Tainy at 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2019
Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Latin Music Industry And Artists Discuss The Genre's History, Cultural Impact And Future Trends At 2020 GRAMMY Week Panel
There's no denying the massive impact Latin music is having on global pop culture today. On any given day, it's commonplace to hear all-Spanish songs, Latin-influenced rhythms and Spanish-language remixes and features on mainstream radio, TV and film.
The industry stats paint a vivid picture of just how far of a reach Latin music currently commands: With global hits like Luis Fonsi's and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito," still the most-streamed music video of all time, leading the charge, Latin music today stands as the fifth-most popular genre in America.
To celebrate the international success and ongoing growth of the Latin music industry, The Recording Academy this week presented a special panel during GRAMMY Week 2020, the first-ever official event of its kind from the organization behind the GRAMMYs. Hosted at the Soho Warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, the intimate panel featured industry luminaries and the genre's leading artists who discussed the evolution of the Latin music industry and culture, its current developments and issues, and the future trends to watch in the scene.
"We felt that there was a void, and this conversation needed to happen during GRAMMY Week, a time when the music community comes together to really celebrate creators and all their accomplishments," Laura Rodriguez, a social media specialist with The Recording Academy and one of the night's hosts, said of the panel. "We knew it had to be impactful and really drive the message on how Latin music is bringing la cultura to the altura." Co-host Jennifer Velez, a staff writer for GRAMMY.com, added in a statement that "the overwhelming support for the panel validates the need for conversations like these in and out of Latinx music spaces."
Here are some of the key takeaways from the event.
Latin Music Has Come A Long Way…
The night's conversation began with a nod to the so-called "Latin explosion" of the late '90s, an era that saw Latin pop entering the national mainstream like never before, with major artists like Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez dominating the charts in the U.S. More than 20 years later, Latin music is once again one of the foremost genres not only in the U.S.—for the second consecutive year, the U.S. Latin music industry in the States reported double-digit growth in 2018, according to the RIAA—but also around the world.
"What you see today is honestly an explosion of... [artists] singing in Spanish, and they're singing in Spanish not [only] here, not [only] in Latin America, but they're also singing Tel Aviv, in London, all over the world," Rudy Lopez Negrete, an agent at CAA, said. "And that has never happened. That is incredible. That's a real explosion. It was paved by so many others, but we're in an apex of our industry and our genre, in terms of music, that's never been had."
…But The Industry Is Still Facing Some Of The Same Issues
While Latin music has become a major part of the larger global mainstream culture, the industry continues to struggle with some of the same cultural and social issues that afflicted the scene 20 years ago.
Yvonne Drazan, VP Latin Division of West Coast at Peer Music and a self-described "OG" in the Latin music industry for decades, remembered her time during the first Latin explosion when she worked with genre luminaries like Selena.
"It was extremely exciting for all of us that were working in the industry at the time because we felt like we were finally being heard," she recalled. "But at the same time, we struggled a lot with the stereotypes of what Latin community is and what Latin music is. At that time, I felt as though all of those artists—Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin—they were doing American music in English because I don't feel like anybody felt as though they had the license to be able to bring in their Latin influences into what was happening at the moment. So it was sort of like, you can be Latino, but you have to sound like you're not Latino."
"While I do believe that the general market has opened the doors to the Latin community and to Latin music and Latin artists," she continued, "but every now and then when there are these opportunities, I always feel as though the general market wants to embrace the Latin market, but they want us to fit into a very specific box. I feel like that's the biggest challenge that we've had as the general market has embraced us more and more. They still want to put that wardrobe on us… or do whatever it is so that we can be identified as what they think a Latino is supposed to be. We still have to pass that hurdle in order for us to really be a part of the overall general market."
There Is A Gender Problem In Latin Music
Gender imbalance has been an ongoing issue that's affected the wider music industry, impacting genres like country and rap as well as the producer realm. The Latin music industry, too, is facing a gender imbalance problem, with female artists lacking representation on the Latin charts and radio.
