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2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Latin Music

Rauw Alejandro 

Photo: John Parra/Getty Images

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2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Latin Music

A radical reinvention of genres and styles became the norm during one of the most memorable years in Latin music history

GRAMMYs/Dec 22, 2021 - 10:42 pm

As the world began to rebuild from COVID-19 in 2021, Latin stars used their experiences to inspire art that made a lasting impact. On the one hand, the unavoidable ripples of the pandemic encouraged many artists to channel their feelings into song; on the other, the reopening of concert halls unleashed an infectious wave of creativity.

While chart-topping stars in the urbano field had the entire planet listening, artists in other facets of the genre — from rock and electronica to Regional Mexican, folk and Brazilian — emerged with luminous creations that pushed the music forward. Here are some of the notable Latin trends that emerged during the past 12 months.

For Today's Hitmakers, Stylistic Diversity Equals Musical Bliss

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If the new albums by hugely successful artists such as Puerto Rico's Rauw Alejandro and Spain's C. Tangana have something in common, it is their stubborn refusal to confine themselves to the parameters of their expected genres.

Rauw's blockbuster hit "Todo De Ti" begins with the countdown of acoustic drums, then blends its urbano sensibility with touches of disco and new wave, evoked through the warm prism of childhood memories. Tangana's El Madrileño is the majestic manifesto of a rapper desperately in love with music — all kinds of music — who infuses his compositions with multiple points of view: neo-flamenco, Mexican corridos and introspective rock anthems.

Latin Rock Retained Its Power to Generate Epic Albums

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Undeniably, rock has become more niche than ever following the mainstream domination of música urbana. Still, 2021 found a number of seasoned rockers releasing some of the best albums of their career.

With Sonidos de Karmática Resonancia, Mexico's Zoé demonstrated their ability to channel both The Cure and Soda Stereo through highly melodic, bittersweet tracks. On Origen, Colombian singer/songwriter Juanes paid loving tribute to a wide array of influences, from the confessional pathos of Fito Páez ("El Amor Después Del Amor") to the scorching tropical fever of Joe Arroyo ("Rebelión").

Psychedelia Returned With a Vengeance

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From rockers like Babasónicos and Liquits to late '60s tropicália in Brazil, psychedelia has always had a profound effect on Latin music. Perhaps mirroring the trippy qualities of quarantine life, neo-psychedelia experienced a triumphant resurgence in 2021 through hazy, atmospheric masterpieces by Spain's Unidad y Armonía, Brazil's Glue Trip and Mexico's Daniel Quién.

Unidad y Armonía — the sextet led by singer/songwriter Miguel Martín — released a remarkable third album, Un Verano Invencible, that evokes the sweet nostalgia of summers past. From the cinematic grandeur of opening instrumental "Rayos de Sol" to the Pink Floyd-like soundscapes of "Poderes Sensoriales," this is a band that honors classic psychedelia while echoing the present.

Glue Trip’s single "Água de Jamaica" (from the Paraíba quartet’s forthcoming third album) is a wondrous psychedelic artifact, complete with cosmic keyboard effects and ethereal vocal harmonies. Hailing from Mazatlán, 25 year-old Daniel Quién creates bedroom-pop miniatures that belie his young age — evidenced this year by his second album, Aroma a Nostalgia. Equally influenced by Mexican torch song and alternative rock, his songs are enveloped in the slow-mo twilight of early Pink Floyd.

The Beauty of Folk Continued Nurturing Chilean Pop

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The mystical energy of Andean folk has permeated Chilean music since the emergence of the nueva canción movement and iconic artists like Violeta Parra, Inti Illimani and Quilapayún. The same aesthetic — soaring vocal choruses, restrained arrangements, the purity of acoustic string instruments — informs the work of young Chilean musicians who move freely between electronica and pop, rock and the avant-garde.

Singer/songwriters Diego Lorenzini and Niña Tormenta brought those folk elements to their first original release together, the affecting "El Demonio del Mediodía." The pair previously collaborated on a 2020 cover of Parra's "Miren Cómo Sonríen."

