Latin Grammys 2018: Why Luis Miguel Won Big and J Balvin Won Only One Award

J Balvin
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for LARAS

J Balvin accepts Best Urban Music Album for 'Vibras' onstage during the 19th annual Latin GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Nov. 15, 2018 in Las Vegas. 

Now that we’ve recovered from Latin Grammy week, we can look back dispassionately at an awards show that featured some beautiful performances and some unexpected results, notably Luis Miguel’s album of the year win and J Balvin’s record of the year loss. 

First, Luis Miguel. The Mexican crooner/superstar was awarded album of the year for ¡México por Siempre!, which also won in the best ranchero/mariachi album category. The win in the second category, announced in the pre-telecast, was observed with barely a ripple. But album of the year, perhaps the most important award of the evening and announced toward the end of the live telecast, resulted in loud boos from the audience. It was impossible to say if the boos were a result of Luis Miguel not being there to accept the award or at the Mexican crooner winning it in the first place. 

Post-show, several people, including producers, approached me to lament the win. “It’s not about him,” said one. “But it’s not his best album. Who would vote for that?” 

Apparently, plenty of people -- and voters are entitled to their opinion. Having said that, a controversial win deserves an explanation. 

Luis Miguel is coming from an extremely good year. The Telemundo/Netflix series based on his life (and sanctioned by him) is excellent and surprisingly candid about both the singer and the music industry as a whole. It’s been a resounding success. Luis Miguel’s ¡México por Siempre! tour has also been a resounding success, and by Nov. 29, he’ll have performed 31 sold-out dates at Mexico’s Auditorio Nacional, a record for the venue (the previous record was also Luis Miguel’s: 30 sold-out dates in 2006). In the U.S., his touring numbers are only behind Jennifer Lopez’s so far this year.  

As an album, ¡México por Siempre! didn't do too shabby, either, debuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican Albums chart and at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. 

But most importantly, Luis Miguel is a venerable name in Latin music competing for top Latin album, a category that had no other names with his history in the running. If you recall, last year’s winner in this category was Ruben Blades, an icon, competing with an album that few people had heard. In the Latin Grammys (as with the Grammys), all members can vote in the main categories, which means that quite often, the best-known name will win, particularly if voters are not familiar with the rest of the material. 

In this case, however, Luis Miguel did have a big, blockbuster contender -- J Balvin’s Vibras -- as well as other quality competition, including Kany García’s Soy Yo (which I had predicted would win, taking into consideration the Academy’s eclectic nature). 

But if familiarity plus quality was the winning equation, this should have gone to Vibras, which has been lauded as an urban album that pushed the boundaries of the genre, incorporating multiple influences beyond what’s traditional for reggaetón; witness the participation of Carla Morrison (who performed with Balvin on the show) and Rosalía. It was also a globally successful album in virtually every territory, far more so than Luis Miguel’s. 

But Balvin is still seen as a reggaetón act, and that clearly does not resonate with many Latin Grammy voters, to such a degree that Balvin -- the leading nominee with eight nods -- took home only one award, for best urban album. 

Balvin acknowledged the resistance in his winning speech: “Reggaetón has saved lives. It has motivated people to leave the streets and search for other things,” he said onstage.  “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.”

On Thursday night (Nov.15), the Latin Grammys were not quite ready to create new legends. The record of the year category, which should have gone to Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente” -- a track that broke parameters and was instrumental in the explosion of Latin music worldwide -- went to Jorge Drexler’s “Telefonía.” Without minimizing Drexler’s excellent music, or his beautiful song, this award should have gone to a recording that contributed to Latin music’s breakout year.