Billboard Analysis: It Was All About Urban for Latin Music in 2017. What Now?

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Wesley Mann 
Daddy Yankee photographed on Oct. 18, 2017 at Vandal in New York. 

It was an urban, urban, urban year for Latin music, with some form of reggaeton dominating almost all the Latin charts. Audience's appetite for all things urban permeated our lists to such a degree that nine out of the top 10 Hot Latin Songs of the year had a reggaeton beat, either organic (J Balvin, Maluma, Nicky Jam) or borrowed; Luis Fonsi and Shakira, both considered pop acts, integrated reggaeton into their music to create their massive hits, including Fonsi’s now legendary "Despacito" featuring Daddy Yankee.

They weren't alone. If we go all the way down the 100 titles on the year-end Hot Latin Songs list, we find that traditionally "pop" acts like Chayanne, Becky G, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez also went the reggaeton route in both rhythm and collaboration, pairing up with established urban acts to lend credence to their new-found reggaeton beats.

The result is a list that roughly splits into three categories: reggaeton-based songs (the majority), regional Mexican songs, which largely defy the whims of trends, and Romeo Santos, who is in a genre-defying league of his own with his unique brand of bachata.

Year-End Charts: Hot Latin Songs // Top Latin Artists

But overwhelmingly, that underlying reggaeton beat has become the new pop, a trend that has been long in the making and that shows no sign of abating, despite multiple calls for a change of scenery.

A change of scenery will eventually take place, as is always the case with music and trends. Meantime, however, there's nothing wrong with celebrating the power and popularity of a genre that's flexible, appealing, and has revitalized Latin music and opened the doors to new collaborations, new faces and new experimentation like never before.

It's ironic that the 2017 year in Latin charts very closely mirrors the 2005 year in charts. That’s when Daddy Yankee, the 2017 Latin Artist of the year, also reigned, topping six Billboard year-end charts. That was also the year when, for the first time ever, an urban music producer (production duo LunnyTunes), topped the Hot Latin Songs Producers chart. Back then, reggaeton -- like Latin trap in 2017 -- had initially little airplay, but the sheer popularity of the genre forced radio stations to open up and play the songs.

It was also the year in which pop diva Shakira burst into the Latin charts after a five year absence from recording in Spanish with "Fijación Oral, Vol. 1" (Epic/Sony BMG), much like she has done this year with "El Dorado." And that year too, a pop song with a reggaeton beat -- Shakira's "La Tortura," featuring Alejandro Sanz -- became the Hot Latin Song of the year.

This new resurgence of reggaeton, however, is different. It's driven by collaborations and pop fusions, and it has embraced new artists in a way rarely, if ever, seen in the Latin charts before, with brand new acts like Maluma, Ozuna and Bad Bunny becoming the driving force behind veterans’ hits. 

The trend may have exploded hugely onto mainstream consciousness this year with "Despacito," but the possibilities opened up in 2014 with Enrique Iglesias' "Bailando," a pop track with a reggaeton beat where he featured Descemer Bueno  and newcomers Gente de Zona, effectively introducing them into the marketplace. "Bailando" was a global hit, pre Spotify, and continues to be the longest-running track at No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart. Then in 2015, Iglesias went for a reggaeton beat yet again, but this time the result was dramatically different. "El perdón," his collaboration with a re-emerging Nicky Jam, was a romantic track, albeit with a reggaeton beat, highlighting the versatility of the genre. Still, the year-end chart for 2015 was eclectic, with many more regional Mexican songs and a healthy dose of pure pop. 

In 2016, however, the chart morphed into what it is today: a showcase for urban music. Even Carlos Vives and Shakira made reggaeton the base beat of their hit "La bicicleta."

Which brings us to today's reggaeton-and-collaboration filled chart. At this point, it's clear that this beat works, in any language, in any location and in any version. Everyone wants in, and it's easier to do it hand in hand with an act that's already tested the waters. 

Of course, this can't last forever, and already, many reggaeton acts have moved toward trap. But don’t expect for reggaeton to go away for a long, long time, if at all. This beat is not a fad. It may ebb and flow but it's already ingrained into the fabric of Latin music, like boleros, or salsa, or merengue.

As for non-reggaeton music, including the more melodic fare that we have long labeled "pop," that too will return, because it hasn't gone anywhere. Fine pop continues to be made, in all shapes and forms, by artists as varied as Mon Laferte or Manuel Medrano. It's only a matter of time before those kinds tracks return to the top of the charts, and it won’t be surprising if they do in the form of collaborations with other acts who can help hasten the process. 

If that is the case, it will be a lesson learned from reggaeton, a genre that's taught Latin artists that there is value, both artistic and commercial, to be found in collaboration.

Billboard Year in Music 2017


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