The Second Latin Explosion: How ‘Despacito’ Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention.
The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin music a hot commodity once again, with the popularity of social media and streaming platforms only amplifying its presence.
“It was all a snowball effect that was never really in sight,” says Fonsi, a five-time Latin Grammy winner — four of those awards for “Despacito.” “It was just crazy — crossing over without me having to sing in English, and Justin Bieber’s addition to the equation four months later for the remix.”

What Emilio Estefan calls the “reverse crossover” was in full effect. The success of the song inspired collaborations with Anglo artists looking to sing in Spanish. All of a sudden, Drake, Beyoncé, Sean Paul and Katy Perry began joining the likes of J Balvin, Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee, further affirming that Latin Music was stronger than ever.

As Fonsi points out: “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and before, my tours [traveled to] Mexico, South America, Spain and Latin cities in the U.S. Since ‘Despacito.’ I have been able to perform in Russia, China and the Middle East. I’ve been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Everybody is bringing their A game to break that language and cultural barrier.”
Growing up, Karol G only recalls Juanes and Shakira as international artists from her country, Colombia. They had broken the language barrier in the early 2000s. She, too, aspired to work in music and win a Latin Grammy. She achieved that dream in 2018, winning for new artist, but she couldn’t imagine that Latin music would go global.
Today, as one of urban Latin music’s most-streamed female artists, Karol G gets emotional when she sees fans abroad singing along to her songs.

“It’s really amazing and special,” she says. “All countries and languages now accept our music. There are people who don’t even speak Spanish, singing and dancing to the songs.”

Karol credits her Latin Grammy win for boosting her career and her confidence. “When I talk to people and do interviews in different parts of the world, the first thing people say is, ‘You won a Grammy.’ It’s easily the most important award that any artist can win.”

Mexican pop singer Natalia Lafourcade also saw doors open after being recognized by the Latin Recording Academy.
“It has helped me to find other markets and other audiences that perhaps would have taken me a bit more time to [get to] without the nominations and the recognition.”

At the same time, Lafourcade is also looking to “show the world what Mexican culture is all about,” as she did at the 2018 Academy Awards when she collaborated with singer Miguel for “Remember Me” from Disney’s animated feature “Coco.”

Says Lafourcade: “The Academy is doing a very interesting thing [in] expanding and putting emphasis on musical trends that are happening and where they are headed with new generations.”

Ruben Blades Latin Grammys

A Platform For Inclusiveness

Among the pillars of the Latin Recording Academy is inclusiveness. Although Gabriel Abaroa recalls when that was a subjective concept. “They thought of the Latin market as a niche that only consumed tacos and burritos, and that we spoke a quick Spanish and drank tequila all day,” he says of perception at the turn of the millennium.

The term “Latin” defines Latin American culture, but it was difficult to explain the diversity that lies within it until the Latin Recording Academy laid it out. As an independent brand focused solely on showcasing Latin talent, the group gave a clearer picture of how diverse the genres that stand under the “Latin music” umbrella are, and every year the Latin Grammys celebrates that.

“The difference between the Recording Academy and the Latin Recording Academy is that the [former] recognizes what’s best in music that has been released within the United States and countries that have linkage to the U.S.,” Abaroa says. “We recognize any product that has been released in Spanish or Portuguese, from anywhere in the world.”

Genres such as pop, urban, Zamba, rock, cumbia, vallenato, salsa, merengue, bachata, classical and tropical are among the 50 categories recognized, and songs written in Spanish and Portuguese by Latin artists can be nominated for record, song and album of the year.

Notes Abaroa: “17 or 18 years ago people would say, ‘I won a Grammy, though it was a Latin Grammy.’ Today people say, ‘I won a Latin Grammy,’ and that is what we have been able to change through our work and our love. There is a
pride behind this.”

The pride also lies within the immense platform that the Academy provides to its winners, beaming out the Univision broadcast to more than 100 million people, with a crowd of 10,000-plus present in the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Ruben Blades, the Panamanian singer who earned major industry credit for crossover projects including writing Michael Jackson’s Spanish version of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (known in Spanish as “Todo Mi Amor Lo Eres Tu”) has also seen its impact on the acceptance of what were once regarded as niche genres.

“I have noticed that there has been a change in direction in terms of representation and that has guaranteed things that many years ago would have seemed impossible, such as winning awards for a salsa album in today’s age,” says Blades, who won the Latin Grammy for album of the year in 2017. “Today it’s expected that modern and urban music would win, and 20 years ago it would have been pop. So things have made me feel optimistic about the appreciation [of the Academy] for the quality of the music as opposed to popularity or influence.”

Looking to impress the members of the Academy, new generations of artists bring fresh ideas to the table, and the organization has shown receptiveness to that, recognizing singers such as Rosalia and two-time Latin Grammy winner Manuel Medrano, who in 2016 won best new artist and best singer-songwriter for his album “Bajo el Agua.”

The Colombian singer proposed a genre called ‘pop fundido’ — a twist on traditional pop, with slow, deep rhythms fused with a hint of jazz and heavy bass beats. Winning two awards validated his effort. “Pop fundido gives me the openness to be able to mix my music with any genre that I want,” says Medrano, who continues experimenting with genres. “The motivation that it generates personally is huge. It inspires you to keep dreaming — to aspire to even bigger goals. That was the biggest reward.”

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