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Latine Music Is Pop Music – It’s Time the Industry Recognizes That

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.

On Nov. 10, the 2024 Grammy nominations were announced, and shockingly, there was a serious lack of Latine names in the running. With the exception of Ice Spice, the main categories failed to recognize artists such as Karol G or Peso Pluma, even if they had an incredible year by any standard. More telling, the Academy included a note saying that less than 40 albums were submitted to the Best Música Urbana category, yielding only three nominees, a number that seems ludicrous. This news shines a light on a larger problem the industry has — the systematic exclusion of Latine music from the broader pop discourse when, in fact, Latine music is pop music.

Considering the current music climate, it might be surprising for many readers to know about a recent narrative that pop music is in crisis in 2023. This sentiment is reflected in articles in different publications, such as industry bible Billboard and UK fashion magazine Dazed, which have reflected an idea about the lack of actual pop stars, especially new ones, that can be found on the charts, radio, and streaming, and the danger that it might become a genre of the past. Particularly, it acknowledges that Latine music, along with “other” genres like K-pop, afrobeat, and country, has taken over and replaced pop, leaving the ecosystem without any recognizable faces. An anonymous record executive is quoted in the Billboard article as saying: “There are artists breaking. It’s just that they’re in different genres, not typical pop.” Even if we overlook the racist overtones in this line of thought — which, frankly, is off the charts — the idea that Latine music doesn’t belong in the popular music environment is deeply ignorant of its history and could be damaging for it in the long run.

The problem laid out by this narrative stems from a very narrow and uninformed idea of what pop music is and what pop stars look like. According to the articles cited, the idea of pop music as a genre seems to refer only to R&B-tinged, electronic-based dance music with the occasional acoustic ballad; think Britney, Rihanna, and yes, Taylor Swift. One could make the argument that this sound has changed very little in the past 25 years or so, but it only takes into account a very particular genre. It’s not accurate to not consider hip-hop as a dominant pop sound, to mention but one genre. 

Indeed, as the Dazed article notes, there are artists playing this aforementioned pop sound without topping the charts, noting acts like Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more. There are also Latine artists within this style, including Danna Paola, Emilia, Tini, Kenia Os, and many others. Perhaps it’s telling that the evolution of pop went through from the ‘50s to the ‘90s — Elvis, The Beatles, disco, Madonna, etc. — was due to constant fusion with other sounds and changes in recording technology to reflect the times more accurately. Pop should perhaps be open again to such conversation with “other” genres rubbing elbows with it in the charts.

To argue that Latine music in 2023 is only a niche market is just plain wrong, and you only need to look at the numbers. Bad Bunny has been the world’s most streamed artist in the past three years. His Un Verano Sin Ti tour was the top tour of 2022, a feat that Swift will no doubt match with her 2023 Eras Tour, which puts Benito in the same conversation as her and positions him far from an outlier. Among the 50 most streamed artists at the moment, we can also find Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, Karol G, Anuel AA, Rauw Alejandro, Shakira, and Selena Gomez. As far as the charts go, in 2023, Billboard’s general “pop” chart, the Hot 100, has seen many Latine tracks crack the top 10, including “BZRP Music Sessions Vol. 53” by Shakira and Bizarrap, “TQG” by Karol G and Shakira, “Calm Down” by afrobeat artist Rema in collaboration with Gomez, “Ella Baila Sola” by Eslabón Armado and Peso Pluma, “Un x100to” by Grupo Frontera and Bad Bunny, and “Monaco” by Bad Bunny. To argue that all this isn’t part of the pop conversation is an attempt to keep Latine music — among other genres made by non-white or white-approved artists — in its own corner.

This practice isn’t new for the record industry. After first publishing the chart under the name Harlem Hit Parade in 1942, Billboard renamed it Race Records from 1945 to 1949, using an older marketing term for the Black American market to separate it from the general public. Since the term was coined in the 1920s, white audiences would consume this music, so in 1949, Billboard renamed the chart again, this time to Rhythm and Blues (this chart later evolved into what is now Hot R&B/Hip-Hop). 

As recently as the ‘80s, Black artists, including some that we now consider indisputable pop titans, had to fight for their place in the genre. In 1983, Michael Jackson and his record company, CBS, had to throw their power into the industry to get MTV to play the video for “Billie Jean,” becoming the first Black artist to enter the channel’s regular rotation just as it became central to the music industry. Even after that, hip-hop took a while to be a regular fixture on the station until the premiere of Yo! MTV Raps in 1988. When we take all this into account, history seems to repeat itself with Latine artists while also acknowledging that the industry — including the Latine side of it — still misrepresents and limits the presence of Black Latines.

When we take all this into account, history seems to repeat itself with Latine artists while also acknowledging that the industry — including the Latine side of it — still misrepresents and limits the presence of Black Latines.

And Latine music and pop have never been mutually exclusive — Latine people’s history in the pop world is long. From dance crazes of the early to mid-20th century like mambo, rhumba, and cha cha cha, Latine music has been present in the popular imagination. Artists such as Santana, José Feliciano, and Gloria Estefan have had strong chart presence even into the new millennium, with the latter topping the Hot 100 on three occasions. The so-called Latin Boom of the late ‘90s into the mid-’00s had Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira become integral to the era’s music, along with hip-hop, boy bands, and pop princesses. After the ascent of Bad Bunny, Cardi B, J Balvin, and more in the late-2010s, the permanence of Latines is harder to shun away from the pop world.

Attitudes against Latine music, K-pop, and afrobeat becoming the new pop are counterproductive. History has shown that embracing diversity in music is not only essential but also transformative. As proven when Black artists finally made their full stake at pop dominance, which not only made the form more interesting but propelled it to new heights. Likewise, once dembow and corridos tumbados, as well as any other innovative sounds to come, become an integral part of the pop world, the music will allow for more opportunities, artistry, and evolution. We’ve seen it time and again, as recently as when Drake and Beyoncé reclaimed the house music space.  

Letting go of what pop stars look like is essential for the music to preserve itself and become even bigger. The narrow perspective on what constitutes pop music — as evidenced in award ceremonies, trade pages, and general discourse — reveals a need for a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of what “pop” is. 

It’s time for the industry to stop repeating history, embrace the ever-expanding contributions of Latine artists, and engage in conversations that redefine and expand the boundaries of pop music. In doing so, we can foster a more dynamic and representative musical landscape that will give us the artists and hit songs that we need right now.