What's Behind the Drought of Current Latina Superstars?
Latin music has long been dominated by male artists, and, oddly, during the past few years their sway has increased. There hasn't been a single female voice on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart for the past 21 weeks, and no female lead artist has been No. 1 in three years. And while nine female acts have topped the Latin albums chart since 2010, all of them, except for Jenni Rivera's daughter Chiquis, are veterans like Shakira and Thalia; two of them, Selena and Jenni Rivera, charted posthumously.
So why is the gender gap bigger than ever in 2015?
"Latina artists are definitely breaking boundaries, but not in the Latin market," says Gloria Trevi, who in September became only the second female act to have a No. 1 album in 2015, out of a total of 22. "After all the hard work of recording an album, you have to work even harder. Media is not simple anymore: We depend on word-of-mouth, Facebook, Twitter, streaming services. In the American market, new generations are leading and there's huge female presence."
Musical trends also have shifted: Regional Mexican banda and urban-leaning pop acts like Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam largely have displaced more traditional pop from the Latin charts. "There are few women in urban music and banda, and those are the Latin genres that are dominating radio," says Universal Music Latin president Victor Gonzalez.
Yet perhaps most of all, the traditional diva model of the Latin female star has not adapted to changes in the U.S. demographic. Paulina Rubio, traditionally a chart powerhouse, failed to climb beyond No. 42 on the Latin Airplay chart with her latest single, "Mi Nuevo Vicio." The challenge, many insiders agree, is finding artists who will connect with that elusive U.S. Latin, bilingual, bicultural female fan.
The potential is becoming increasingly clear in the English-language marketplace with social media-savvy acts like Becky G and Fifth Harmony, both of whom have sizable Latin followings -- not to mention Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez.
Pointing out the anomalies of the time, the first female solo act besides Shakira to crack the top 10 on the Latin Digital Songs chart in 22 weeks is Mexican alternative songstress Carla Morrison, who defies many Latina singer stereotypes. "I've never been one to seek recognition in a supposed man's world," she says. "I do my job, which is to hopefully change hearts and minds. I hope my fellow female artists see it from a similar perspective."
This article was originally published in the Oct. 3 issue of Billboard.