Spanish Music’s Mainstream Pull Showcased at Latin Billboard Awards

Bilingual artists swept up prizes at the Miami award show–Emily Friedman reports for NBC News.

Latin music executives, artists and industry heavyweights gathered in Miami Thursday for an award show honoring chart-topping performers who are changing the industry’s landscape.

Reggaetón sensation Don Omar and R&B singer-songwriter Prince Royce—both part of a growing number of Latin artists that are charging into the mainstream—were the night’s big winners, each claiming eight honors at the 2012 Billboard Latin Music Awards.

“I’m grateful to each and every one of my musical colleagues … from Puerto Rico, that we decided 15 years ago to make this kind of urban music,” Don Omar said, according to The Associated Press.

Reggaetón, a reggae-based genre, once limited to Spanish-speaking radio stations has become a staple of DJ playlists, with the help of artists like Don Omar, Daddy Yankee and Pitbull.

The Billboard awards showcased the growing reach of Latin artists, who at one time could only make it big in the States if they put out an English-language album (Ricky Martin, for example). Now, a new crop of artists who either sing in Spanglish (Prince Royce) or collaborate with English-language artists to create a different kind of Spanglish (Shakira, Pitt Bull) are getting mainstream play and launching careers in unchartered territory.

Prince Royce, a 22-year-old from the Bronx, who put out a number of Spanglish hits—including an R&B-bachata collaboration with Usher, “Promise,” and a bilingual interpretation of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” —won artist of the year.

Royce, who grew up speaking Spanish at home with his Dominican family, but English in school where he wrote poetry, started writing music in Spanish after a teacher recommended he give it a shot. His self-titled debut album, which came out just two years ago, exploded in the United States.
He attributes the success, in part, to a growing appetite among Americans for Latin-based music.

“There is this new wave where Latinos are catching a lot of interest in mainstream,” Royce told The Associated Press. “It’s cool. It encourages kids that even though they’re born in the U.S. they do have this Latin culture they can use.”

With 50 million Latinos in the States —nearly a quarter of all American youth — the marketplace is changing and the awards show, which doles out honors on the basis of pure commercial success alone, is showcasing the results.

Roughly half the winners of the night have had significant mainstream success. Shakira, who for the last decade has waded comfortably between the Latin and American marketplaces, won artist of the year. LMFAO won a cross-over award for “Party Rock,” an album that has been on rotation on top Latin stations in the States and abroad—it’s not just Americans who are embracing music in a second language.

Enrique Iglesias, who’s mainstream enough to have shot a music video with the cast of “Jersey Shore” won touring artist of the year, while Pitbull, who recently collaborated with Jennifer Lopez on “On the Floor,” a popular party song, won male songs artist of the year.

Leila Cobo, executive director of Latin content and programming for Billboard told The Associated Press that big labels have tried to market bilingual artists in the past with limited success.

“It’s a thing that’s been simmering under the surface for a long time,” she said. “But I think it’s finally reached a breaking point.”

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