Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them

Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them

Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them

 

 

Many of the stars taking the stage at Thursday’s Latin Grammys will be familiar not just to fans of Latin pop but to most consumers of American pop culture.

For decades, well-established Latin artists rerecorded their music in English and made other adjustments to cross over into the American mainstream. Now, Latin pop artists like J Balvin and Bad Bunny grace the covers of major magazines and appear on late night talk shows without changing their music — English-speaking listeners are instead crossing over to them.

 

Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them
Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them

“You go to Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and every week almost there’s a Latin artist performing in Spanish. And it’s perfectly normalized,” says Leila Cobo, author of “Decoding ‘Despacito’: An Oral History of Latin Music.”

“That just is an example of how popular the music has gotten and the fact that now it’s regarded as mainstream pop not just niche music.”
As many of these artists prepare to take the stage at the Latin Grammys on Thursday, here’s a look back at how Latin pop music — with influences from reggaeton to cumbia to bachata — became the cultural force that it is today.

Latin artists have been crossing over for decades

Perhaps the first Latin artist to “cross over” was Dámaso Pérez Prado in the 1950s, says Cobo.
The Cuban band leader, pianist and arranger rose to fame in Mexico for playing mambos and other Latin rhythms and soon became the label RCA Victor’s biggest artist in the Latin American market, Cobo writes in her book. After a version of Pérez Prado’s “Que Rico el Mambo” recorded by American big band leader Sonny Burke became a hit in the US, the label moved Pérez Prado from its international division and began promoting him in the American pop market.
Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them
Latin artists once had to cross over to achieve global success. Now listeners are crossing over to them
“They discovered this guy whose music was very popular around the world and in the States, and they said, ‘Well, why don’t we treat him as if he were an American artist instead of treating him as if he were a Latin American artist only for Latin America?” Cobo says.
From there, his popularity exploded, Cobo writes in her book. He launched a US tour, selling out concerts across the country. With songs such as “Mambo No. 5,” “Cherry Pink (And Apple Blossom White)” and “Patricia,” he helped popularize the mambo across North America, reaching Latin and non-Latin audiences alike.
Over the decades, there were some similar crossover success stories. Ritchie Valens made the Mexican folk song “La Bamba” a hit on the US charts in the late 1950s. Miami Sound Machine, the band fronted by Gloria Estefan, recorded a number of English-language albums in the ’80s. Spanish singer Julio Iglesias would go on to record songs with Willie Nelson, Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra, among others. But these examples were anomalies, according to Cobo.
“Coming from Latin America and singing in Spanish was still a little bit strange and not common for the mainstream, even though it was happening everywhere,” she adds.
All that changed in the late ’90s with the arrival of the so-called “Latin Explosion.”

The ’90s turned the crossover into a movement

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