Year After Year, The Latin Grammys Don’t Do Enough to Nurture New Talent

Reading the list of this year’s Latin Grammy nominees prompted tons of nerve-severing eyerolls and only a few sympathetic head nods. Now in its 16th year, the Latino counterpart of the popular American awards show couldn’t be any less cool even if it consciously tried to be. Of course, it’s not that the gringo Grammys are that much better when it comes to musical credibility. I’ve said it before, but here it goes again: being nominated for either Grammy basically means someone somewhere thinks a certain artist is profitable, but not necessarily good or groundbreaking.

Still, while both Grammys are just as terrible at pleasing real music geeks, the original Grammys are usually on point when it comes to optimizing their show for their massive mainstream audience:

“If you watch the Grammys, you know ‘album sales or chart position’ seem to help far more than actual artistic quality. Those climbing the stairs to hold those golden gramophones are more likely to be Top 40 superstars than the best musicians and artists working. Some of the best musicians ever — Bob Marley, Diana Ross, and Jimi Hendrix — never won an award, even with the 83 (yes, 83) competitive categories the Grammys hand out awards in.”

That’s why artists like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey, two singers impressionable youngins seem to love, will always get top billing over, say, Grimes. Ratings-wise, it makes sense to push them over anybody else because of their trendiness and popularity. As the Latin Grammys’ audience, we Latinos can at least expect them to be just as commercially captivating, right? To feature the coolest trendsetters along with a few respectable household names, correct? Wrong.

What mostly matters here is Univision’s agenda, not any recognition of real creativity.

Take a look: excluding the surprising nods to Bomba Estéreo and Natalia Lafourcade, almost everyone else in their most coveted categories (Recording of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year) are either irrelevant dusty relics (Café Quijano? Miguel Bosé? Seriously?!) or artists, such as Ricky Martin, Maná, Alejandro Sanz, and Juan Luis Guerra, which never seem to not be nominated (let’s not get into how Shakira, Calle 13, Juanes, and Enrique Iglesias are always shoehorned in the nominations somehow – that is, when they’re not being handed frivolous trophies by the truckload).

To the Latin Grammys’ credit, some truly creative musicians – all of whom have been ignored for plenty of years – are finally getting their high-fives. I’m referring to Javiera Mena, Porter, Banda do Mar, and Famasloop, among a few others. Sadly, they’re all listed in the unpopular categories, which will never see any television airtime, or any sort of real coverage that could potentially bolster their profile (you can read the Latin Grammys’ explanation as to why they never show any of the more interesting nominees on TV here).

Understand this: the Latin Grammys will continue to shamelessly peddle their stale roster of preferred artists simply because they’re only aiming to please another equally stale demographic: Univision viewers (Univision holds the exclusive rights to the telecast). That’s why they book people like Eugenio Derbez and Lucero to host their show, two unfunny has-beens that no self-respecting Latino under the age of 30 should even know. Grammy viewers get LL Cool J, an awesome figure in pop, Latin Grammy viewers get an embarrassing animal-killing singer and a sellout actor. (Now, if Walter Mercado hosted either awards show, I would tape my eyelids open and watch the entire thing on repeat).

The Latin Grammys will continue to shamelessly peddle their stale roster of preferred artists.

At its core, the Latin Grammys have always been an off-season Premios Lo Nuestro with a heavy dash of Premios TVyNovelas. This is made clear by the fact that the telecast will often feature telenovela actors – either as announcers, hosts, or fashion critics – more so than musicians. Obviously what mostly matters here is Univision’s agenda, not any recognition of real creativity, but maybe we should be okay with that? Not because it’s right, of course, but because Univision – and by extension the Latin Grammys – has never given us any indication that they care about taste or integrity. If anything, they’re just being consistent.