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From reggaeton to trap: Behind the global Latin boom

The emergence of new crossover styles and growing audience familiarity with the Spanish language continue to drive demand for Latin music

By Anna Grace on 01 Feb 2019

Latin music

J Balvin performing in Austin, Texas

image © Ralph Arvesen

Popular Latin American artists have gained greater visibility on the international stage in recent years. Now, extensive touring in Europe and the US are bringing Latin acts closer to their fans.

Ease of streaming and high-profile crossover tracks with prominent anglophone artists have catapulted Latin stars into the limelight over the past few years.

“In the last year we’ve seen a lot more Spanish-only or Spanish-language features in our charts, including Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ featuring Justin Bieber, Cardi B’s ‘I Like It’, songs from J Balvin, Bad Bunny and many more,” Catherine Fournier, director of marketing at lyric licensing company, LyricFind, tells IQ.

Data supplied to IQ by analytics service, PEX, shows Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ as the most watched video uploaded to YouTube in 2017, with almost six billion views. Indeed, Latin music makes up five of the top ten videos uploaded that year, with hits by J Balvin, Ozuna and Maluma all making it into the top spots.

The newfound popularity of Latin artists is translating into the live music arena. Shakira, Romeo Santos and Marc Anthony all played extensive US tours last year. Nicky Jam will tour the US in 2019, as well as Latin trap artists Bad Bunny and Anuel AA.

Demand is growing across non-Spanish speaking Europe, too. J Balvin’s European live revenue quadrupled following the success of his single ‘Mi Gente’. The reggaeton star will this year appear at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival and The Ends Festival in Croydon, UK.

Elsewhere, Enrique Iglesias will play arenas in Germany, Switzerland and Spain this year, while Spanish Latin pop star Pablo Alborán will make his London debut with a Royal Albert Hall show on 3 March. Latin boy band CNCO will also embark on a European tour this summer, playing in the UK, Spain, Benelux, Switzerland and France.

“Not only are fans hearing their favourite artists sing in another language, but they’re connecting with them in a different way”

Reggaeton, a form of popular dance music fusing Latin rhythms, reggae, dancehall and hip hop, has traditionally been the most commercially dominant and internationally visible wing of popular Latin hip hop. The genre has launched global stars such as Don Omar, Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi.

“Reggaeton and rap are inherently intertwined,” says Fournier. “As rap and hip hop are now becoming more mainstream, and more popular, it’s inevitable that reggaeton would follow suit.”

J Balvin became the first reggaeton artist to play on the Coachella main stage last year after Beyoncé asked the Colombian to join her for a cameo. “This is for the Latinos, and for the world,” the reggaeton star posted on Instagram following the performance.

However, gritty Latin trap has recently overtaken reggaeton in popularity, responding to shifts in US rap and taking on the slower rhythms of southern hip hop. Latin trap pioneer Anuel AA recently teamed up with Nicky Minaj on crossover ‘Familia’, which appeared on the soundtrack for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, expanding the trap artist’s international reputation.

The popularity of Spanish-language crossovers is also growing, with the help of stars such as Demi Lovato (‘Échame La Culpa’, Luis Fonsi), Cardi B (‘I Like It’, Bad Bunny and J Balvin) and Drake (‘Mia’, Bad Bunny).

As non-Spanish speaking listeners become more familiar with Latin artists and more accustomed to hearing music in a different language, the demand for Latin artists’ tours continues to grow, concludes Fournier.

“Not only are fans hearing their favourite artists sing in another language, but they’re connecting with them in a different way, and going the extra mile to understand what they’re saying,” she says. “That, in turn, leads to more understanding and exposure to music performed in other languages.”


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