The Afro-Caribbean Groove Is Truly Pan-American

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Until recently, a number of tropical formats were confined to their country of origin. Most bachatas were recorded by artists from the Dominican Republic, plena was celebrated in its native Puerto Rico, and Peruvian cumbia blossomed in, well, Peru. But as reggaetón and trap continue to globalize Latin culture, more artists are writing and recording authentic samples of Afro-Caribbean genres.

It's almost hard to believe that Juan Ingaramo, a singer/songwriter from Argentina, created "El Fenómeno del Mambo," an authentic slice of merengue. Similarly, Mexico's brilliant Marco Mares gave us one of the best bachatas of the year with "Alboroto," complete with danceable chorus and syncopated bongo beats.

Old School Reggaetón Can Still Deliver The Goods

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With superstars like J Balvin and Rauw Alejandro updating the urbano genre with intriguing new twists and turns, it's a good moment to celebrate the reckless fun of old school reggaetón.

This year found genre godfather Don Omar returning to the recording studio, and he did so with a bouncy, wickedly funny duet featuring fellow Puerto Rican Residente. The former Calle 13 MC is in rare form on the sinuous "Flow HP," placing his distinct flow at the service of a sonic gem that celebrates the movement that changed the essence of Latin.

In Brazil, Ladies Reigned Supreme (As Always)

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It is impossible to think of Brazilian music without the contribution of literally hundreds of female legends. From Elis Regina, Sylvia Telles and late bossa nova icon Maysa to Gal Costa, Maria Bethania and Marisa Monte, women have always played a leading role in the country’s percolating sounds.

This year was marked by the appearance of many singer/songwriters with talent to spare. Vicka's "Cafeína" is funky and soulful; "nada contra (ciúme)" by Rio-based actress and singer Clarissa anchors its groove on a darkly hued alternative edge; Magi's "Bossinha" pays loving tribute to the silky song format that started it all — complete with a whistling interlude.

Against All Odds, Tango Continued to Evolve

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The last stylistic development that shook tango to the core happened a good 20 years ago, when ensembles like Gotan Project and Bajofondo caused a stir by mixing the venerable rioplatense genre with electronic beats. Tango has continued to grow through incredibly sophisticated arrangements and crisp sonics.

Led by keyboardist and composer Max Masri, Tanghetto emerged during the first wave of electro-tango with a cheeky cover of New Order's "Blue Monday" in 2005. Fifteen years later, Tanghetto's 2021 album Reinventango presents a rugged masterpiece of melancholy melodies and sharp beats. Relentless in the purity of its vision, it sets a gold standard for all tango records to follow.

2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Pop

Inside Residente's 'Las Letras Ya No Importan': How His New Album Shows The Rapper In Transition
Residente

Photo: 5020 Records

interview

Inside Residente's 'Las Letras Ya No Importan': How His New Album Shows The Rapper In Transition

"It’s an album that marks a musical transition for what’s coming for me," Residente says about his sophomore record, 'Las Letras Ya No Importan.'

GRAMMYs/Feb 26, 2024 - 08:07 pm

Puerto Rican rapper Residente wants to embark on new adventures.  

The artist born René Pérez Joglar has dreams of directing movies and acting, writing books, and making for pleasure — not to pay the bills. These goals reflect a new attitude, one resulting from time spent reflecting on the passage of time and the presence of death.

Residente's sophomore album, Las Letras Ya No Importan (Lyrics No Longer Matter), echoes this transitory period. An extensive body of work, featuring 23 tracks, with several songs surpassing the five-minute mark. Las Letras is an act of deeply intimate rebellion.

"It’s a very personal album, and I sought to connect with myself in many moments throughout," Residente tells GRAMMY.com. 

While Las Letras explores topics already a hallmark of his music — the music industry, political systems, Puerto Rico — it's also exceedingly vulnerable. The 28-time Latin GRAMMY and four-time GRAMMY winner opens up about depression and personal relationships, and confronts mortality.

Lead single "313" is inspired by Residente's late friend Valentina, whose voice appears in the first interlude. As Residente recounted to El País of Spain and GQ Spain, Valentina was a violist, and the last messages they exchanged on WhatsApp were at 3:13.

