Latin music has truly come to stay, worldwide and in the States. The catch-all genre has been making historic growth over the past decade, and now we have the numbers to prove it.
According to a new Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) report issued on March 12, Latin music revenue in the US soared with a huge 35.1% increase to $886.1 million — its highest figure in history.
The number is significantly higher than the overall average growth as per the year-end report -- 22%. Now, the annual revenue will only have to rise by a further 12.9% to hit the coveted billion-dollar mark. This feat can be ruled as more than likely, as the genre has seen a growth of 19.6% in 2020 and 28.5% in 2019.
RIAA COO Michele Ballantyne said in their 2021 report:
“In a year when Bad Bunny was the most-streamed artist in the world, stars like Becky G and Anitta pumped out chart topping hit after chart topping hit, and audiences joyfully flocked to Latin-powered stadium and arena shows as live performance ramped back up, Latin label teams and artists continue soaring to new heights.”
How has Latin music achieved this mammoth feat? We take a trip down memory lane to find out.
The rise of Latin music: From exotic soundscape to global phenomenon
What, barring the insufferable Baby Shark, is the most-viewed song on YouTube? It is Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, with 7.8 billion views. This was the first modern breakout crossover hit of the 'Latin Invasion', which has since given us Mi Gente, La Fama, Chantaje and many more hits.
While astronomical success across the States may have been recent for Latin music, it has forever held an influence over popular music. Argentine tango was the go-to as an alternative to the big bands in the '30s, along with the samba, pasodoble, rhumba, and mambo popping up via lyrics, instruments and one-off artists.
Latin America was the only part of the world not directly involved in the Second World War, and it provided sunny escapism to the harrowed countries. Soon, the 'Spanish tinge' was evident in songs by stalwarts like Chuck Berry (in Havana Moon) and Judy Garland (in La Cucaracha). And just like Tex-Mex cuisine, the community was also engrossed in Tex-Mex fusion music.
The 'Latin Explosion'
The 1990s saw the advent of the 'Latin Explosion' with Tejano Cumbia queen Selena leading the charge.
Ricky Martin ushered in the era of La Copa de la Vida, when he was chosen to write a tune for the 1998 soccer World Cup. The standing ovation he got for the English version of the song, titled The Cup Of Life, heralded a revolution. Martin's next album, now in English, would go on to become 7X Platinum and sell 22 million copies worldwide.
As the 2000s rolled in, Sean Paul and Daddy Yankee brought the quirky energy of reggae to American shores as well, with their catchy ad-libs and thumping beats to earworm tunes that persist in nostalgic playlists to this day. Songs like Temperature, Gasolina and Macarena are a staple in party playlists even today.
A star that deserves special mention for her mammoth crossover success is Shakira, having become synonymous with English-language Latin music in the 2000s. While her American crossover didn't win crazy critical acclaim, Shakira was able to embrace both sides of the equator with equal aplomb. She still releases both Spanish and English records to the day.
The 2010s renaissance
The past decade has seen a lot of mainstream pop acts such as Ed Sheeran, Sia and Major Lazer use Latin influences such as the Tresillo rhythm in blockbuster tunes like Shape Of You, Cheap Thrills and Cold Water respectively. Subgenres like Tropical House and Dancehall began to pop up in the works of Rihanna (via her album ANTI) and Justin Bieber (via his album Purpose) in the mid-2010s.
And it was Bieber whose English remix of Despacito gave it a global limelight after the song had brewed just under the radar for three months. But as soon as it did, Despacito became the song of the summer. Reggaeton, a genre fusing Latin music and hip-hop, made a grand entrance in the US.
Today, eight of the ten highest-viewed music videos on YouTube feature Spanish artists. A host of Latino musicians and producers have found crossover success and top-billed collaborations. In fact, Selena Gomez and Camilla Cabello, two of today's biggest pop stars, have embraced their Hispanic roots in their latest projects.
In the statement at the beginning, Ballantyne has continued:
“RIAA is proud to celebrate the cultural power and creative and commercial success of Latin music reflected in this report — and salutes the incredibly talented artists and label teams that gave us so much in 2021.”
Globalization and universal connection have given Latin music a unique lease of life, which it doesn't seem to be ready to lose any time soon. With their infectious grooves and natural-sounding beats, the sounds of Latinos are getting the spotlight they deserve.