For fans of Latin music, 2023 is a time of sweet vindication. If mega-stars like Bad Bunny, KAROL G and J Balvin had already turned the sounds of Latin America into a global phenomenon with record breaking numbers across streaming services, this year the growth continues unwavered with the addition of a música mexicana boom attracting new listeners from all regions of the world.
In 2022, the consumption of Latin music in the U.S. hit a record high of $1.1 billion. According to the RIAA, 2023 will be even bigger, with a mid-year report of $627 million signaling a 15 percent growth. In 2022, el conejo malo became the most-streamed artist on Spotify for the third consecutive year.
But what will the future look like? Are the rootsy música Mexicana grooves here to stay? Will the ubiquitous reggaetón beat become a thing of the past? Are there any new trends in the making?
Read on for a roundtable discussion with tastemakers and executives who help us define and interpret the present and future of Latin music.
Besides the obvious reasons — the music being irresistible — why do you think the sounds coming from Latin America have captured the imagination of the entire planet?
Diana Rodríguez (CEO, Criteria Entertainment): The rhythm, the fusion. The surprise. It’s music that makes you want to move. It follows no rules, has a strong sense of its own roots, and blurs the boundaries of genre demographics. Many Latin hits are also catchy and easy to digest. In a world full of war, inflation and depression, music allows us to escape.
Sebastián Krys (Producer, Elvis Costello, Juanes, Alejandro Sanz): I think it’s because it’s not far removed from the root — there’s still some folklore hidden in there. In popular Western music, most new artists have no idea where they came from, musically or culturally. That’s not the case with many Latin artists.
Leticia Ramírez (Associate Director, Latin Content and Programming, Pandora): The songs by Latin artists making waves across the globe have highly emotional messages that are relatable to large populations. Recently, we are seeing more artists touring outside of Latin America, strengthening their connection with fans.
Tomás Cookman (Founder, Nacional Records): I think the spirit, style and quality of the music coming out of Latin America — and Latin artists in the U.S. — is on par with the mainstream. A great KAROL G track is just a great track that happens to be performed in Spanish. The new wave of Latin hits can hold its own against any other Top 10 song.
Music is so immediate and widely shared now that many of the hitmakers around the world are being impacted by the same influences at the same time.
Anchoring a hooky pop song on a reggaetón beat is quite common. Will the reggaetón aesthetic be a thing of the past? Or will it remain a basic component of the Latin music DNA?
Walter Kolm (Founder and CEO of WK Entertainment and WK Records): Reggaetón will never be a thing of the past, simply because it keeps evolving. That basic dembow beat has extremely strong roots in various other genres. It will keep mutating, and it remains to be seen what the new reggaetón will sound like in the near future.
Rodríguez: The reggaetón aesthetic is not outdated at all — as a Latin programmer, I come across these sounds every day. It may seem that way now that industry headlines are focusing on música mexicana — however, reggaetón is still very much alive.
Cookman: Reggaetón is always going to be with us, just as dancehall was before reggaetón. It’s an irresistible beat, but one of the keys to its continued success is the consistency of the genre’s songwriters. At the core of these hits are well written songs.
Reggaetón is here for the foreseeable future — but it may evolve into slightly altered forms. It will be different from other musical movements — like ‘70s disco, for instance — as it is hard to remember the lyrical side of most disco hits from that era.
Rodríguez: Because of its natural DNA, reggaetón allowed itself to merge with other genres, thus extending what could have been its natural life cycle, far beyond anyone’s predictions. Reggaetón may have reached a point of saturation. The demand that made it a global success is now decreasing, and it remains to be determined what exactly will take its place in the market.
Is the current fascination with the likes of música Mexicana superstars like Grupo Frontera a fad? Do you think música mexicana will become an international phenomenon like the urbano movement?
Rodríguez: It was long overdue for música mexicana to impact the market globally. Just like country, it has a fanbase that not only streams the songs, but also fuels the box office, merchandising and physical formats. I’m surprised it took this long. Maybe it needed reggaetón to open up the doors to a wider market? Who knows!
Krys: I don’t think it’s a fad, but I do believe they have an uphill battle, mainly because it’s not dance driven. When you can dance to the music, the language becomes irrelevant. Corridos tumbados are lyric-driven, so the connection will be harder to make. Not impossible, just harder.
Rodríguez: We have a new generation of artists who are able to adapt and represent their musical movement at a faster pace. Right now we are able to look at fads much earlier than before. I think this genre will evolve and take shape in different ways — but its core will always be traced back to the root of Mexican sounds. That blend will be attractive to audiences that aren’t as familiar with the movement’s traditions.
What about traditional pop-rock? Can that format survive the radical changes that Latin music experienced during the past 20 years?
Kolm: If you analyze the evolution of music throughout the decades, you will see that the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth between different styles. The time will come when traditional pop-rock will be back on top. Much like reggaetón and música Mexicana, it will evolve and fuse with other genres.
Cookman: There will always be space for a Juanes track, or the next generation of Juaneses. Pop-rock is not going away — if anything, I believe we will be hearing more guitars in the near future. Maybe not the cliché rock guitars that pop up at times, but real honestly indie pop-rock artists that are already making noise in markets across Latin America, and even in places like Texas.
Latin music is populated by thousands of indie artists who are recording beautiful albums at home. Sadly, their business model is not sustainable. What will happen to those indie creatives? Will music become an expensive hobby to the majority of emerging artists?
Krys: I don’t think there are thousands of artists recording beautiful albums. Most of them are dreadful — indie or otherwise. I think creators need to value their work a bit more. Right now, most people making music are creating “content,” which is disposable. Make art, and the conversation changes.
Cookman: I think it is fair to say that some of the recent success stories… and the wave of trap artists that emerged from Argentina are all stemming from the same humble starting points. What propelled these artists above the others is that they had the right sound at the right time. After some initial traction, there were enough people that came to their aid and helped them to rise up.
At the end of the day, if you’re doing something special, with a bit of luck and good timing, folks will come to your circle. It’s like the small taco stand that always has a long line. Somehow, the mouth to mouth talk brought that long line there.
Rodríguez: Cutting through the noise — in this case, the weekly tsunami of releases — and jumping the hoops is a challenge for any artist. However, there have never been more opportunities to get your music out there and reach an audience. It’s always been a triathlon, rather than a sprint.
Kolm: The odds of making it in this industry remain astronomically low. It is an unwavering conviction and the drive to improve their craft that sets apart the artists that make it. It is their life’s true purpose. I’m also a strong believer that good music will always find its way to the consumers. While the odds have never been favorable to emerging artists, good songs will invariably generate a strong connection.
Any predictions for the next couple of years? Is there a particular scene in Latin America that you are excited about?
Rodríguez: Aside from regional Mexican? I believe lyrics are making a big comeback, through a new generation of bigger and bolder songwriters who have something to say across all genres and formats.
Krys: There is going to be a revival of songs, of poetry. I’m a little tired of the second grade level of most lyrics, and I’m not the only one. There’s a wonderful scene of highly creative singer/songwriters about to emerge.
Cookman: I feel there is a new wave of artists influenced by hip-hop. Artists like Trueno are making music that will resonate for years to come. I also see a renaissance of rock artists coming out of the woodwork and doing special things. At the major festivals in Latin America, the programming is more varied than ever. This is healthy, as it can have a positive influence on the new generation of creatives.