Genre's audience is increasingly young and bicultural but charts don't always reflect that.
For the past several years, the discourse in the Latin entertainment, marketing, advertising, public relations and advertising worlds is that it's a young, bilingual, bicultural world. But while that rhetoric is illustrated by increasingly bilingual, uptempo radio formats, it hasn't necessarily been borne out on the Latin music sales charts.
In fact, an analysis of the 50 top-selling Latin albums of the year for the week ending Sept. 23, compared with the same time period in 2011 and 2007, illustrates a Latin market that has remained remarkably unchanged in the past five years. There's been major development in urban and young-leaning music, very little artist development in the pop sphere and always, a preponderance of regional Mexican music dominated by legacy acts, but always with a few young, emerging acts in the mix.
Despite the overall stability of this year-to-date top 50 list, however, it's remarkable that six of the 10 top-selling albums of the year so far are by young-skewing acts that may sing in Spanish but target young bilinguals: Romeo Santos, Prince Royce, 3BallMTY, Don Omar, Wisin & Yandel and Mexican corrido singer Gerardo Ortiz. This is a breakthrough, and one that could encourage labels to spend more on developing acts. The only legacy pop act in the top 10 list to date, for example, is Ricardo Arjona, while last year, six such acts -- Mana, Cristian Castro, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Camila and Shakira -- were on the top 10 list.
If we go below the top 10, 2012 and 2011 are virtually identical. The genre leading the mix of albums in 2012 is regional Mexican, with 25 titles in the top 50, compared with 26 in 2011. Pop is represented by only eight titles in 2012 compared with 11 in 2011, a reflection of radio stations that are simply not playing new, traditional pop music today. And, surprisingly, rhythmic/urban music (including acts like Tito "El Bambino" and Chino & Nacho, who straddle the tropical world styles) is equally represented, with 13 titles.
However, if we go back to 2007, that's where we find the real movement and the groundwork for what's happening today in the chart's upper echelons. At that time, for the week ending Sept. 23, the top-selling Latin album was Daddy Yankee's "El Cartel", followed by Aventura's "Kings of Bachata". Don Omar's "King of Kings" was No. 8 on the list. But below the top 10, there were a whopping 12 similar titles by the likes of Xtreme, Zion, Rakim & Ken-Y and Calle 13, highlighting a particularly fertile year for both artist development and risk-taking. This was the time, of course, when there were more Latin rhythmic stations playing reggaeton and urban music. But still, there was a sense of excitement and possibility in the marketplace.
We want to think that a little of that spirit is coming back. If we look at the No. 1 hits on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart for the past 18 months, we see an increasing number of new names (3BallMTY, Michel Telo, Gocho, Juan Magan) and many indie labels (Top Stop, Siente, Metamorfosis). We also see a preponderance of collaborations, many with unfamiliar names (El Bebeto, Natti Natasha, America Sierra).
Perhaps we're being overly optimistic or naive, but we see this as a good sign. Perhaps after being careful for the past five years, it's time to take risks. And, judging by who the top-selling acts to date are, there are dividends to be had.