10 Gringo Billboard Pop Hits Inspired By Our Cultures

Lead Photo: speaks during the 23rd annual American Cinematheque show honoring Samuel L. Jackson held at Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 1, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California.
speaks during the 23rd annual American Cinematheque show honoring Samuel L. Jackson held at Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 1, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California.
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Remember in the late 90s/early 2000s when it seemed like every pop act was recording Spanish-language versions of their music? So do we. I may or may not still know every word and vocal run on Christina Aguilera’s “Mi Reflejo,” as anyone who has ever gone to karaoke with me can regrettably confirm. In the spirit of premature 7th grade nostalgia, I decided to take a look back at 15 years of Billboard Hot 100 lists – 1997 to 2011 – to see how many songs cater to and/or were inspired by Latinos.

To be clear, I’m not necessarily referring to songs by Latino artists that made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. I’m talking about artists who decided it was about time they release a song in Spanish, borrow from Latin music genres, or sing about subjects near and dear to Latinos’ hearts. I then narrowed that list of songs down to a top 10 because I don’t have time to write something longer than that and you probably don’t have time to read it. In fact, if you even made it this far into this article, kudos to you.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 Latino-inspired songs from 15 years worth of Billboard Hot 100 lists (in chronological order):


1997: “Guantanamera” by Wyclef Jean feat. Lauryn Hill (& Celia Cruz)

I’ll be honest, I have a few quibbles with this song/video. First of all, the idea that someone would actually name their daughter “Guantanamera” is a little ridiculous. Not completely out of the question, because North West, but ridiculous nonetheless. Second of all, I can’t help but beef with that period of time in pop culture when every single woman we were supposed to recognize as Latina got dressed up as a pseudo-flamenco dancer (THAT FLOWER). With that said, if Celia, one of Latin music’s most respected vocalists of all time, gives you her blessing for this track, then I guess you aight. Plus I’ll love Lauryn forever no matter how crazy she gets.

Wyclef Jean – Guantanamera by lilmarcus


1998: “Miami” by Will Smith

Will Smith may shout out “all ages and races/Real sweet faces/Every different nation,” in this song, but Latinos get that extra love. Spanglish lyrics? Check. Numerous references – albeit somewhat stereotypical – to Latin women (see: “mamis,” “Dominican women with cinammon tans”)? Check. Eva Mendes cameo in the video? Check. On an unrelated note: if you go to Miami for Spring Break your senior year of college and drive around the same downtown block over and over blasting this song with the top down, just know that literally no one will find this amusing but you. I won’t reveal how I know this, but it’s definitely not from a personal experience I had in March of 2008.


1999: “Mambo No. 5″ by Lou Bega

In the year that Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Enrique Iglesias were all getting heavy radioplay and charting all over the Hot 100, Lou Bega decided to get in on the action. From his song’s title, to its syncopated rhythms, to a video that seeks to recreate the aesthetic of 1950s Cuban night clubs where mambo was popularized, the Latino stamp is all over this. So much so, that I literally thought Lou Bega was Latino until I wiki’d him today and discovered that he is “a German musician of Italian and Ugandan descent.” The more you know.


2000: “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” by 98 Degrees

Without the music video and the random spoken interlude to provide contextual clues, there is pretty much no clear reason why part of this song’s chorus is in Spanish. After watching the video, I can only conclude that an arousing game of five-on-one hide and seek amongst generic Central American ruins caused all members of 98 Degrees to fall in love with a señorita que no habla inglés. Unfortunately, no one but Nick Lachey brought their A Game (white linen pants) so we all know who’s going to get the girl. I’d say staging a fake abduction in a region known to struggle with violent crime is a weirdly intense way to deal with a friend who made out with the girl you like, but with lyrics like “your existence makes me wild,” 98 Degrees clearly has no chill whatsoever. No pun intended.


2001: “Yo Te Voy A Amar” by ‘N Sync

Okay fine, technically only the English version of this song – “This I Promise You” – charted on the Hot 100. But hearing Justin Timberlake sing in Spanish had a similar effect on me as the discovery that my boo Ryan Gosling can dance salsa, so I broke my own rules and included this one. Plus I love ‘N Sync for deciding they were going to up and start recording songs in Spanish just because – a move Beyonce later took a cue from in 2007. The video below is from ‘N Sync’s performance at the 2001 Latin Grammys. You could also watch the official music video they made for the English version of the song, but a better idea is to simply read Wikipedia’s amazing summary: “The video, directed by Dave Meyers, shows the group clad in turtlenecks singing in a forest, with different shots of different love relationships being shown in bubbles floating around the forest.”

Man, I miss 2001.


2002: “Señorita” by Justin Timberlake

In case I wasn’t already clear about this, Justin can get it. I’ll ignore the fact that the video is basically just an excuse for him to grind up on a bunch of women in hot pants. There are literally no other men on that dance floor until he suddenly needs them for the call and response section of the song.  Is this a Zumba class? I think Justin is teaching a Zumba class in this video.


2004: “Dip It Low” by Christina Milian

Given that half of my family is Peruvian, I grew up listening to a fair amount of huayno, a genre of Andean music popular in Peru. So the very first time I heard “Dip It Low,” I immediately recognized the charango and huayno rhythms in the background and assumed the Andino vibe was intentional. Turns out this was not the case; Christina Milian, who had the misfortune of not being Peruvian (she’s Cuban-American), wasn’t able to recognize the uncredited huayno sample her producer looped to make the entire background of this track. As a result, she wound up embroiled in a massive lawsuit and had to pay the plaintiffs over $1 million. Accidental or not, this song gets points for bringing Andean music to the ears of U.S. listeners who would probably have never heard it otherwise.


2005: “Que Onda Guero” by Beck

So this song actually hasn’t ranked on any Billboard list. Don’t you love it how I make rules and then repeatedly break them? I felt justified including it on this list because the album the song appears on, Guero ranked near the top of the Billboard Hot 200 and also because this song is just the jam. Rife with references to the Chicano culture and expressions that permeate Beck’s native Los Angeles, this song is probably the only one on the list that actually conveys a familiarity with aspects of Latino culture beyond popular signifiers. Also I will never get tired of singing along to “Andale joto, your popsicle’s melting.”


2010: “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga

After years of exotifying Latin women in music, finally someone came along to flip the script. Never mind that the song doesn’t really make sense – what matters here is the Latin-Man-Roll-Call Lady Gaga recites in her chorus (Alejandro, Fernando, Roberto) – men she characterizes as “hot like Mexico.” Still vaguely offensive? Maybe. But I maintain it’s a nice change of pace from all the mamis & señorita cliches populating the U.S. pop landscape. Now enjoy the recycled Ace of Base/Madonna chune below:


2011: “You and Tequila” by Kenny Chesney feat. Grace Potter

This song is on the list for the sheer fact that its existence would not be possible without the most Mexican drink around: Tequila. Also because I have a soft spot for country, naysayers be damned. That’s all I have to say about it.