Latin Music Is Being Quarantined at the 2020 Grammys

Colombian artist J. Balvin performs in Puerto Rico, San Juan - 30 Aug 2019

Suzy Exposito (Rolling Stone) writes about the absence of Latin artists—and the even more “glaring exclusion of Afro-Latinx artists”—nominated for the 2020 Grammys in the major categories, which include Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. She says that Catalan singer Rosalía “is the only Spanish-language artist to break into a general category—the rest are castaways” and “Latin artists remain stranded on their own remote island.” J Balvin (Colombia) and Bad Bunny (Puerto Rico) are competing in “the nebulous category known as Best Latin Rock/Alternative/Urban Album.” Also representing the Caribbean in this group is “Puerto Rican roots rebel” iLe (Ileana Cabra Joglar). In the category for Best Latin Pop Album, Luis Fonsi (Puerto Rico) and Maluma (Colombia) stand in competition. Exposito also points out that in the Best Tropical Latin Album category, “salsa titan Marc Anthony [Puerto Rico] and bachata pioneer Juan Luis Guerra [Dominican Republic] will go head to head for the Grammys’ only Caribbean accolade.”

The list of nominees for the 2020 Grammys is out — and Latin artists remain stranded on their own remote island.

Things seemed to look up in 2019 when “I Like It,” the Latin trap crossover hit by Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny, received the nomination for Record of the Year. But, in spite of its skyrocketing revenue and growing ubiquity in anglophone pop culture — with support from bicultural Latina superstars like Cardi, Camila Cabello and Selena Gomez — Latin music will be excluded from the most prestigious Grammys categories, which include Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year.

In 2020, Catalan avant-pop star Rosalía will be the only Spanish-language recording artist to break into the general category that is Best New Artist. Though the Academy has previously honored artists who’ve performed in Spanish, such as Puerto Rican rocker José Feliciano and Ecuadorian-American diva Christina Aguilera, the Best New Artist award has historically gone to those who primarily record in English. A win for Rosalía in this category would be an unprecedented win for Spain, as well as the Latin music industry, which has embraced her over the last two years.

After losing Record of the Year in 2019, urbano kings J Balvin and Bad Bunny will return to the Grammys with a vengeance. Relegated to the nebulous category known as Best Latin Rock/Alternative/Urban Album, the two are nominated together and against each other at once: Bad Bunny for his standout 2018 debut, X 100Pre, as well as Oasis, his 2019 joint album with Balvin. The latter boycotted the Latin Grammys for excluding urbano in its general categories — should he decide to attend, he and Bunny will face off with Rosalía and her monster flamenco-R&B opus, El Mal Querer, which scored Album of the Year at the 2019 Latin Grammys. Representing alternative music in this category would be the all-woman mariachi troupe Flor de Toloache, and Puerto Rican roots rebel iLe. No rock records are up for consideration.

It’s hard not to notice the glaring exclusion of Afro-Latinx artists in the genre’s only urban category — a group so critical to the evolution of urbano, and Latin pop at large. Whereas an Afro-Panamanian artist like Sech could receive three Latin Grammy nods in 2019, or Puerto Rican-Dominican hitmaker Ozuna could win four Guinness World Record titles for his output, the omission of black artists highlights a troubling, however unsurprising, dead angle in the Grammys’ purview.

Luis Fonsi, previously nominated for Song of the Year with “Despacito,” is one of five contenders in the Best Latin Pop Album category for his 2019 LP, Vida. First-time Grammy nominee Maluma, who helped propel reggaeton’s pop turn with this year’s 11:11, sidestepped the Best Latin Rock/Urban/Alternative kitchen sink to duke it out with Fonsi for Best Latin Pop Album. The two heartthrobs will compete with Latin Grammy darlings Alejandro Sanz, Ricardo Montaner and Sebastián Yatra. No women are nominated in the pop category this year — which is an insult to Colombian starlet Karol G and Ocean, her 2019 thesis on cracking Latin pop’s glass ceiling.

As for the Latin folk categories, there are no surprises or upsets to be had this year. If any tension exists, it’s in the Best Tropical Latin Album category: where salsa titan Marc Anthony and bachata pioneer Juan Luis Guerra will go head to head for the Grammys’ only Caribbean accolade. (With all due respects to fellow nominees and Latin Grammy winners, Vicente García, Aymée Nuviola and Luis Enrique/C4.) [. . .]

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