J Balvin Headlining Lollapalooza Marks a Significant Moment for Latin Music at U.S. Festivals

Timothy Norris/Getty Images for for Universal Music Group
J Balvin performs onstage during Sir Lucian Grainge's 2019 Artist Showcase Presented by Citi at The Row on Feb. 9, 2019 in Los Angeles.

One of the biggest takeaways of the 2019 Coachella lineup when it was unveiled in early January was how global the alternative music festival had become. As non-English music has impacted the mainstream more pointedly in recent years, the Coachella lineup reflected that evolution by including K-pop girl group Blackpink and Latin music stars J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Rosalía in this year’s group of performers. Coachella has expanded well past its alt-rock bedrock over the past decade to feature more pop, hip-hop and dance heavyweights, but this year’s inclusion of international artists -- on the next-to-top line of the daily lineup, in some cases -- was especially remarkable.

A few months later, the U.S. version of Lollapalooza has gone one step further and announced the first Latin-music headliner in its history. J Balvin is among eight headliners announced for the annual Chicago festival (set for Aug. 1-4 this year), along with Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Twenty One Pilots, The Strokes, Tame Impala, Flume and The Chainsmokers.   

Yes, that’s a lot of headliners for one festival -- Lollapalooza typically has two headliners perform simultaneously each night, at the main stages on opposite ends of Chicago’s Grant Park -- and Balvin is listed as the last headliner on the festival’s official poster. Yet there has never been a Latin music artist placed nearly as high on the Lolla lineup as Balvin appears on the 2019 edition, where he’s listed above American stars like Lil Wayne, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae and Meek Mill, among many others.

Balvin has certainly earned the right to close out one of the main stages at Lollapalooza: along with the U.S. smashes “Mi Gente” with Willy William and “I Like It” with Cardi B and Bad Bunny, the 33-year-old Colombian star has amassed a strong back catalog of Latin hits, including “Ay Vamos,” “Ginza,” “6 AM” and “X.” He has worked with Liam Payne, Future, Pitbull and Camila Cabello; he’s featured on Benny Blanco’s new single alongside Selena Gomez and Tainy. And last year’s Vibras stands as one of 2018’s most confident and dynamic albums, regardless of genre. Balvin is a self-assured superstar with recent cross-platform hits and a diverse list of collaborators. Which is to say, he fits right in next to fellow Lolla headliners Grande and Gambino.

Representation matters: with Balvin becoming a Lollapalooza headliner, the seal has been broken for other Latin artist to follow suit in the future, as well as more international artists to crash the yearly lineup in general (Rosalía is also heading to Grant Park this year, for instance). For one of the United States’ biggest music fests -- one which, as recently as a decade ago, featured headliners that were all white and played rock-adjacent music -- to make Balvin a headliner for its 2019 edition marks a significant moment for the proliferation and inclusion of Latin music within the American mainstream. As commonplace as it’s become to see Balvin notch another victory for his genre, this one should not get lost in the shuffle.