What’s driving the success of Latin music? A range of styles via the Caribbean, South America and Mexico, according to an analysis by YouTube. “There is no single signature sound or single country that serves as the focal point,” says music trends manager Kevin Meenan in this interview for Billboard.
Four years after the explosive success of “Despacito” — a song performed by two Puerto Rican artists, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, and produced by two Colombians, Mauricio Rengifo and Andrés Torres — Latin music has continued to grow worldwide, perhaps in part due to its cross-pollination and diversity. “There is no single signature sound or single country that serves as the focal point,” says YouTube music trends manager Kevin Meenan. “We are seeing such a wide range of talent from across the musical and geographic landscape of the region break out and engage with the platform in unique ways.”
When Meenan spoke to Billboard in mid-September, over 30% of the entries in YouTube’s Global Top Songs chart featured artists from Latin America: Puerto Rico, Colombia, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Brazil. “These entries truly represent the diverse sounds from the entire region,” says Meenan.
That is one of the primary takeaways from an analysis of Latin music video views and subscribers on YouTube, one of Billboard’s partners in the compilation of its global charts. For the period spanning July 15, 2020, to July 14, 2021, Meenan and his team ranked the top Latin music artists globally — all of whom are Puerto Rican or Colombian acts — and in 10 Spanish-language countries and Brazil. For those 11 territories, the platform also ranked the top 10 acts overall and the top five homegrown acts in each.
Those rankings follow an interview with Meenan in which he shares some of the trends and developments that emerged from YouTube’s exploration of the genre, as well as some thoughts on its future.
Based on this analysis, what trends are you seeing?
Kevin Meenan One is the prevalence of more traditional genres across our charts. This is particularly true with regional Mexican, with artists like Christian Nodal and Grupo Firme really becoming mainstays on both of YouTube’s Global and U.S. Top Songs charts, as well as charts throughout Latin America. While the music has always had a strong presence, it has just been more and more prevalent over the last year. Grupo Firme recently landed three songs on the U.S. Top Songs chart and 10 songs in the Mexico Top Songs chart in a single week. And Christian Nodal — who last year landed his first entry in the Billion Views Club — scored the first Global Top Songs chart No. 1 by a regional Mexican artist with his Gera MX collab, “Botella Tras Botella.”
What does that collaboration tell you about the evolution of Latin music?
It touches on a broader trend in the region: A younger generation of forward-thinking artists is infusing traditional genres they grew up with with more modern sounds and aesthetics. A big story there has been Nataneal Cano’s Corridos Tumbados. Rancho Humilde’s YouTube channel has also been critical to this story, reimagining both the sounds and the visuals traditionally tied to the genres. And it has resonated with fans — the channel has earned over 5 million subs and netted over 3.3 billion views since its launch.
Where else are you seeing this mix of traditional and contemporary?
In Argentina, we have seen L-GANTE and his self-described cumbia 420 movement really bring new energy to cumbia. Artists like The La Planta in Uruguay and Raymix in Mexico have also fused more modern sounds with the cumbia tradition. In Brazil, artists continue to put a fresh spin on sertanejo, keeping it at the top of our charts in the country. And looking beyond Latin America, Rosalía continues to expand on flamenco in exciting new ways. This recontextualizing and updating of genres with deep roots in the region has really resonated with fans on YouTube, and is a trend we look forward to seeing more of in Latin America and beyond.
Sony Music Latin’s U.S. president recently said in a Billboard interview that collaborations are one of the cornerstones of the Latin explosion. Are you still seeing that play out?
As I noted earlier, the Christian Nodal and rapper Gera MX team-up on “Botella Tras Botella” was a huge moment on YouTube this year and speaks to a larger theme we continue to see with the power of well-thought-out collaborations. This is not an entirely new phenomenon. For years, our charts have been dominated by supergroup collaborations and remixes featuring reggaetón powerhouses from throughout the region. But in 2021, the trend stretches far beyond reggaetón, with collaborations now frequently crossing both borders and genres. Bad Bunny recently teamed up with Aventura for a bachata-influenced reggaetón tune. Puerto Rican rapper Guaynaa earlier this year collaborated with cumbia powerhouse Los Ángeles Azules. Spain’s Rosalía and Colombia’s J Balvin individually teamed up with Dominican Republic talent Tokischa for dembow-leaning hits in early September and late August, respectively. And stateside, Snoop has teamed up with Banda MS. What is so compelling is how authentic the collaborations are and how seamlessly the artists can move from genre to genre.https://www.youtube.com/embed/CmmTz3W-JO0?feature=oembed
What trends are you seeing in music video production by Latin acts?
As we look at the top artists from region to region, one thing [that is] a common theme is the unique ways they have gone beyond traditional music videos on their official artist channels.
In Argentina, for example, Bizarrap’s prolific BZRP Music Sessions video series — which features collaborations with talent from throughout Latin America and beyond — has really served as a force in the region and beyond. The 40-plus-part series has amassed over 2.5 billion views, with several sessions hitting our global chart.
In Brazil, sertanejo artists have taken the art of the livestream to a whole new level throughout the pandemic. Marília Mendonça last year saw 3.3 million peak concurrents on a livestream — a new record for a music event on YouTube. And of course, the Canal KondZilla channel continues to serve as a home base for Brazil’s vibrant baile funk scene. The channel has amassed a jaw-dropping 64.8 million subscribers to date, placing him among the top 25 most subscribed channels on the platform.
In Mexico, Grupo Firme just dropped a series of 10 live performances on YouTube in a single day, with each quickly surpassing 1 million views and several charting across markets. It’s a familiar format in the region, with artists frequently dropping live performances in lieu of studio releases. These performance clips capture the energy of the music in a unique way.