The song begins with a French verse, fulfilling Valentina’s wish, expressed in the first interlude, to do something in that language. "Les paroles n'ont pas d'importance," (words no longer matter), a female voice whispers, followed by a spectacular string arrangement.

Residente revisited older works during this period of creative transition, and the record features previously released tracks  "René," "This Is America," and "Quiero Ser Baladista."

 Las Letras Ya No Importan features many collaborations, with actress Penélope Cruz, Spanish singer Silvia Pérez Cruz, Rauw Alejandro, Ricky Martin, Christian Nodal, Arcángel, Jessie Reyez and others making appearances. Hip-hop icon Busta Rhymes is featured on "Cerebro," while Big Daddy Kane makes an appearance on "Estilo Libre" with Vico C.

GRAMMY.com spoke with Residente via Zoom about the process that led him to his second album, the symbolism behind "313" and the artistic connection to Spain.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to create Las Letras Ya No Importan?

It’s an album that marks a musical transition for what’s coming for me. It feels diverse; it also has songs with which I may not feel as connected [to] now because several years have passed since I made them. There are newer songs with which I do connect, which have a bit more to do with the way I want to start working on my music in the future.

"René" is part of this album, even though it came out four years ago. This is an album I was going to release during the pandemic. 

We have "René," which is very personal; we have "313," which I also feel is personal; then "Ron en el piso," [a song about the passage] of time, the collaboration with Nodal ("Pólvora de Ayer") also touches on the theme of time, of enjoying everything.

You confront death in several songs. In "René," you sang about losing a friend; in "Ron en el piso," you see your funeral; and in "313," you draw inspiration from your late friend Valentina. What is it about death that inspires you?

It’s something I’ve been going through in recent years. I lost many people I love, and it made me much more reflective when it comes to understanding time, the things I want to do, and the things I’ve stopped doing.

That’s why I’m also transitioning to cinema. I’ve always wanted to make films, directing, being behind the scenes, not being on stage.  I’m crazy about dedicating myself entirely to that.

I discovered acting now in a movie I starred in [In the Summers] that won the Jury Award at Sundance. When I saw it, I didn’t know I was the protagonist until I watched it. [The film] encouraged me to follow that too, and I’m going to want to act, direct; I want to dedicate myself to that for a while fully.

The album has a lot of life, and even though the lyrics no longer matter, you still have much to tell. You already said the album is very personal, but how would you describe it?

I can describe it in two years, not right now. It’s transitional. That’s what happened with Calle 13; everything was a musical and lyrical change from the second album onwards.

Residente represented a fusion of world music and rap. Now, in this one, I’m using a lot of strings, cellos, and double bass. I’m going to experiment a lot with different instruments in different ways. I’m going to be creative without the need to balance the album.

What’s coming next doesn’t have that artistic pressure. The only artistic pressure I want to have is to do the highest I can, which happens organically, not feeling pressured but naturally.

I want to do art as I did in college [at Savannah College of Art and Design]. I was never thinking about people or trying to convince anyone, and I was completely free, and that’s what happened with "313." I had the freedom I always wanted to have.

There’s substantial symbolism in "313," from the faceless dancers, the color pink. What was your vision with the visuals?

The dancers represent time. Penélope [Cruz] can represent many things, from life to Valentina, my friend, who inspired me to make the song. Penélope controls me, holds me, flies me, brings me back, and then I decide to control my life and time. That’s why I raise my hands, and everyone raises them, and time is running out, and then you see a sunset.

Sunset marks the end of something. The colors of the costumes also have some dusk elements. You can see at the end when I’m disappearing; it fades and blends with the end of the sunset.

These are decisions I make that are both aesthetic and technical. I put masks on the dancers because I liked it aesthetically. It also helped me speed up the process with makeup. I had to find creative ways to maintain the video’s aesthetics and make everything more agile because in filming, everything is time, and I had little of it.

What’s the idea behind the song "Las Letras Ya No Importan?"The arrangement is magical, with a numerical sequence from one to eight in different languages and a voice spelling of the alphabet.

