With steady revenue gains, increased demand on streaming platforms and a record 24 Spanish-language songs on the Billboard Hot 100 -- the most ever registered in a single year -- 2018 was Latin music’s most successful in recent memory.
According to the RIAA, streaming now makes up 93% of total Latin music revenue, which rose 18% in the United States in 2018. Nielsen Music reports a year-over-year 11% increase in total album-equivalent audio consumption for Latin music. Its artists are also getting bigger payouts -- according to SoundExchange, the Billboard Latin Music Awards’ top five nominees saw a 102% increase in combined payments from 2017 to 2018 -- and more prominent festival bookings. This year’s Coachella and Lollapalooza lineups include artists like J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Rosalía and Mon Laferte.
The artists fueling this recent growth, along with the teams who helped strategize it, will come to Las Vegas’ Venetian Resort for the 29th annual Billboard Latin Music Conference (April 22-25). Alongside panels featuring stars like Anuel AA, Becky G and Wisin & Yandel, Billboard Latin Music Week will include Q&As with power players like Henry Cárdenas (Cárdenas Marketing Network), Jen D’Cunha (Apple Music) and Walter Kolm (WK Entertainment). On April 25, Telemundo will air the BLMAs live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center, overseen for the 20th year by Tony Mojena and Ants TV Productions. “We took it from a hotel ballroom to the most important Latin music show in the market,” says Mojena. Puerto Rican superstar Ozuna leads the list of finalists with a record 23 nods.
Artist of the Year: Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Ozuna
With seven entries on the Hot 100 -- including the No. 1 “I Like It” with Cardi B and J Balvin -- Bad Bunny went from 2018 new artist of the year finalist to grabbing a nod for 2019 artist of the year. Fellow trap artist Ozuna is also up for the award after his smash collaboration “Taki Taki” with Selena Gomez, DJ Snake and Cardi ruled the Hot Latin Songs chart for 13 nonconsecutive weeks. Balvin and Daddy Yankee are both finalists thanks to five and 10 total entries on the Hot 100, respectively.
New Artist of the Year: Anuel AA, Karol G, Natti Natasha, Raymix
“It” couple Anuel AA and Karol G face off here: In July 2018, Anuel earned his first No. 1 on Top Latin Albums with debut Real Hasta La Muerte, while Colombia’s Karol G notched five new titles on Hot Latin Songs (adding to a now 12-song total), including “Mi Cama” with Balvin featuring Nicky Jam. Up-and-comer Natti Natasha’s ilumiNATTI debuted at No. 3 on Top Latin Albums, and Raymix’s electro-cumbia hit “Oye Mujer” topped the Regional Mexican airplay chart for five consecutive weeks.
Tour of the Year: Jennifer Lopez, Luis Miguel, Romeo Santos, Shakira
Last year’s highest-grossing Latin tours (according to Billboard Boxscore) belonged to big-name acts. After seven years off the road, Shakira made a much-anticipated comeback with her El Dorado world tour. She’s up against self-proclaimed king of bachata Santos; Lopez, who recently wrapped her two-year All I Have Las Vegas residency; and Luis Miguel’s ¡México por Siempre! tour. -- GRISELDA FLORES
Bachata's Modern Poet
With some 30 million albums sold around the world since 1984, Juan Luis Guerra, 61, is a crossover pioneer whose early international gains foreshadowed the global success of today’s tropical urban stars. Throughout his prolific career, he has, with his band 4.40, reinvented the vibrant rhythms of his native Dominican Republic and written magical realist lyrics inspired by the everyday lives of people in Latin America and beyond. The subject of Billboard Latin Music Week’s Legend Q&A (April 24) and recipient of the Billboard Latin Music Awards’ lifetime achievement honor (April 25), Guerra isn’t resting on his laurels: His next album, Literal, is planned for a May release.
You have logged 42 songs on the Hot Latin Songs chart and 15 Top Latin Albums entries. But one song is still your signature: “Ojalá Que Llueva Café” (“Let It Rain Coffee”). Why do you think it has struck such a chord?
In its time, and today, as well, “Ojalá Que Llueva Café” has been an anthem of hope that seeks a solution to problems that are the reality in many countries. It’s a beautiful metaphor. Musically, it’s a merengue, which is joyful music. It has been translated to a lot of different languages, and that pleases me.
You started your career in the Dominican Republic in the late 1970s, then continued your studies at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Was taking Dominican music to the world always your goal?
