Latin music danced in 2010. It was a year of upbeat songs in which urban, tropical and pop music came together as never before, whether in collaboration by stars from historically segmented Latin genres or mixes from young artists built on bachata and other traditionally tropical rhythms.
Enrique Iglesias and Juan Luis Guerra had the No. 1 song on Billboard's year-end Hot Latin Songs chart with the breezy, bachata-tinged "Cuando Me Enamoro," while Shakira stepped further onto the dancefloor on tracks with Calle 13 and Dominican rapper El Cata. Daddy Yankee sought world domination with a global club sound that freely mixes vocoder with Caribbean beats, while Wisin & Yandel continued to chart the more seductive side of reggaetón. "Niña Bonita" by Venezuelans Chino y Nacho, who describe their sound as music of the Caribbean meets rhythm of the city, and Prince Royce's bachata version of "Stand by Me" were instant hits.
By December, these kinds of fusions had heated up Latin radio so much that four of the top five Hot Latin Songs were dance tracks with some mix of urban, tropical and pop, edging out the dominant regional Mexican music. With a collage of elements that mirrors the year's general dance pop music trend while incorporating distinctly Latin sounds and Spanish lyrics, it's music that's courting the mainstream while still resonating with young Latinos.
"All Hispanic kids no matter what their background are buying into it," says producer Sergio George, whose Top Stop Music propelled Bronx-based newcomer Royce from an underground, baseball cap-wearing bachata artist to a well-dressed performer at the Latin Grammy Awards. His track "Stand by Me" was one of 2010's freshest Latin songs, landing at No. 16 on the year-end Hot Latin Songs chart, and his current single, "Corazon Sin Cara," reached No. 4 on the Dec. 11 weekly list.
"Whether they're Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, they don't care any more where the music's from," George says. "They're all listening to American music, first of all. These are fourth-generation Hispanic kids, they're American kids. Most of them were born and raised here. So they want to be hip but they still want to retain their culture, with the [Spanish] language. And as long as it's something that's cool, hip and danceable, they're seeing it as theirs."
During the last decade Latin pop stars became more international, while reggaetóneros created a market for urban Latin music. This year saw the solidification of an emerging trend in which they found common ground on a foundation of tropical music. Walter Kolm, president of Universal Music Latino and its successful urban label Machete, says it's natural that urban rhythm artists, who by the end of the decade had hit a wall commercially and creatively with reggaetón's dembow rhythm, started sweetening their sound with more diverse tropical beats.
"They are young artists from the Caribbean that were raised on tropical music and it is a very natural thing for them to incorporate these elements," Kolm says. "The majority of reggaetón artists are tropical at heart. As the genre has grown, artists have become bolder and more adventurous in how deeply they venture into these fusions, and in doing so have expanded their appeal onto a more mainstream consumer."
While the biggest urban stars, like Daddy Yankee and Don Omar, have emerged from the reggaetón box combining tropical rhythms with a sci-fi style that owes a debt to hip-hop, a new breed of urban romantics in fashion-conscious clothes have revealed the soft side of macho in dance ballads, crying over their girlfriends in telenovela-like videos.
Flex, with his Panamanian "romantic style," and Tito "El Bambino" are models for this kind of streetwise Latin idol. And of course it's the heartthrobs in Aventura-whose "The Last" is the No. 1-selling release on the year-end Top Latin Albums chart for the second consecutive year-who have turned bachata from a Dominican barrio sound into the music of Pan-Latino youth. In collaborating with urban acts on dance-friendly, tropical-flavored tracks, Latin pop stars are playing to Latino youth while keeping step with a wider audience.
"There are a lot of superstars in Latin music that are pushing the boundaries and making great music," Kolm says.