That was the initial track. Before "313," I had this idea that I dreamed of with some basic notes, and it turned into something big.

There’s a voiceover of Penélope [Cruz] that says that we were eight [people in the studio], we are on an 8th street in New York, in studio B, which, if you look at it, it resembles the number 8. Everything connected with eight and [that number] also at a time level can mark infinity. So, I connected all that with the immensity of letters and languages. That piece’s runtime is five minutes. I think it’s pleasurable. I like that music, which resembles what I want to do.

Leo Genovese, an excellent musician and musical genius, made the arrangements. I greatly respect him.

In "Cerebro," you showcase your skill and vocal speed; what was it like collaborating with Busta Rhymes, whose own flow is iconic?

We met, and he loved the concept of what I was working on. He was a very humble, good person to me. After we met in person and talked for a while, he went to write after I sent him everything I had written in English.

I created ["Cerebro"] a while ago…. That’s why I tell you that the album has several concepts that I had to let go of because it was too much, and a lot of time had passed. I had a previous concept when I released the song "René" [in 2020], which is why it’s on the album. [At that time] I was working with the brain waves of different animals and people, and I made music with those brain waves.

This song ["Cerebro"] is part of that, and that’s why it’s called "Cerebro." The album was originally going to go that route. Then I didn’t do it; maybe I’ll connect to it in the future because I loved that idea.

What has Spain meant to you? The country has been so prominent in the trailers you’ve released and in the collaborations in your latest songs.

I've been making frequent trips to Madrid. This past year, I was there a lot; I was more in Madrid than at home. I traveled, wrote, and filmed videos like "Problema cabrón" and "313."

 I grew up with Spanish cinema by Almodovar and a bunch of directors I admire, and I wanted to collaborate with the actors I grew up watching in movies.

This album has many personal elements, and cinema is very intimate for me. I saw [Penelope Cruz] in [the movie] Abre los ojos when I was a kid; working with her now is a dream. The same goes with Javier Cámara and Najwa (Nimri) [who is in the film] Lovers of the Arctic Circle by Julio Medem. I saw all these people, and now being able to collaborate with them, be friends with them, talk to them is a dream. Everything is very connected to my life.

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Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album Nominees: A 2024 GRAMMYs Roundtable
(L to R): Juanes, Natalia Lafourcade, Fito Paez, Eduardo Cabra and Juan Galeano of Diamante Eléctrico.

Mario Alzate; Mariano Regidor / Redferns via Getty Images; Val Musso; John Parra/Getty Images for LARAS; Denise Truscello / Getty Images for The Latin Recording Academy

interview

Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album Nominees: A 2024 GRAMMYs Roundtable

Nominees Natalia Lafourcade, Juanes, Cabra, Diamante Electrico and Fito Paez discuss the current state of the multifarious genres of Latin Rock and Alternative, and what keeps their creative fires burning.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2024 - 04:29 pm

The five nominated works for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs underscore how incredibly pluralistic the genre has become. 

Recorded live on tape with a cadre of virtuoso players, Mexican songstress Natalia Lafourcade’s De Todas las Flores explores grief, impressionism and the healing power of love. Motivated by a deep marital crisis, Vida Cotidiana by Colombia’s Juanes is a middle-aged rocker’s message of hope — and it grooves like crazy. A collage of alternative sonics hand-crafted at his Puerto Rico home studio, MARTÍNEZ finds former Calle 13 founder Cabra delving into trance-inducing electro and slick Afrobeats. A cool, sophisticated affair, Diamante Eléctrico’s seventh album Leche de Tigre fuses Colombian rock with nocturnal vibes and cosmopolitan funk. In Argentina, Fito Páez lovingly reinvented his 1992 masterpiece El Amor Después del Amor on EADDA9223, populated by a gallery of iconic guest stars.

If the nominees at the 66th GRAMMY Awards are any indication, Latin rock and alternative are more than a sound. They signify a point of view, a credo, a way of doing things that spans countries.

With that in mind, GRAMMY.com organized a roundtable with this year’s nominees, who discussed their influences, the current state of the multifarious genre, and the dreams of future albums that keep their creative fires burning. 

