Jorge Drexler, the Uruguayan artist known for his introspective, finely-crafted music, was the big winner at the 2018 Latin Grammys, taking home the song and record of the year awards for his single “Telefonía” and the best singer/songwriter album for Salvavidas de hielo. The awards aired live Nov. 15 from the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas on the Univision network.
Drexler’s wins in the record and song categories were a surprise. He was up against favorites J Balvin -- who had eight nominations and won one, for best urban album for Vibras -- and Rosalía, whose captivating single “Malamente” was up for five awards.
Rosalía, the Spanish singer/songwriter, whose surprising fusion of flamenco and urban music has turned her into a rising celebrity with broad appeal, won best alternative song and best urban/fusion performance for “Malamente.”
Also taking home two Latin Grammys was salsa star Victor Manuelle, who won best tropical song and best salsa album. And Mexican superstar Luis Miguel, who’s had an enormous resurgence following the successful mini-series based on his life, also won two awards for his album ¡MÉXICO Por Siempre! The set won best ranchero/mariachi album and, surprisingly, album of the year, a prize Luis Miguel hadn’t taken since 2000’s Amarte es un placer.
It was, surprisingly, the first Latin Grammy win for Victor Manuelle, a veteran who has often been nominated. Drexler, a critic’s favorite who also won an Academy Award in 2005 for best original song for “Al otro lado del rio” had won only two Latin Grammys in his career, despite multiple nominations through the years. He performed his winning “Telefonía,” in an acoustic setting along with Natalia LaFourcade, Mon LaFerte and El David Aguilar.
While Drexler and Victor Manuelle are veterans, Rosalía is a newcomer who’s garnered huge buzz both in Latin and international circles in just a few months. At a time when urban music and reggaetón are dominating not just Billboard charts but also global playlists, Rosalía's wins acted as a bridge between what is current and what could be, between tradition, as embodied by flamenco, and current urban trends.
It was also the tip of the iceberg in an evening that rewarded women in key categories and where messages of female empowerment were present throughout the show.
The hotly-contested producer of the year award, for example, went to the lone female nominee -- Linda Briceño -- who beat out her much better-known counterparts: Eduardo Cabra, Andres Torres and Mauricio Rengifo (of “Despacito” fame), Rafael Arcaute and Julio Reyes Copello.
“I want to thank all the women in the industry who have taught me that it is possible [que sí se puede],” said Rosalía, who performed "Malamente" backed by an army of female dancers. “A woman can have many roles in this industry, not just as a performer. Many of us are composing, we’re in the studio and I won’t stop fighting until we find the same number of women as men in the recording studio.”
“2017 and 2018 were key years for women,” said Karol G, who won in the best new artist category and performed a rock-tinged version of her hit "Mi cama." “I feel now we have equality and I see it in these awards. It was hard, it was tough, but now is a great moment. In my opinion, I think the doors are completely open now and I feel it’s about men and women in the same category looking for Latin music to be huge.”
“I’m thrilled that women are getting noticed,” said Laura Pausini, who won the best traditional pop vocal album for Hazte Sentir (Get Yourself Noticed). “I like to think that those of us who have something to say are all the same. I’m happy that the women performing today can offer something unique and are showing how to fuse past and present.”
Despite the ongoing debate on immigration, social and political messages were largely muted, particularly compared to previous Latin Grammys, where multiple artists had socially conscious commentary and performances. At one point, presenters Carlos Rivera and Ana de la Reguera called for gun control and for an inclusive society. But the biggest social message was delivered backstage in the press room by person of the year honorees Maná, who have long been outspoken on urging people to vote and asking for social compassion and equality. When asked if they had a message for immigrants, lead singer Fher Olvera minced no words.
“Don’t lose hope,” he said, echoing a message he has often repeated in recent weeks. “You have to understand that you have all the power. There are 40 to 50 million of us [Latins] here. Don’t despair. Vote. With your vote you can change anything. Two years ago we were performing at the White House. I doubt that will happen any time soon,” he said with a laugh. “But still.”
Maná’s performance of a medley of rock hits underscored an evening marked by variety -- in performances and in genres -- with the spotlight often shining on singer/songwriters.
While urban music has dominated charts, it didn’t dominate the wins, or the performances.
Ozuna, the top-selling artist in the market right now, performed a totally acoustic song, accompanied only by guitars, before launching into more dance-based fare. Bad Bunny, who was nominated for “Sensualidad” with Prince Royce and J Balvin, sang backed by a chorus and with rock elements.
The ambivalence of musical genre permeated at many levels. Maluma, who flew in the same day from Brazil, was nominated -- and won -- in the best contemporary pop vocal album and not in any urban category, a nod, perhaps, to his increasingly global presence.
The notion that not all music is urban was echoed by many.
“The destiny of music never leads to death,” said Fito Paez, winner in the best rock song category, when asked if rock was dead.
And Olvera echoed the words he had said the previous night during the person of the year gala: “Maybe I’m not as updated with lyrics today but I believe in romance,” said Olvera backstage. “We’ve always done songs with great respect. I don’t think women are just meant to shake their asses.”
Beyond the multiplicity of genres and the prevalence of key female wins, it was an evening of congeniality, with many artists, including Karol G and Rosalía, thanking colleagues who had lent them a hand.
“I want to share this Grammy with my colleagues,” said Balvin, collecting his lone win for Vibras. “Ozuna, you know I respect you deeply,” he told his biggest contender in the best urban album category. “Reggaeton has saved lives, it has motivated people to leave the streets and search for other things,” added Balvin, ever the bridge-builder. “Let's not kill the dreams of new composers and producers. Let’s value new blood because we’re the future of music. Obviously, respecting our legendary artists, but it’s time to create new legends.”
Read here for the full list of winners: