20 Years into the Latin Grammys: A Cultural Staple in Flux

Bad Bunny accepts the award for Best Urban album onstage during the 20th annual Latin GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for LARAS

“Mas futuro que pasado,” Juanes whispered into the mic at the MGM Arena in Las Vegas last Thursday night. The room was soaked in the blue tint bouncing off of the Latin Grammys 2019 stage, anxiety of the night’s nominees, plus overeagerness of the teams that accompanied them. The rock en español icon was this year’s Person of the Year, and he took a moment to publicly affirm he’s only looking forward. This moment in his decades-old career is more of an exclamation point than a period. The same can be said for this award show as a whole. The cathartic night was filled with moments that paid homage to the greats of the past, portrayed the struggles of the now, and alluded to the future’s potential. It was a call, and appreciation, for excellence in Latin music.

In and of itself, the award show was as nostalgic as it was reflective, with many videos highlighting speeches of the past and the songs that raised us. A wide-ranging array of tracks from the past few decades filled the MGM Grand Garden Arena during commercial breaks. Unexpected staples like El General’s “Te Ves Buena” came as a warm surprise, a reminder that there are some legends who – though not neatly cut into the shapes and colors of the artists that award shows like this tend to reward – are excellent in their own right.

“F*ck the Grammys,” creative director and producer Milkman spit into the mic on the other side of town at Remezcla and Recreo’s party the night prior. “[Let’s] dance,” he pronounced before hitting the DJ table. A room full of friends and creatives like Cazzu, Rauw Alejandro, Jesse Baez and Ms. Nina followed suit. Though many urbano artists opted out of the official lavish ordeal entirely this year, a few of them rented Lamborghinis and partook in other things Sin City had to offer instead.

“To all the musicians, to all the people from The Academy,” Bad Bunny said, “With all due respect, reggaeton is a part of Latin culture and is representing (as well as many other musical genres) Latinos across the world.” Then, to close off his brilliantly in touch and impartial speech, he followed that up with “To my colleagues in [urbano], vamos a echarle ganas. Let’s bring back creativity… The genre has become views, numbers. Hay que ponerse pa’ la vuelta and make genuine, new things.” It was the sole moment of the night, aside from the palpable absence of artists like Daddy Yankee and J Balvin, in which an artist addressed the elephant in the room. Luckily, it was a balanced assessment of the situation.

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🐰🏆 Best Urban Album 🏆🐰 #LatinGRAMMY

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The class acts of the Latin Grammys 2019 included a live orchestral rendition of several songs in 2019’s Best Urban Music Album, X100PRE, a bilingual take on Alicia Keys and Miguel’s “Show Me Love,” and Luis Fonsi’s impressive solo act featuring 2008’s “Aqui Estoy Yo.” An emphasis on (Tainy’s) brilliant production in Benito’s debut album and the potential for natural synergy (keyword, natural) of languages and styles were exhibited in the former two performances respectively. Each an example of ways we can ensure ongoing longevity of Latin music’s impact in the future.

Acts like Ozuna’s performance of upcoming Nibiru tracks, and Farruko’s brief camo on Pedro Capó’s Song of the Year “Calma,” felt familiar. Others like Ximena Sariñana felt organic and fun – a necessary touch on a classy night like this. But, of course, nothing superseded hearing three generations of the Fernandez family, regional music royalty, sing “Volver, Volver.” The three men, each a legend in their own right, effortlessly filled the room with their voices (accompanied by Mariachi Sol de Mexico). It took several minutes for the live audience to collect themselves and concede defeat on their request for an encore. Their medley was not only a way of honoring Vicente Fernández; it was an ode to the past and a celebration of familial excellence – also felt by the likes of the Aguilar family.

This year, it was Rosalía who took home Album of the Year. According to the Associated Press, she is the first woman since Shakira to do so as a solo female artist, who won in 2006 for Fijación Oral, Vol. 1. “Como músico, I think most of you who are here know,” she said in her acceptance speech “that there’s nothing… that gives you more pride than winning a Grammy. It’s the greatest thing that can happen to you, no?”

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Congrats to all of the #LatinGRAMMYs winners 🏆

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All of the sentiments expressed by the aforementioned estrellas are valid. This year marked the cultural staple’s 20th anniversary, and The Latin Recording Academy put on a show that portrayed them as in tune with both their strengths and weaknesses. It stayed true to form in more ways than one, with Spanish artists being both the most nominated and decorated of the night (Alejandro Sanz tied with Rosalía at three wins) and música regional and urbano taking center stage (the latter enjoyable, with an off-putting aftertaste in context). Like Sabrina Claudio and I, one could call this a quintessential case of being confidently lost.

Thankfully for us all, evolution isn’t a vicennial process. For artists who strive for excellence, it should happen daily, weekly, monthly and in turn yearly. Every year, night’s like these should give us an opportunity to exhibit and celebrate that growth. An award show that has taken, and wishes to continue taking on that challenge, only needs to be willing to evolve with the times to remain relevant – earning and maintaining the label of a cultural staple in flux.