Is rock 'n'roll eternal? Will its mystique continue to influence musicians for generations to come?

Natalia Lafourcade: It is eternal, yes. Rock is like life itself. It evolves and transforms in language and form — its tempests, energy and meaning. I would never have imagined my album being nominated in this category. But then I think about the idiosyncrasies of rock — a style spawned from broken places, the crevice where a flower can blossom   and it makes sense. I cherish the fact that rock can encompass so many different possibilities of singing about emotion.

Cabra: I understand rock’n’roll as an agent of change and attitude is already dead. In my work, I like using musical references from the past as I create in the present mode.

Juanes: Rock will be eternal to me for as long as I live. In my own universe, rock was the channel that allowed me to transform as a person and I find in it a very powerful energy. I hope future generations will learn to play instruments, form their own bands and write songs — even with the current avalanche of technology and AI.

Fito Páez: Rock is much more than just a genre. It represents an open minded, eccentric cultural reality that fears nothing and transcends the music itself.

Juan Galeano (vocalist and bassist, Diamante Eléctrico): Rock has evolved, just like music has. It will live on as long as it preserves its avant-garde qualities and continues to challenge the establishment.

Who were the rock artists who first inspired you?

Juanes: Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. Heavier stuff too: Slayer, Sepultura. Even Venom. [Laughs.] That was my path during the ‘80s here in Medellín. Before I discovered rock, the sounds of Latin American popular music that I heard during childhood defined my path as a musician as well.

Lafourcade: The works of women like Julieta Venegas, Joni Mitchell, Björk, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey and Erykah Badu, among many others. All of them acted as anchors on my artistic path. They offered guidance and illumination.

Páez: I was influenced by artists outside the confines of rock — people who played all kinds of music, like Charly García and Luis Alberto Spinetta. Is [Brazilian MPB icon] Chico Buarque rock? Sort of. You could say he’s part of the rock culture, much like [tango master] Astor Piazzolla was. 

There’s something really cool about the Alternative Field. It goes beyond the mainstream — there’s an extra serving of fun in it; it defies logic. An artist is truly alternative when he’s different from everyone else.

During the ‘70s, rock became exceedingly ambitious — incorporating elements of jazz and classical, folk and the avant-garde. I believe the same ethos informs the Latin Alternative today, a time when stylistic experimentation is accepted as the norm. Do you agree?

Cabra: I agree about 50 percent. I believe the experimental tendencies of the ‘70s and ‘80s signified the genre’s finest moment. Right now, there are artists who dare to innovate. At the same time, many defend the purity of various musical styles, and as a result, everything sounds the same.

Lafourcade: Rock will always be linked to that utmost freedom of expression. It’s connected to the soul, and it’s deeply spiritual. There is no strategy in it. It’s about seeking the disruptive, the unexpected — that which will surprise and shake us up. It allows you to scream, weep and laugh — to be silent following heartbreaking chaos.

Galeano: Something that we really enjoy about the last few years is the increasing blurring of genre boundaries. We’ve always believed that Diamante is much more than just a rock band. We borrow from different styles: funk, soul and cumbia; jazz and classical; Black music in general, and, of course, rock 'n' roll. I love that the younger generations don’t listen to any specific genres anymore — just good songs.

Are reggaetón and urbano the new rock? Could they coexist with the works of Soda Stereo or Café Tacvba?

Páez: No, they’re not. Clearly not. I’m writing a lengthy essay on the current state of the music scene. I think it will generate an interesting debate.

Juanes: I notice in artists like Bad Bunny the same kind of rebellious spirit and desire to provoke that was present in rock. That said, I think music will continue to evolve. It can never stagnate.

Cabra: Rock is a feeling, a lifestyle. That is why I believe it is dead.

Within a rock context, is there a fusion or experiment that you have yet to attempt? Is there a treasured album percolating in your soul, waiting to emerge?

Lafourcade: I’d love to return to the electric guitar at one point, and explore beyond the familiar limits. To navigate alternate possibilities that can continue to surprise me and make me feel like it’s the first time doing this.