Yes. When I was at Berklee, I realized that the music that got the most attention was Latin. When I played a merengue or salsa arrangement, that was what people wanted to hear. So from then on, I knew that I had to work with my own music, my own culture. I had been experimenting with jazz, with a vocal quartet, with big band arrangements à la Count Basie or Duke Ellington. Then with 4.40, we started to work with the popular merengue style. Starting with Bachata Rosa in 1990], we wanted to revive bachata, the Dominican genre that’s like a Caribbean bolero, and we gave it our twist.
Today, the global popularity and sales of Latin music are at an all-time high, propelled in part by fusions of tropical rhythms and urban music. Do you see a lasting shift in the appreciation of the genre?
Latin music has always been here. A lot of Latin artists have been dedicated to promoting our music, and now people are noticing the importance of Latin music around the world.
What do you think of reggaetón?
When it’s done well, I think it’s really valid. But I always say that artists should be careful with what they say in a song]. Reggaetón can be literature; it can convey messages to its audience. Residente is one example of that. His music is urban, and it is quality work.
Do you think that artists have a social responsibility?
Yes. Although some people don’t want to address social issues directly in their music, we have the responsibility to make good music and to send messages of peace, harmony and love. It’s a privilege to be an artist and to be able to reach out to people, and we should use that privilege responsibly.
Your career is notable for its longevity and also its consistency. What’s your strategy for success?
I tend to let inspiration be my guide, but as a rule, I do try to make each album different. I think I learned that from The Beatles! I listened to all of their albums, and each of them was different, and they were great. I like each project to be new; I always like to add instruments that aren’t usually heard playing folkloric rhythms, like a baritone saxophone or violins in bachata. And of course, I want it to sound current.
Do you try to keep up with younger artists?
I try to be in touch with younger people, and particularly young artists. There are a lot of notable young artists now. Rosalía is really amazing, Natalia Lafourcade... there are artists who are writing literature in contemporary songs whose work stands out, like Vicente García and Monsieur Periné.
And what advice would you give them?
Always seek excellence. -- JUDY CANTOR-NAVAS
Revamping Regional Mexican
For years, regional Mexican music was the backbone of the U.S. Latin industry. But with the advent of streaming, the genre has lost ground on the Billboard charts: While 12 regional Mexican albums hit No. 1 on Top Latin Albums in 2016, none have since the chart started to incorporate streaming data in 2017. Three veterans of the genre -- Sergio Lizárraga, CEO of Lizos Music (which represents Banda MS); marketing and public relations expert Sara Eva Pérez; and radio promoter Jessica Vazquez, who will all appear at the “Renovarse o Morir (Renew or Die)” regional Mexican panel on April 23, reflect on why, and how, the genre needs to evolve.
How can regional Mexican regain ground?
Lizárraga: We have few truly high-quality acts. We need better production. I feel we’re stuck in that regard. It’s very easy to record covers. The tough part is to look for good songs and turn them into hits.
Vazquez: If you listen to regional Mexican radio, you hear the same kind of music all the time. A few years ago, you could hear a romantic song, a ranchera, a humorous song. Today, everyone wants to be romantic, and the genre is a bit stuck.
Pérez: We definitely need new musical proposals. There’s a lot of derivative music. When an artist doesn’t have a unique or defined style, there’s no staying power.
Vazquez: With Calibre 50, for example, we looked for a way to enter different markets, like Colombia. We were able to gain a following there without losing our essence or compromising our sound. It has worked very well.
How have President Donald Trump’s economic and immigration policies affected the genre?
Lizárraga: Today, it’s harder to get a work visa. And it’s hard to fill venues because some people prefer to stay home for fear of being harassed or deported.
Pérez: While it’s true that it has affected the number of events, my personal experience is that when fans really love an artist, they are willing to pay $200 or more, both here and in Mexico, to go to a show.
Narcocorridos and corridos verdes are popular now. Is it possible to get young fans interested in other varieties of regional Mexican music?
Vazquez: Calibre 50, Banda Carnaval and Los Plebes del Rancho all have corridos in their repertoire, but in the past few years, they added romantic material and are having even more success on the charts.
Pérez: Narcocorridos and corridos verdes are popular now because of the moment we’re living in. Streaming platforms have had a lot to do with it. But romantic music will always be there. It’s just a matter of finding all the digital platforms young fans are using because radio for them is secondary.
Lizárraga: We need to do different promotions on streaming platforms, and collaborations with other artists are key. -- TERESA AGUILERA
This article originally appeared in the April 20 issue of Billboard.