As the Grammy Awards approach, we are once again looking at the possibility of a ceremony devoid of Latin performers. In the past, this has been attributed to various factors: lack of compelling nominees with crossover appeal, artist unavailability, lack of lobbying from Latin labels and management, and increasing apathy from a Latin community that feels distanced from the Grammy process. Last, but not least, many believe the growth of the Latin Grammys has resulted in the Recording Academy's plunge in interest for the Latin categories. After all, why focus on Latin performers when they have their own three-hour show to shine?
But if this is the status quo, then the status quo must change.
Hispanics are the largest minority in the country, and growing. Combine that with their increasing presence and influence on pop culture, and it makes a Latin absence on the Grammys anachronistic and simply not savvy from a business and ratings standpoint.
Mainstream TV is already attuned to this. Witness the success of "Modern Family" and star Sofia Vergara, the highest-paid actress on TV. Or witness Jennifer Lopez's stint as a judge on "American Idol," or Shakira's upcoming stint on "The Voice."
What then, has happened with the Grammys? The last memorable Latin appearance on a mainstream Grammys show was Ricky Martin's groundbreaking bilingual performance of "The Cup of Life" in 1999. Since then, Lopez and Marc Anthony duetted in 2005 in a dated bedroom scene reminiscent of an '80s telenovela, Shakira and Wyclef Jean performed together in 2007, and there's been an occasional Latin presenter. There have been few others. And few Latin awards have been given out on the air.
The lack of an on-camera presence is demoralizing for the industry, so much so that many major Latin acts don't even bother attending the Grammys anymore.
Academy president Neil Portnow recognizes a desire for diverse acts within the constraints of a TV show. "Every year, we approach the telecast as a fresh canvas, and it's always a challenge to recognize as many genres as we might like," he says. "This isn't just a music show, it's also a TV show‹so striking the right balance is consistently a challenge." But the Grammys continue to be hugely important for Latin acts, particularly today when many of those acts are U.S.-born and -raised or their success has deep ties with the United States. This year's list of nominees, for example, include Gerardo Ortíz (up for best regional Mexican album), whose fan base is decidedly bilingual and bicultural; international star Juanes (best Latin pop album); and Romeo Santos (best tropical album). Last year, Bronx-born Santos also won an MTV Video Music Award and a Billboard Latin Music Award (top Latin album). The notion that there's no way to make any of these acts palatable to a mainstream Grammy audience, which was 11.2% Hispanic last year (according to Nielsen), is hard to fathom.
"If we were able to pull off the American Grammy, it would be the icing on the cake," says Johnny Marines, manager of Santos, whose camp has made overtures to Grammy show producers.
Portnow says there are still plenty of performer and presenter slots to be filled, "so stay tuned."