Juanes: I’d like to record an album or EP focused on cumbias, slow and heavy. Haven’t found the time yet, but it’s something I would love to do at one point.

Páez: The music I desire the most is the one I have yet to record — that much is clear. The advantage of music over words is that the potential combinations are infinite. You just have to play, something I’ve been doing my entire life. Sometimes you have to push the new melodies away so that you don’t step on them when you get out of bed in the morning. At other times, you can’t find a single tune. It’s all about being adventurous, studying and researching — the kind of activities that are not in vogue at the moment.

Cabra: This year I’d love to make a record of complicated duets in different genres. Right now I’m dreaming of that album.

Galeano: We’d love to experiment with jazz, corridos tumbados, cumbia and Brazilian. Whenever we collaborate, we gravitate to artists who come from different worlds. I’d love to record a song with Carín León.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Latin Music
(From left) Usted Señalemelo, Juanes, Peso Pluma, Karol G and Nicki Nicole

Photos: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Latin Recording Academy; Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Latin Recording Academy; Patricia J. Garcinuno/WireImage; Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images

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2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Latin Music

2023 was a transformative year for Latin music: Música mexicana expanded globally; urbano music continued its dominance and innovative sounds broke boundaries. Read on for five trends showcasing the breadth of Latin music's influence.

GRAMMYs/Dec 18, 2023 - 02:51 pm

2022 was the year of Rosalía’s Motomami and Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti — two groundbreaking albums that expanded both the artistic scope and mainstream appeal of Latin music. How do you top that?

As it turns out, 2023 had a number of surprises in store: the emergence of música mexicana on an international scale, but also the further globalization of Latin sounds and new developments in urbano music, which continues to gain in influence and sophistication. It was also a particularly prolific year — with hundreds of singles, EPs and albums expanding the scope of Latin across genres and formats.

Here are some of the notable trends that emerged during the past 12 months.

Finally, Música Mexicana Gets The Chance To Shine

Reggaetón and urbano were at the forefront of the Latin music tsunami that began to take hold of the entire planet a good three years ago. During that time, many insiders pondered if the huge field of so-called regional Mexican music would ever enjoy such levels of exposure. Turns out there was nothing regional about it.

Far from stagnating, the genre evolved with the rise of the sparse, melancholy sound known as sad sierreño, and the swagger of hip-hop informing the zeitgeist of young artists like Natanael Cano and Junior H.

2023 will be forever remembered as the year when música mexicana connected with the world at large, and it happened mostly through one song: "Ella Baila Sola," the collaboration between Jalisco singer Peso Pluma and Cali group Eslabón Armado — a tune whose spiraling groove is so buoyant and infectious, it transcends borders. The subversive duet of Bad Bunny and Grupo Frontera on mega-hit "un x100to" didn’t hurt either, and the movement gained strength with Peso Pluma’s excellent third LP, as well as the talents of young stars such as Fuerza Regida, Gabito Ballesteros and Yahritza y Su Esencia.

When It Comes To Latin Rock, Argentina Is Still At The Forefront

From Charly García and Luis Alberto Spinetta to Soda Stereo and Babasónicos, Argentina boasts a fierce tradition for generating legendary rock albums. Even though the South American nation has embraced the present with such urbano stars as Bizarrap, Duki and Nicki Nicole, there will always be a place of honor reserved for good old fashioned rock’n’roll in Argentina’s clubs and recording studios.

2023 was no exception. Hailing from the city of La Plata, Él Mató a un Policía Motorizado released Súper Terror. Their first full length album since 2017's La Síntesis O’Konor, the new LP includes atmospheric ballads like the gorgeous "Medalla de Oro." Another top contender is Tripolar, the third effort by Mendoza indie darlings Usted Señalemelo.

Also of note: Lo Más Cercano a Caer, the stunning debut by Nenagenix. Fronted by singer Martina Sampietro, the band has dreamed up a ferocious collection of songs with inspired touches of grunge and shoegaze.

