From Enrique Iglesias to ‘Despacito’ – The Prevailing Popularity of Latin Music in the Top 40

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Remember ‘Despacito’? The expression of distaste that would automatically show on peoples faces when the flamenco-esque guitar commenced and the far too desperate claims of everybody ‘hating’ the song, which was a total lie. People were most definitely listening to that song and were captured by the exoticisms of the record, which being British with zero culture and traditions compared to Latin America is hardly surprising. But why, if people constantly denied their enjoyment of the genre, does Latin music prove to be so popular? Is it cultural appropriation and the romanticising of Latin America, or is it the celebration and enjoyment of the catchy upbeat vibe that has given it a worldwide recognition for being the ultimate mood booster?

One of the most important narratives in pop culture has been the emergence of Latin music as a potent force in the top Billboard 40. Between 2016 and 2018 there was a massive influx of Spanish-language entries to the top 40, with numbers rocketing from a measly 4 to an astounding 19. After years of being a genre that has been wrongfully overlooked, Latin music is now getting the streaming boost it deserves. Once where there was only heart-throb Enrique Iglesias and Colombian Shakira as worldwide sensations; there are now artists like Boy Pablo, Daddy Yankee and J Balvin creating Spanglish lyrics, which have proven to systematically appeal to the masses, and in doing so, streaming content of Latin music saw huge inflation. Streaming platforms have taken the popularity boom of Latin music into their own hands and created playlists specifically tailored to the obsession of Latin music (many of which appear in my own Spotify library). The streaming infrastructure of these particular playlists, which enabled the achievement of remarkable success, separates the music industry from this moment from what came before. Streaming services are now more popular than individual album purchases meaning that Spotify’s Baila Reggaetón and Viva Latino! can almost single-handedly create hits in the US. The way in which we listen to music, and how music charts, has changed dramatically.

Although there’s an extensive amount of Latin pop at our hands there are still, unsurprisingly, countless sub-genres waiting to be explored and climb their way to the Top 40. Every single Latin hit has either been of the reggaetón or trap genre, that both have extremely urban sounds and overlap each other creating a false security of something familiar and yet cultured, when in fact, other sub-genres of the blanketed term ‘Latin Music’ have complete polar opposite sounds. Spanish born singer and composer, Julio Iglesias, is recognised as one of the most commercially successful continental European singers and composers in the world, and one of the best record sellers in history. Yet, despite his commercial acclaim and success, he’s never held a top 40 spot amongst the reggaetón and trap records. This could purely be because Iglesias’ genre of music doesn’t appeal to the masses and has a niche audience in comparison, yet this leaves other elements of culture in the dark. Trap and reggaetón may be wildly popular and be constantly on the rise as ‘the most popular genres’ of Latin music, yet it doesn’t leave any space of introductory air-time for Electrotango, the Latin Ballad, or even Salsa music.

Sure trap and reggaetón are the mood booster genres that place you on scorching beaches and bring the holiday vibes allowing you to engage with the ideal romantic exoticism of the culture; but what about other genres? There’s so much more out there for people to explore and fall in love with just as much as they have with the ‘popular’ genres and in doing so enjoy and celebrate the culture further.

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classic culture editor 20/21. third year english student with unhealthy shakespeare, hannibal lecter, robert plant and 70s nostalgia obsession.

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