Who Will Win Grammy Latin Categories? Billboard Editors Debate

Miquel Benitez/WireImage
Shakira attends her latest album 'El Dorado' on June 8, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. 

Let’s first and foremost dispense with what’s on everybody’s minds: Will “Despacito” win Record and Song of the year?

The most-listened to track of 2017 is not a contender in the Latin categories -- which are albums only -- but we think it should and will win for Record of the Year. This is the track that ushered in a new level of fusions and collaborations at a global stage. And, more than four billion viewers on YouTube can’t be wrong.

As for Song of the year? Tougher there. But in our world of Latin editors, we feel it should win as well, not just for boasting the hookiest of choruses, but also for lyrics that managed to be pop and light and sly and sexy all in one. Will “Despacito” actually win Song of the year? Our bet is yes.

In a year of celebration of diversity, it is high time Latin sound gets its due. Now, on to the Latin categories! Billboard’s executive director of Latin content & programming Leila Cobo; associate editor Marjua Estevez; and Latin charts manager Pamela Bustios give us their winning picks.

41. Best Latin Pop Album

Leila Cobo: With Shakira and Juanes in the mix, this is a highly contested category. Not to mention Natalia Lafourcade, a Grammy darling, and Alex Cuba and La Santa Cecilia who both have very fine releases. But in a year of no huge Latin albums, I’m placing my bets on Shakira’s El Dorado, which had massive singles on the charts and managed to seamlessly fuse pop and reggaeton and trap. Few acts can traverse so many genres and still sound genuine. However, Juanes’ ambitious visual album, Mis planes Son Amarte, is a serious contender.

Pamela Bustios: I’m going for Musas (Un Homenaje Al Folclore Latinoamericano En Manos De Los Macorinos, Vol. 1) by Natalia Lafourcade. This is tribute album in which Natalia has sensibly selected each song. Her honeyed voice together with the sounds of Los Macorinos are an exceptional fusion that praises her Mexican roots and the original versions of these artists. The acoustic guitars and double bass are impeccable. This is an album that genuinely exhales art.

Marjua Estevez: My pick is Mis Planes Son Amarte. Juanes broke his three-year hiatus with an ambitiously artful visual album that traveled across time and space to find his truest love. Mis Planes Son Amarte fuses traditional sounds like salsa and disco with contemporary twists such as electronica. It also includes collaborations with Kali Uchis and Fonseca, and the Poo Bear-produced track “Goodbye for Now,” which is Juanes’ first English-language record.

42. Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album

Cobo: I still can’t wrap my head around a category that encompasses “urban,” the most global and widely heard genre of Latin music, and manages to include just a single urban album. And that’s my pick, Residente’s Residente, his visionary exploration of his roots and ancestry through music. It’s tough to consistently, and convincingly, marry artistry with commercial success, but this set does it. Honorary mention to Bomba Estéreo’s Ayo, which again pushes sonic envelopes, delving deeper than ever into Colombian folk, yet incorporating dance and electronica for a true global sound.

Bustios: To undergo a DNA test and dig deep into one’s ancestry for the creation of a musical project is worthy of respect. And this is what Residente did for his debut album as a solo artist as he went around the world to record each song of this production in 10 different locations with local musicians. He traveled to Siberia, Moscow, China, France, Spain, Armenia, Ghana and other countries, and of course his native Puerto Rico. The album deals with themes of equality, unity and race. “Desencuentro” with the French indie-pop artist SoKo is one of my favorite songs.

Estevez: Residente’s unprecedented album was born out of a DNA test. He traced his genealogy around the world and created music with natives from each ancestral reference point, culminating in a paramount album and documentary, whose sonic and visual textures continue to celebrate the multiplicity of his heritage. Now, more than ever, that’s something worth celebrating.

43. Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano)

Cobo: Although Julión Alvarez has had a banner year, he’s been dogging accusations of drug ties, which may have a bearing on this vote. And then, of course, there’s Banda El Recodo de Cruz Lizárraga, who have not only won this category before, but who’ve delivered a beautiful album that daringly includes instrumental track, underscoring the richness of banda as a genre. Their Ayer Y Hoy will win.

Bustios: That is also my pick. The album is the fourth highest debut of the group on the Top Latin Albums chart, at No. 6, tying with their 2013 Haciendo Historias. The album includes traditional and Mexican popular banda music: five instrumental melodies that reflect the influence of the folklore from Sinaloa of past generations and another five contemporary songs.

Estevez: It’s hard not to move to the boundless energy of Zapateando En El Norte, a compilation that breathes new life into Mexican folk rhythms for today’s generation of listeners. It’s a feat wonderfully wrapped in the sounds of accordion, guitar and drums.

44. Best Tropical Latin Album

Cobo: Ruben Blades will likely win this with his impeccable Salsa Big Band, featuring Roberto Delgado & Orquesta, which comes from winning Album of the Year at the Latin Grammys. But I think Silvestre Dangond’s Gente Valiente should win for modernizing traditional tropical music. Dangond is a vallenato star who dared step out of his comfort zone in a search for a more universal sound and was able to achieve this -- plus a series of hits-without compromising the authenticity of his music. Gente Valiente is indeed brave in its brash fusion of vallenato’s accordion base with elements of salsa, pop and reggaeton. This is one to dance and listen to.

Bustios: I’m betting on Blades. This is the second album he records with bass player Roberto Delgado and his Orchestra, and pays tribute to the Latin jazz and jazz big bands of the ’50s. Blades does an outstanding job of safeguarding that sound through his songwriting and arrangements. Salsa Big Band’s Latin Grammy win gave hope to a genre that has notably lost its punch and presence because of mainstream reggaeton.

Estevez: I’m also going with Blades, one of the most acclaimed vocalists in the history of salsa. With Roberto Delgado, he’s led an orchestra of dynamic performers, paying tribute to and revitalizing Latin jazz and big bands of the ’50s. Here’s to honoring a past.