A report by Marjua Estevez for Billboard.
This year in Latin music brought about plenty of dialogue around lyrical content, cultural significance, influence, appropriation, politics and, of course, quality. In an industry dominated by mainstream acts, driven by the urban beat, we got to see newcomers like Bad Bunny emerge as a poster child for trap en Español.
Meanwhile, female acts whose music we clearly love but often fail to recognize — Ibeyi, Mon Laferte and Mala Rodriguez, for instance — were perpetually underrepresented and little-talked-about in an era where more and more have the creative freedom and resources to produce great music, but lack the virtual support or global reach to rise to the top.
Lest we forget all the songs we saw climb the charts: In some cases, the tune we loved most set a record arguably because an Anglo artist was attached to the project. Beyoncé’s verse on J Balvin’s “Mi Gente” blasted the song to the top of the charts in October, for example, while critics ran endless circles around Luis Fonsiand Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” a summer darling that broke records once it earned a feature from Justin Bieber.
This year also saw misogyny rear its ugly head as famous and powerful men across varying sectors of entertainment were publicly accused of sexual assault and harassment. It goes without saying, rap music — and urban Latin and hip-hop en Español are no exceptions — historically breeds and/or feeds into sexism and rape culture, be it via lyrical content or visual display. Look no further than Maluma‘s “Cuatro Babys” as proof. The song’s lyrical content explicitly reducing women to sex toys sparked outcry and gave rise to a petition demanding the removal of the track from all streaming services.
And we can’t talk about respectability politics without mentioning the need to continuously make room for dialogue surrounding actual politics. In Trump’s era, especially — one that is flagrantly riddled with anti-black and anti-immigrant rhetoric — we can no longer afford to “separate the art from the artist.” In other words, we need our most beloved to recognize that as famous and powerful musicians, you are doubly tasked with playing a role model for the millions who follow and support you. Not to mention, art has often, in the most critical eras of history, reflected the times.
As we inch closer to the new year still bobbing our heads and swinging our hips to our favorite rhythms, here are six things we hope to see happen in Latin music in 2018.
Let’s move beyond the bad bitches and big-booty hoes. While sex is something that should be celebrated, what we can no longer tolerate is our favorites shoving music down our throats that explicitly reduces women to sex objects for the sake of the male gaze and their gratification. J Balvin is a good example of a reggaeton artist who has proven again and again that you can make great music to and about women, without necessarily stripping them of their humanity.
Support the new wave of female talent. As much as we love the Becky Gs and Shakiras of the world, if we want to continue pushing the culture forward, we have to back the many incredibly talented and diverse women artists emerging onto the scene.
Cuban singer-rapper Danay Suarez, for example, delivered an exceptional second studio album, Palabras Manuales, boasting the global sounds of reggae and hip-hop but in Spanish language. Her album received four Latin Grammy noms, but took none home.
Ibeyi, also of Cuban heritage, are more celebrated in the Anglo market, but garner little to no support from Latin America — truly our own loss, as the twins aesthetically bring their African culture to a musical forefront, which lends to a very important, yet grossly underrepresented narrative of Latino-Caribbean life.
To really move the needle, lets more and more put on for women artists like Hurray for the Riff Raff, Mala Rodriguez, Amara La Negra, Concha Buika, iLe, BIA, Mon Laferte, Maluca, Nitty Scott, Ana Tijoux, Cardi B and Snow tha Product, to name a few.
Break some rules. We know the Latin Grammys 51 percent Spanish-language eligibility rule is there for a reason: to assure music made in Spanish and Portuguese around the world gets its due, to be considered for a Latin Grammy nomination. But when you consider the fact that many Latinos in the U.S. do not speak or practice the Spanish language, it forces us to question how we measure or qualify “Latinidad.”
Perhaps there could be a way — maybe even a category — for the likes of Cardi B (Bronx-born, Dominican-bred), Ibeyi (French-born, Yoruba-bred) and other English-speaking artists with Latino roots to be nominated alongside or in the same room with the likes of Maluma and Luis Fonsi.
More dope collaborations and crossovers. U.S.-born and -bred Latinos straddle many fences; we often have one foot on each side of the border; and we tend to play bridges across languages, cultures and ways of life. Music is no exception. We love Beyoncé as much as we love, say, Iris Chacon or Jennifer Lopez. Whether you adored or loathed Bey’s contribution to the “Mi Gente” remix, it undoubtedly gave rise to the possibility of our other favorites coming together for the sake of great music. And we’re putting in our own bid.
Enter Rihanna. Seriously, for someone who’s so entrenched in Caribbean culture, it’s a wonder she hasn’t dipped in the new Latin wave. While she once collaborated with Shakira on “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” which arguably made for a better video than song, it’d be something worth seeing Bad Gyal RiRi not just “hop on a remix,” but jointly clock in the hours at the studio with a contemporary Latin-American artist.
Enter Ozuna. He is one of this year’s most-listened-to and celebrated reggaeton artists, a shining emblem of his musical generation. So, we’re speaking this into existence: Rihanna and Ozuna, both Afro-Caribbean recording artists with a knack of creating music that knocks, should do a song together — if only for the culture.
A debut album from Bad Bunny. It’s no secret El Conejo Malo makes music that makes us want to pull up at the club in full #squadgoals steez, so why hasn’t he issued a proper introduction to the game with a debut studio album? Could be a sign of the times, as artists more and more need less and less of major-label backing or to produce full-length LPs.
Bad Bunny and the like have enjoyed success thanks in part to being a product of the Internet, where virtually any and everyone has access to your discography at any given moment. But for the sake of history and culture, let’s hope we see a Bad Bunny album sooner than later — so we know it’s real.
Swim against the mainstream. Rapper Residente, of the politically minded group Calle 13, won the coveted best urban album of the year award at this year’s Latin Grammys. But not without dedicating his honor to “real MCs.”
“Art doesn’t have anything to do with numbers… I ask everyone to stop focusing on the number of followers, the amount of views… and start talking more about the music, the writers and the producers,” he said back in November as part of his acceptance speech.
What Residente was talking about is raging against the very machine he benefits from, as someone who historically wins year after year at the same awards show. For him to make a statement that encourages us — the consumers, curators, critics and writers — to honor the same people time and again for music that maybe only just “meets the requirements” is a powerful testament to the times.
Here we are again, pointing to the needle that needs to be moved, to the culture that has to be further pushed and expanded. Let’s hope 2018 in Latin music brings about some much-needed new voices, faces and narratives.
Judy Cantor-Navas, Suzette Fernandez and Pamela Bustios contributed ideas to this report.