From left: J Balvin, Beyoncé, Maluma, Cardi B & Ozuna

How Latin Went Mainstream, and Why It Will Continue to Happen in 2018

A grand total of 19 predominantly Spanish-language tracks made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017.  They include, of course, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's “Despacito,” which is now tied for the longest-running No. 1 ever, in any language, on the Hot 100.    

While that’s been touted as the big news of the year, the sheer number of Spanish tracks on the chart is of far more import. Consider this: In 2016, only four Spanish-language tracks made it to the Hot 100 and Hot Latin Songs.  In 2015? Three.    

Then, in 2017, a spectacular jump to 19. They include the original versions of “Despacito” and “Mi Gente,” as both made the chart in their Spanish versions -- plus “Almost Like Praying,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ode to Puerto Rico, whose lyrics include th name of many Puerto Rico cities and towns.    

Regardless of how you mix and match it, the reality remains that never in the modern history of the Billboard charts have so many tracks in Spanish coexisted on the Hot 100. So what happened?    

The easy answer is streaming. And yes, that’s a huge factor. Streaming numbers are a large part of what informs the Hot 100, and it’s no secret that the global clout of platforms like Spotify and YouTube has allowed an increasing number of Latin tracks to seep into the upper echelons of streaming charts. If we go by radio alone, well, you can be assured that American Top 40 radio isn’t playing Maluma, Wisin or Romeo Santos.

But at the core of this new, unprecedented opening toward Latin music, are fundamental changes in the way the business is conducted and in the music itself.

As far as the music goes, it’s danceable. That’s a major key, because by making us think with our feet instead of our head, it becomes language-agnostic. And it’s produced for a global ear—another major factor, which sounds so obvious, except it isn’t. For years, Latin pop was produced primarily for Latin audiences. Think country: Yes, it has fans outside of its core, but it’s rare to see country music travel to other regions.

Latin pop was largely a crooner’s game. It relied on romantic ballads, heart-wrenching lyrics and heavy, string-laden arrangements. That made for big hits in the Latin realm (and thank God for songs like “Si No Te Hubieras Ido,” “Vuelve” or “El Buen Perdedor" -- how could we have survived heartache otherwise?). But global impact was always the purview of danceable tracks, from Los Del Rio's “Macarena” to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” to Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca” to Juanes’ “La Camisa Negra.” These tracks were able to break the barrier of mainstream radio back in the day, in their original versions. 

Now, thanks to the impact of reggaeton, we suddenly have an avalanche of danceable Latin tracks with a pop feel, and the combination is universally appealing. Witness Maluma, whose music seems to work in every language and every territory. 

The clincher, however, has been collaborations -- both between Latin acts, and between Latin and mainstream acts. Yes, “Despacito” was a hit pre-Bieber, but it became a juggernaut once he got on the track. Same for “Mi Gente” and Beyonce and now, Cardi B with Ozuna on "A Modelo." The fact that the biggest acts in the world want to record in Spanish opens ears for Latin music around the world. 

As for the business, Latin divisions are working more closely than ever with their mainstream and global counterparts, and it shows in the consistency of the results.

As Charlie Walk, president of The Republic Group put it, “We’re thinking not as a U.S.-based label but as a global label... Songs like 'Despacito' and 'Mi Gente' become so big globally not just because of the song but because of their sound. In a world where hip-hop is so big, we now get to include the Latin genre as something that plays widely in the mainstream audience.”

If we look back at the past 30 years, we find that occasional Latin hit that broke into the European charts but never quite made it in the mainstream U.S. charts. Now, a different kind of Latin approach has made for global hits that, thanks to streaming, are able to come full circle and work in the U.S. as well. And so, we look back at a Hot 100 chart that had 19 Spanish-language or predominantly Spanish language tracks in the 2017 calendar year.

One month into 2018, the trend shows no signs of abating. There were seven all-Spanish or predominantly Spanish songs on the Hot 100 dated Jan. 20 -- “Despacito,” “Mi Gente,” “La Modelo,” “Echame La Culpa,” “Krippy Kush,” “Corazon” and “Mayores” -- featuring Latin acts from multiple countries collaborating in previously unheard of ways. It could well be a new reality that’s been a long time in the making.

Here are all 19 songs that charted on both the Hot 100 and Hot Latin Songs charts in 2017:

Title, Artist, Peak Date, Peak Position
"Despacito," Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber, 5/27/2017, No. 1
"Mi Gente," J Balvin & Willy William Featuring Beyonce, 10/21/2017, No. 3
"Almost Like Praying," Lin-Manuel Miranda Featuring Artists For Puerto Rico, 10/28/2017, No. 20
"Feliz Navidad," Jose Feliciano, 1/7/2017, No. 44
"Echame La Culpa," Luis Fonsi & Demi Lovato, 12/9/2017, No. 47
"Felices Los 4," Maluma, 8/5/2017, No. 48
"Chantaje," Shakira Featuring Maluma, 1/21/2017, No. 51
"Escapate Conmigo," Wisin Featuring Ozuna, 9/9/2017, No. 63
"Mayores," Becky G Featuring Bad Bunny, 12/9/2017, No. 74
"Heroe Favorito," Romeo Santos, 3/4/2017, No. 77
"Subeme La Radio," Enrique Iglesias Featuring Descemer Bueno, Zion & Lennox Or Sean Paul, 4/22/2017, No. 81
"Me Enamore," Shakira, 6/17/2017, No. 83
"Krippy Kush," Farruko, Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny, 21 Savage & Rvssian, 12/16/2017 No. 86
"Shaky Shaky," Daddy Yankee, 1/21/2017, No. 88
"Imitadora," Romeo Santos, 8/12/2017, No. 91
"El Amante," Nicky Jam, 8/5/2017, No. 92
"Perro Fiel," Shakira Featuring Nicky Jam, 12/16/2017, No. 100
"Bella y Sensual," Romeo Santos Featuring Nicky Jam & Daddy Yankee, 12/23/2017, No. 95
"Criminal," Natti Natasha x Ozuna, 12/23/2017, No. 99

Here are the Latin tracks that made both charts in 2016:

Title, Artist, Peak Date, Peak Position
"La Bicicleta," Carlos Vives & Shakira," 7/30/2016, No. 95
"Duele El Corazon," Enrique Iglesias Featuring Wisin, 7/30/2016, No. 82
"With You Tonight / Hasta El Amanecer," Nicky Jam, 6/11/2016, No. 73 
"Chantaje," Shakira Featuring Maluma, 11/19/2016, No. 71 

Here are the Latin tracks that made both charts in 2015: 

Title, Artist, Peak Date, Peak Position
"Ginza," J Balvin, 11/7/2015, No. 84 
"El Perdon (Forgiveness)," Nicky Jam & Enrique Iglesias, 9/26/2015, No. 56
"Back It Up," Prince Royce Featuring Jennifer Lopez & Pitbull, 6/27/2015, No. 92

Click here to watch the CBS report on reggaeton rising: