None of Nicky Jam, Shakira or Enrique Iglesias, for example, had a new album out within the eligibility period of the awards, which run from Feb 6, 2016 through Jan. 28, 2017. Instead, they are all finalists on the strength of their singles.
Nicky Jam is a nine-time finalist largely thanks to his chart-topping song “Hasta el amanecer,” up for hot Latin song of the year, airplay song of the year, digital song of the year, streaming song of the year and Latin rhtyhm song of the year.
The rapper, whose longtime gameplan is to only release one lead single a year -- though let’s see if that changes in 2017 -- is also a finalist for Latin pop song of the year for “Ya me enteré,” his collaboration with Mexican pop group Reik. Nicky Jam is also up for artist of the year.
Shakira, who ties with Nicky Jam for most entries, also didn’t release an album in 2016. She competes in the social artist of the year category, while “La bicicleta,” her collaboration with Carlos Vives, is up for hot Latin song of the year, hot Latin song of the year, vocal event, and digital song of the year, among others.
In turn, Vives’ six entries are likewise largely driven by “La bicicleta.” Shakira is also up for an award with “Chantaje,” featuring Maluma, which competes against herself in the hot Latin song of the year, vocal event category.
On his end, Enrique Iglesias’ eight nods come mostly from “Duele el corazón,” his single featuring Wisin, which is up for hot Latin song of the year and Streaming song of the year, among others, and is responsible for Wisin’s six nods.
While pop/urban fusion dominate the song categories, regional Mexican music totally dominates the top Latin albums category. Juan Gabriel has two entries -- for Los Dúo 2 and Vestido de Etiqueta -- competing against Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho and Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizárraga.
Los Plebes and Banda Sinaloense were perhaps the most holistic finalists, competing in both album and single categories with eight nods each.
The fact that they’re serious contenders in the song categories -- Los Plebes, for example, are up for streaming song of the year -- underscores the popularity of regional Mexican music at all levels, including among Millennials who prefer to stream their music.
Los Plebes also get a special nod for managing to remain singularly successful despite the death of their leader, Ariel Camacho, in a car crash two years ago.
With seven entries, Juan Gabriel, the top-selling artist of 2016, ties with Colombians J Balvin and Maluma, who both actually do have albums released during the eligibility period, which has them going up against each other in the Latin Rhythm album of the year category. Balvin is also a contender in the all important Artist of the year category.
Also noteworthy about Balvin and Maluma’s nods -- besides the fact that they’re friends -- is that they highlight just how far Colombian music has risen in the charts in the past five years. Among the top 10 finalists for 2017, four (Shakira, Vives, Maluma and J Balvin) are Colombian. And while Nicky Jam is Puerto Rican, his new music is all conceived and produced in Colombia as well, the country that gave him a second chance.
That singles from a South American country could so dominate the U.S. charts in the past year underscores a shift in demographic and taste, which highlights the increasing influence of streaming services like Spotify and YouTube in driving musical preferences.
Two Colombian producers -- Alejandro “Sky” Suárez, who works with J Balvin, and Saga Whiteblack, who works with Nicky Jam -- are up for producer of the year, against regional Mexicans Sergio Lizárraga and Jesús Jaime González Terrazas.
Interestingly, despite the preponderance of urban/pop fusion hits on the charts, three out of the four contenders for Songwriter of the year -- Eden Muñoz, Horacio Palencia Cisneros and Luciano Luna -- are regional Mexican composers.
The fourth? Superstar Daddy Yankee, who remains a force to be contended with, as a five-time finalist.
The Billboard Latin Music Awards will air live April 27 on the Telemundo network, capping the Billboard Latin Music Conference that takes place April 24-27 at the Ritz Carlton in Miami Beach. To register, visit www.billboardlatinconference.com.