Pop Stardom Is A Young Artist’s Game…

Popular music has always reflected the combustion and adrenaline of youth, but the immediacy of the digital era has heightened this fact. It seems that the transition from self-taught teens uploading their demos in TikTok to fully fledged stars performing at Coachella has become even more rapid.

Some of the most successful Latin artists climbing the 2023 charts have had only a couple of years to transition into pop icon status — and the vulnerability of their emotional state is often expressed in their music. From the reggaetón-fueled erotic narratives of 21 year-old Madrid rapper Quevedo ("PUNTO G") to the bachata-pop warmth of 19 year-old Mexican/American DannyLux ("MI HOGAR," with maye) and the confessional urbano narratives of 22-year-old Argentine vocalist Tiago PZK (the TINI duet "Me Enteré"), many young artists found the global platform where they could freely express their longings and dreams.

...But The Veterans Have Still Plenty To Say

Years of accolades have not dimmed the creative vision of veteran Latin artists. In the case of Juanes, a marital crisis during the pandemic inspired Vida Cotidiana — arguably the Colombian singer’s best album to date. Just listen to the gritty guitar textures of the majestic "Gris" and the spiraling Afro lines of "Cecilia," a sun-is-shining-again duet with Juan Luis Guerra. Vida Cotidiana is nominated for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album alongside Cabra's MARTÍNEZ, Leche De Tigre by Diamante Eléctrico, Natalia Lafourcade's De Todas Las Flores and EADDA9223 by Fito Paez.

At 46, Shakira finds herself at the top of her game, with major pop culture moments like her Bizarrap collaboration — the most epic revenge song of the year and a Latin GRAMMY winner— and the jagged edges of "TQG," her duet with KAROL G.

Having developed a tradition of recording solo excursions in Paris, Zoé frontman León Larregui explored his hazy psychedelic mystique on PRISMARAMA, the Mexican singer’s excellent — and first self-produced — third outing.

The Urbano Groove May Never Run Out Of Steam

You may think that global audiences would have tired of the ubiquitous reggaetón beat. But the music of Puerto Rico — just like traditional salsa in the ‘70s – has a gravitas that rewards longer attention spans. Fittingly for a genre known for its prolific work ethic, some of the biggest names in urbano released albums in 2023, and none of them disappoint.

One listen to the refined melody of "MÓNACO" — like a reggaetón take on a James Bond theme — is enough to realize that Bad Bunny’s creative streak hasn’t slowed down since he reimagined the Latin pop atlas with Un Verano Sin Ti. Known for his honeyed dance hits, Ozuna put out an EP (Afro) and an album (Cosmo), including the synth-pop magic of "Vocation," with producer David Guetta.

Last but not least, KAROL G’s MAÑANA SERÁ BONITO demonstrates on luminous tracks like "PROVENZA" and "CAIRO" that her work with fellow Colombian producer Ovy on the Drums is one of the defining artistic partnerships of the decade. MAÑANA is nominated for Best Música Urbana Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside Rauw Alejandro's SATURNO and Tainy's DATA.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Hip-Hop

On New Album 'Sentimiento, Elegancia y Más Maldad,' Arcángel Proves He's One Of Reggaetón’s Wittiest Innovators
Arcángel

Photo: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

interview

On New Album 'Sentimiento, Elegancia y Más Maldad,' Arcángel Proves He's One Of Reggaetón’s Wittiest Innovators

"You become dexterous at building a reality with words," the reggaetón star says of his inventive flow. Those skills are on full display on Arcángel's brand new album, 'Sentimiento, Elegancia y Más Maldad.'

GRAMMYs/Nov 17, 2023 - 08:19 pm

Earlier this year, rapper and reggaetón star Arcángel collaborated with Bizarrap on one of the Argentine producer’s infamous sessions. A huge global hit, the track  — "Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 54" — reminded us all of Arcángel’s devilish sense of humor and the brilliant specificity of his flow: languid, sweetly melodic, loaded with inventive wordplay.

At 37, Austin Agustín Santos is a revered veteran of the urbano genre. Born in New York City, he eventually moved to Puerto Rico and experienced his first brush with fame as part of the reggaetón duo Arcángel & De la Ghetto. His first solo effort, 2008’s El Fenómeno, included the smash "Pa’Que La Pases Bien," heralding his affinity for cutting-edge EDM soundscapes. 

