Commercial Latin music was once synonymous with romantic pop, from ballads to uptempo. Recently, however, the chart has been monopolized by Marc Anthony's return to salsa, bachata stars Romeo Santos and Prince Royce, and urban vet Daddy Yankee. In the past 12 months, only one pop act has reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs: familiar face Enrique Iglesias, who added three songs to his record 22 chart-toppers. But he did so partly by masking his pop roots: "Loco" is a bachata duet featuring Santos; "El Perdedor," which is No. 4, is a romantic cut with Marco Antonio Solis, but its rise was aided by a bachata version favored by tropical and urban stations. Iglesias' cross-genre strategy highlights the struggles that Latin pop faces on U.S. Hispanic radio.
"You absolutely need either a remix or bachata version to reach No. 1," says Alberto del Castillo, founder of noted indie promotion company In-Motion. "Finding a pop format is increasingly difficult."
Ten years ago, the Latin airplay charts were dominated by pop acts like Paulina Rubio and Juanes. But since 2012, the top 10 has been ruled by urban, bachata and tropical. Pop star Luis Fonsi, who holds 10 top 10s on Hot Latin Songs, is failing to crack the top 20 with "Corazon en la Maleta," which stands at No. 23. As a result, he has turned to an urban remix with rapper Wisin. A similar ploy helped Carlos Vives land his last two Latin Airplay No. 1s, "Volvi a Nacer" and "Como le Gusta a Tu Cuervo," featuring remixes with urban acts J Alvarez and Gocho, respectively. Iglesias is currently the only pop artist in the top 10 on Hot Latin Songs.
"This is the toughest I've ever seen it for pop," says Summa Entertainment founder Gabriel Buitrago, who has promoted Iglesias and Vives. He no longer takes on new pop acts as a result: "It's too hard to break through."
Shirking this trend, radio network Spanish Broadcasting System relaunched KXOL (Latino 96.3) Los Angeles on May 16, shifting from urban and bachata to a catch-all approach that will heavily feature pop acts like Iglesias. "It will be the first general-market Spanish-language station in the country," said Bill Shadorf, SBS vp/West Coast market manager, at a May 16 press conference.
If the new Mega 96.3 succeeds, other stations will surely follow. Until then, labels seem to be turning their backs on Latin pop as well. Says Universal music Latino GM Luis Estrada: "We're looking at artists that fit this new cultural reality."