For the second year in a row, Don Omar leads the list of finalists for the Billboard Latin Music Awards, garnering 18 nods, two more than in 2012.
His sustained popularity underscores the increasing importance of digital business to Latin music in general and Don Omar's pull within that realm: He's a finalist in every digital category, including social artist, streaming song, digital song (where he competes against himself) and streaming artist of the year.
The awards honor the most popular albums, songs and performers in Latin music, as determined by the sales, radio airplay, streaming and social data that inform Billboard's weekly charts during a one-year period (this year's spanned Feb. 4, 2012-Jan. 26, 2013).
But Don Omar's encore, coupled with the names of most other big finalists--Romeo Santos, Wisin & Yandel, Prince Royce, Pitbull and 3BallMTY--highlight a Latin music landscape where genre lines have blurred and the new pop is a mix of urban, dance and tropical.
The tendency partly mimics the mainstream, where uptempo dance tracks have largely taken over romantic fare on top 40 radio. But in Latin, that condition has been aggravated with the increasing presence of English tracks on Latin stations. The end result is that traditional Latin pop-from romantic tracks to pop/rock-has been edged off the radio, airplay charts, other promotional platforms and, finally, digital sales charts.
"What we call today 'traditional pop' has been naturally excluded, because pop stations are really playing rhythmic music," Universal Music Latino/Machete managing director Luis Estrada says. Machete is home to Don Omar and Wisin & Yandel, while Universal Music Latino's roster includes Alejandro Sanz, who has only two nods for the Billboard Latin Music Awards, and Grammy Award winner Juanes, who has none.
"It's a problem because clearly audiences still have a strong appetite for pop," Estrada says, noting that Sanz had the top-selling Latin album during the holidays and that both he and Juanes are launching U.S. tours this spring. Also touring U.S. arenas is Ricardo Arjona, who received three award nods despite a string of radio hits that nevertheless couldn't match the clout of acts like Don Omar, Santos or Wisin & Yandel, who play on many more stations.
"Pop artists lack radio because a lot of American and urban music has taken their slots," says George "Pongy" Major, CEO of Promovision Music, whose clients include Tito "El Bambino," Daddy Yankee and Chino & Nacho. This week, for example, there are nine English-language tracks among the top 50 of Billboard's Latin Airplay chart, including EDM act Swedish House Mafia at No. 10 with "Don't You Worry Child." On Latin Pop Airplay, there are 15 English tracks among the top 50. More telling is the Pop Airplay chart's top four slots, which are occupied by artists who are considered primarily urban-Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Wisin & Yandel and Tito "El Bambino"-and who are leading Billboard finalists.
"Reggaeton evolved," Major says. "The artists evolved. They mixed in samba, merengue, tropical. Latin urban music is a fusion of many genres. Daddy Yankee's 'Limbo' is a pop track, even if it's urban."
Which is great, as "Limbo" happens to be a solid hit. But the trend leaves more traditional, romantic pop out to dry. It isn't as big a problem for stars like Sanz, Juanes or Arjona, but for new acts, Major says, it's tough.
"New artists have to really analyze what they're going to record," Major says. "If you tell me I'm going to record someone who sounds like Juan Gabriel and take him to No. 1, wow, that's hard. Today's young listener is not leaning in that direction."
But the listener isn't leaning away from pop either.
At least part of the solution lies in the repertoire. A fresh, rejuvenated brand of pop--like that of Jesse & Joy, who have a sound and a look--can find radio airplay.
And of course, acts like Sanz and Arjona most definitely still have strong album sales.
Beyond trends or taste, pop acts also suffer on the charts because many pop stations predominantly play "recurrents," and so, don't report to the Billboard chart panels. As a result, many new pop tracks that do get airplay on these stations don't get the chart traction.