Arcángel never lost his Midas touch for generating memorable songs. Last year’s Sr. Santos included "La Jumpa," a kinetic duet with Bad Bunny, and the slick majesty of "PortoBello." Released Nov. 17, his new album, Sentimiento, Elegancia y Más Maldad, boasts high-profile collaborations with Peso Pluma (lead single "La Chamba"), Rauw Alejandro (the EDM-heavy “FP”), Grupo Frontera, Spanish rapper Quevedo, and Feid, among others.

At the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs, Arcángel's "La Jumpa" received nods in the Best Urban Fusion/Performance and Best Urban Song categories; his Bizarrap session and their collaboration, "Bottas" were submitted were submitted as part of BZRP's Producer Of The Year nomination package.

Ahead of the release of his new album, Arcángel spoke with GRAMMY.com about his sophisticated rhymes, the trappings of fame, and the occasional bouts of self-doubt.

The rhymes on your Bizarrap session reference the Tower of Pisa, the shields of the gladiators in the Roman empire, Argentine soccer and luxury cars. How do you come up with this stuff?

It’s something that I’ve been developing since I was a kid. Here in Puerto Rico, we’re big fans of what we call palabreo (non-stop talk.) It’s also my Dominican blood, because people in the Dominican Republic are always making up things. 

When I was growing up, my mother fostered a love for reading in me, so I have a lot of information in my head that I can draw from. For instance, no one had referenced the Tower of Pisa in reggaetón before. I’d say a good 80 percent of reggaetoneros may not even know what the Tower of Pisa is. My mother worked hard so that I could get a good education.

Would you say the uniqueness of your style stems from those early years?

I grew up in a highly competitive environment. In the barrio, it was normal for us to improvise and mock each other in a friendly way. If you showed up with dirty sneakers, someone would rap about it. With so many years of practicing, it became a skill. There was a time when I wouldn’t come up to the barrio if I wasn’t well dressed, because I knew what I had to face. 

You become dexterous at building a reality with words — like an architect. I like everything to make sense in my rhymes. I become obsessive about it. The words don’t necessarily have to rhyme — as long as they have flow, style, and they make sense.

On the video of the Bizarrap session, we also get to witness your hilarious sense of humor. How did that part of your artistic identity develop?

I was raised in an environment marked by poverty, but there was also a lot of joy. We had nothing except for each other. Incredibly, I was happier then. I grew up feeling comfortable in uncomfortable situations, and that’s where my sense of humor comes from. I saw my Mom working two or three jobs so that she could put some food on the table. The only recourse I had to escape that reality was to make jokes and try to have a good time. 

When fortune and fame arrived, they provided a better lifestyle. But they also took away many things that I now miss — things that will never come back.

The last two albums contain some of your best material yet. Would it be fair to say that you’re enjoying a creative high?

The process of making music has become extremely hard for me during the past couple of years. I’m experiencing great success, but it also works as a kind of emotional torture, because my mental health is not the best. My own mind is the most formidable rival. I’m overwhelmed by the fear of not fulfilling the expectations that my fans may have. I’ve felt self-doubt, something that is entirely new to me. 

With all the experience I’ve amassed, I’m now at my most vulnerable. The act of creating felt so easy to me. Now, when the muse departs, it’s difficult to bring her back. Also, I’ve always preferred quality over quantity. Some of my peers are releasing three albums per year. I need to do some living in order to write new songs.

On the new album, the track with Rauw Alejandro (“FP”) is incredibly lush, seeped in atmosphere and EDM texture.

I sing about love because I’m a romantic. And I sing about partying because I definitely did a lot of that — too much, perhaps. [Laughs.] I used to be the kind of person who couldn’t stay home more than three hours. I harbor fond memories of that time — spending days away from home, the ambiance of it all, having a great time. 

When I write songs, I can definitely convince people that I’ve enjoyed all of that. In reality, these days I’m even a bit boring when it comes to partying.

2023 Latin GRAMMYs: See The Complete Nominations List