When you put together an analysis of top music video artists for Billboard, you talked about how Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz posts making-of and behind-the-scenes YouTube videos that boost his subscriber numbers. Do you see that happening in the Latin genre?
Nicky Jam this year launched The Rockstar Show by Nicky Jam, where he sits down with guests like Maluma, Sech, Luis Fonsi and Rauw Alejandro for lengthy discussions on music and life. Panama’s reggaetón veteran El Chombo has developed into a sort of music historian on his channel, frequently uploading clips where he discusses and deconstructs the work of artists from across the world.
Artists like Camilo, Sech, J Balvin and Mariá Becerra — who started as a YouTube creator — all frequently invite fans behind the scenes with content like mini-documentaries or interviews with their collaborators. And taking things in more unexpected directions, Maluma last year interviewed himself as his Papi Juancho alter ego and Raymix recently posted a detailed keytar tutorial for his latest release.
It’s not just the artists’ channels themselves where you see artists inviting fans behind the curtain. Channels like Mexico-based En Cortinas Con Luisto y Berth have emerged as a go-to destination for artists from throughout the region.
Do you see any musical styles or territories blowing up in the near future?
Dembow is having a breakout year, with El Alfa, in particular, emerging as a true mainstay on our Global Top Artists chart and spreading the sound far beyond the Dominican Republic. In early September and late August, we saw both Rosalía and J Balvin, with “Linda” and “Perra,” respectively, explore the sound with their collaborations featuring the rising Dominican Republic-bred talent Tokischa.Argentina’s rising dominance on the global charts — particularly with more traditional rappers and lyricists — is also an exciting trend to watch. Bizarrap’s channel has been central to the scene, with regional talents like Nicki Nicole, Khea, Cazzu, Duki and Trueno all making appearances. In many ways, the rise is, in part, the continuation of the freestyle rap tradition, which continues to find an audience throughout Latin America on YouTube. Channels like Red Bull’s Batalla de los Gallos and Urban Roosters put up massive numbers, hinting at the vibrant scene for up-and-coming rap talent in the region.
Top 10 Latin Artists Globally
1. Bad Bunny Six Puerto Rican artists are in global top 10, with Bad Bunny leading them all. He landed four top 10 hits, including the No. 1 “Dakiti,” on the Billboard Global 200. In March 2020, his album YHLQMDLG became the highest-charting Spanish-language title in the history of the Billboard 200 (No. 2).
2. J Balvin The first of four Colombian artists in this tally, Balvin had nine No. 1 and 34 top 10 hits on the Hot Latin Songs chart, including his collaboration with Black Eyed Peas, “RITMO (Bad Boys for Life).”
3. Myke Towers Since October 2020, the urbano artist from Puerto Rico has placed nine top 10 hits on Hot Latin songs and three on the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. chart, most recently with his collaboration with Juhn, “Bandido.” For the first time, he’s up for three Billboard Latin Music Awards this year, including new artist of the year, and tops five of the rankings below, including Spain.
4. Ozuna The Puerto Rican reggaetón and bachata star has landed five No. 1 and 27 top 10 tracks on Hot Latin Songs, and in September 2020 scored his first Billboard Global Excl. U.S. top 10 by collaborating with Karol G and Myke Towers on “Caramelo.”
5. Rauw Alejandro This reggaetón and dancehall artist, who also hails from Puerto Rico, scored a global hit in September with “Todo De Ti,” which hit No. 2 on Hot Latin Songs and No. 3 on both Billboard global charts.
6. Anuel AA The Puerto Rican Latin trap singer-rapper has charted 81 tracks on Hot Latin Songs, 22 of them in the top 10, including “Otro Trago,” with Sech, Darell, Nicky Jam and Ozuna, and “China,” with Daddy Yankee, Karol G, Ozuna and J Balvin, both in 2019. His latest hit, “Reloj,” with Rauw Alejandro, hit No. 10 and charted on both Billboard global charts.
7. Farruko The 30-year-old artist (and final puertoriqueño to rank on this list) is arguably the most stylistically nimble of the group. In addition to reggaetón, his music bears the influences of Dominican dembow, Spanish dancehall and reggae. At the end of August, he topped Hot Latin Songs with “Pepas” — one of 11 top 10 tracks he has landed on the chart. The single also reached the top 10 of both Billboard global surveys.
8. Maluma Born and raised in Medellín, Colombia, the urbano singer-songwriter has landed 13 top 10 hits on Hot Latin Songs, including the No. 1 “Hawái” with The Weeknd, which also topped both Billboard global charts in September 2020. In addition, he and Madonna crowned the Dance Club Songs chart in summer 2019 with “Medellín.”
9. Karol G Another product of Medellín, the first lady of reggaetón set a record when she released her latest album, KG0516, in March. The recording knocked Bad Bunny’s El Último Tour del Mundo out of the No. 1 spot on the Top Latin Albums chart and earned the biggest debut week by a female Latin artist since Shakira’s El Dorado in 2017. The album’s declaration of badassery, “Bichota,” also cracked the top 10 on both Billboard global charts.
10. Camilo The Colombian singer-songwriter-producer crafts Latin pop that’s as distinct as his Dali-esque mustache. And though he has yet to score a top 10 hit on the global charts — he has two, “Vida de Rico” and “Tattoo,” with Rauw Alejandro, on Hot Latin Songs — his showing on this list and the five 2021 Billboard Latin Music Awards nominations he received (his first, including new artist of the year) suggest it won’t be long before he does.