The 20th annual awards show was also a socially-conscious affair, with many artists making reference to problems and unrest in their native countries, particularly in their media room interviews, and with the show itself paying homage to a different, perhaps more egalitarian approach to music and music-making.
The song of the year award, for example, which has typically gone to big legacy or slightly esoteric fare went this year to “Calma,” a good-vibes anthem by Pedro Capó that found global success in its remix with Farruko.
Instead of having models give the awards onstage, the Latin Grammys were doled out by winners of scholarships given by the Latin Grammy Foundation.
And artists took a more irreverent approach. Bad Bunny took the stage to collect his best urban music album award for X100PRE dressed in Bermuda shorts and carrying a styrofoam cup (of hot tea, as it turns out; he’s been sick). Fonseca, who won best traditional pop vocal album for Agustín, actually announced what he was singing -- as if he were performing at a bar -- when he took the stage only with his guitar to perform a tribute to José José.
And there was a decided passing of the torch in key awards. Aside from Rosalía’s wins as a newcomer, and Capó’s win for song of the year, 20-year-old Christian Nodal won best ranchera album and Tony Succar won producer of the year. In the best new artist category, as ever a hotly-contested affair, the winner was Venezuelan singer Nella, a Berklee grad with a luminous voice who acknowledged that her music “was not commercial” and dedicated her win to “Venezuela and all those like me who come to this country and we’re battling to get ahead.”
The controversy of the lack of reggaetón in the Latin Grammys, which so dominated the conversation at the time of the nominations was virtually inexistent during the award show. Only when Bad Bunny picked up his award, did he address the elephant in the room.
“Reggaeton is part of Latin culture and it represents Latins just like many other genres do,” he said, then flipped the conversation. “As I tell my friends in the genre, let’s bring genuine things and different things [to the music]. The genre has become all about numbers and views.”
There were many high points in the evening. In a first-ever moment, ranchera icon Vicente Fernández performed alongside son Alejandro Fernandez -- also a star -- and grandson Alex Fernández. Hearing the elder Fernández with a voice as potent as ever was breathtaking.
Ozuna, who the night before more than proved his mettle covering Juanes’ “La Camisa Negra” at the person of the year gala, delivered again in a medley of hits that included new song “Hasta Que Salga el Sol.”
And “Cantalo,” the new single by Ricky Martin with Residente and Bad Bunny, was more convincing in this live energized version full of percussion, horns and dancers while Bad Bunny took a gamble performing with a string orchestra.
Person of the year Juanes performed an emotional and really outstandingly executed medley of hits, beginning with his breakout song, “Fijate Bien,” “A Dios le Pido” (with a full string orchestra) and duets with Alessia Cara (singing totally in Spanish) and Sebastian Yatra. He later was visibly surprised when Lars Ulrich of Metallica showed up to give him his person of the year award, recalling when he had first met Juanes and learned he was a Metallica fan.
“Tonight, we’ve come full circle: I proclaim myself a Juanes fan. My brother in rock, mi amigo, mi parcero, I’m proud to recognize you as person of the year for the Latin recording Academy,” said Ulrich.
“One of the reasons I’m making music is because of you guys,” Juanes told Ulrich. “You changed my life, man.” Then he proceeded to thank a long list of people, from his immediate family, to manager Rebeca León to former manager Fernan Martinez.
While there was fluidity in language -- Alicia Keys also performed, for example -- the evening was most decidedly an homage to Latin music and to figures past and present in the awards’ two decades, from Celia Cruz to José José, who died this year.
“I say without diversity, there is no Latin Grammys,” said Sanz backstage.
And overwhelmingly, it was all about music, as gleaned when Rosalía was asked backstage to comment on current political issues.
“It’s such a delicate topic,” she said. “It would take much, much time and thought. And today, really, I would really like to celebrate music.”