The implications of its absence, however, are more complex. This is especially true at a time when Latinos, the biggest U.S. minority population, are more vocal and relevant than ever. And yet, in pop culture, they continue to be underrepresented.
This past February, for example, USC’s Annenberg School of Communications released a report revealing that although Latinos are nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population, only 5.8 percent of speaking roles in film and television go to them. And generally, Latin artists are also a rarity on late night television, save for Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull.
At the Grammys, there have been only three Spanish-language performances since Ricky Martin brought the house down in 1999 with “The Cup of Life”: Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez singing together in 2005; Juanes performing “Juntos” in 2015; and a bilingual Pitbull medley that included a dancing Sofia Vergara in 2016.
If we go to magazines, according to an article on WWD.com, this September -- the biggest and most important month for women's fashion magazines, which account for millions of readers -- there is only one cover that features a Latin artist or actor: Selena Gomez on InStyle.
So perhaps the omission of "Despacito" from the most important category of the VMAs is just par for the course.
For their part, MTV blamed technicalities and said in a statement provided to the Associated Press that the video has not aired on MTV or MTV2 (it must be submitted formally to air on MTV to be considered for a video award) and that it also hadn’t been submitted for consideration to the VMAs (another requirement for consideration). In turn, UMLE said the channel requested it, but only after the nominations were announced.
Spanish-language videos rarely air on MTV. But the fact that MTV didn’t request the most-watched of all time on YouTube seems like an extraordinary miss, notwithstanding language or policies.
“Does it feel weird? Yes,” one source, who would only speak to Billboard on the condition of anonymity and who is familiar with MTV’s protocols, said about the snub. “Could there be a logical explanation? Yes."
Perhaps it was MTV (along with everyone else) waiting for a video featuring Justin Bieber? Or perhaps it was a genuine mistake? Or, as one executive told Billboard on the condition of anonymity, perhaps it didn’t fit MTV’s “aesthetic” of what it deems cool or hip enough to make the programming cut? Despite repeated requests for comment, MTV wouldn’t provide a response or statement to Billboard.
Since the video is not on rotation on the main MTV channel perhaps that explains why MTV has offered a sort of consolation prize: The song, not the video, will be a contender in the song of the summer category -- though it’s not clear which version of the song, the original or the Bieber-featuring remix.
In the past, MTV hasn't always been remiss when it comes to supporting Latin music and in fact, has been attuned to key moments of Latin music’s cultural impact.
Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca,” which had English and Spanish versions, was nominated multiple times, including for Video of the Year, in 1999 and Martin performed at that year's event. In 2000, Martin was again up for several awards for “Shake Your Bon Bon,” and Jennifer Lopez performed, albeit in English. Though there were no nominations for Latin content in 2001, J-Lo and Shakira presented awards. But the real breakout came in 2002, when both Shakira and Enrique Iglesias were up for multiple awards apiece for “Whenever Wherever” and “Hero,” respectively -- and Iglesias served as a presenter and Shakira performed “Objection.”
Then, in 2005 and 2006, the years that ended up being the apex of Latin music on the VMAs, Shakira was nominated for “La Tortura,” an all-Spanish track that is the second-longest-running No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, featuring Alejandro Sanz. And during that year's show, she performed it with Sanz, one of Latin music’s biggest and most respected stars. Furthermore, as reggaeton was blowing up worldwide, the VMAs acknowledged it with a performance by Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderon and Don Omar.
It was a brave and determining stance for the VMAs to take in regard to Latin music, particularly because no other mainstream music award in the country was giving the music its due. The following year, in 2006, Shakira was nominated for and performed “Hips Don’t Lie” with Wyclef, and Daddy Yankee’s “Rompe” was up for Best Hip-Hop video.
In the years since, however -- meaning the past 11 years, more than a decade -- the Latin-centric presence at the VMAs has been minimal. There were a few English performances from and nominations for Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull, with the only Spanish language nomination coming in 2009 thanks to Wisin and Yandel’s “Abusadora.”
The more recent major Latin videos, including Iglesias’ “Bailando,” which hit No. 12 on the Hot 100 and is the eighth-most-viewed video of all time on YouTube (with 2.3 billion views), and Shakira’s “Chantaje” feat. Maluma, the 24th most-viewed of all time, have been overlooked.
But no snub has ever felt as egregious as “Despacito” this year.
As the Latin population continues to grow -- a recent Pew Report found that the U.S. Hispanic population stills accounts for more than half of the nation’s population growth -- Latino immigration has become a rallying cry for protesters nationwide. And yet, Latinos are all but absent from the major media and pop culture platforms in the country.
In a December 2016 article, the public editor of The New York Times noted that none of the 20-plus reporters who covered the presidential campaign for the paper were Latino and that the paper’s Metro section has only three Latinos among its 42 reporters, in a city with the second-largest Hispanic population in the country.
And that’s the problem. To many in the mainstream, Latins are invisible. So perhaps it’s no wonder the Spanish-dominant “Despacito” isn’t up for a VMA: despite its ubiquity, it simply didn’t even register.