Loren Medina, owner of Guerrera PR, Marketing & Management, sees Latin music's gender issue as a symptom of a larger cultural and societal problem.
"Music always is parallel to our culture," she said. "As women, we're still fighting to be equal. For instance, how many women are engineers? Not engineers in music, just engineers in general. I think once the narrative changes in our culture [where] you could be a producer, you could be an engineer, I think, more women will start going into that. I've seen a rise in female producers... but I think that music and culture is parallel. I think that's all changing, and that's going to change music as well."
For Drazan, the answer to the gender issue stems from a lack of representation at the executive level. Diverse voices and representation at the executive table, she says, will bring forth the change necessary to equalize the playing field.
"There are not enough of us that are in positions that are decision-makers, people that are green-lighting the stuff," Drazan says. "There has to be people in those positions that are open to gender, ethnicity, all of it. Until there are more women in the position of bringing those creators together, it's not really going to change. So the responsibility is squarely on us that are in the industry to bring those other girls and other voices up with us to be in positions to green-light stuff."
The current wave of Latin music and artists has paved a path for urbano genres like reggaeton, Latin trap and dembow. Still, while urban-leaning sounds and genres dominate the scene, tastes within the larger Latin marketplace vary widely. It's a reflection of the extensive cultural diversity within the Latin demographic itself.
Latin R&B is one of the next scenes to watch, says Drazan.
"On the Latin market," she said, "that side of the urban genre hasn't really broken through yet, but it's like right there. There's a really incredible movement in Mexico right now with a lot of really cool R&B artists that are singing in Spanish. I'm just like waiting for like that moment when one of these [artists] breaks through and really opens that more melodic, poetic romantic side of urban music that we're missing."
"To me, if the music is amazing, it will find its way either way," he says. "But I think, little by little, most of the artists are getting to know the music coming from different places and seeing how they could adapt that to their music or see if that helps the public to get to know these artists. I don't think it's far away for it to be like that next movement that also has a lot of fan base on the Latin side."
The Future Of Latin Music
While Latin music is currently experiencing a massive boom, the entire industry is already looking ahead at the next opportunities on the horizon and the future of the genre.
For Medina, Latin music will continue to expand into the global mainstream, largely thanks to genre-defying artist and the changing sociopolitical landscape on a worldwide scale.
"There are enough artists like Kali Uchis and Jessie Reyez and Omar Apollo and Cuco that are genre-benders [and] are going to keep fusing stuff," she said. "I think it's going to continue to evolve. I think that we're already mainstream music, and we're just going to be much more integrated... We are mainstream, and we're going to continue to be mainstream, and people are going to listen to our music whether they understand it or not because the whole entire culture, in a political sense, is changing in our country. And that's going to make this grow even more. So I'm optimistic."
On a market scale, Lopez Negrete echoes the sentiment. He agrees the only path for Latin music and the overall Latin culture is adelante.
"I think what we're doing is impacting culture," he says. "We're doing that through music, we're doing that through fashion, we're doing that through food. We're doing that through so many different things. It's not just happening in the United States. It's starting to happen globally as well. We're starting to be seen as a sector within the U.S. that can impact global perception in all kinds of different things."
"In terms of brands and corporations trying reach our consumer base," he continues, "no matter what way music goes, the consumer base is going to continue to grow. It's going to continue to be more important than ever. As brands trying to continue to attract that base, whatever the hell we come up with, that's what they're going to tap into. It's an incredibly exciting time and it's not going anywhere."
Tainy, in perhaps the most musically optimistic statement of the night, agrees that the possibilities within the genre are limitless.
"I think it's only going to get bigger, so hopefully we keep expanding because that's the main thing: just to like see what's never been done or hasn't been tried," he said. "That's what gonna make this music exciting and make it not go anywhere."