group Aventura in the momentous music video for “Inmortal,” which has nearly 200 million views on YouTube. If there are any tears shed for his latest Grammy shutout, Santos will no doubt be wiping them away with the hundred dollar bills from his sold-out arena tours and his upcoming reunion trek with Aventura.

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