Latin Music's Mushrooming Impact on American Popular Culture

Yankee and Omar
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Yankee (left) and Omar onstage during  a preview of their forthcoming The Kingdom Tour at Coliseo Jose M. Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 4, 2015. Both artists will appear at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.

As awareness grows of the burgeoning U.S. Latin population and its formidable buying power -- $1.5 trillion in 2015, according to Nielsen -- brands, sports franchises, media companies and even politicians are increasingly looking to music, an acknowledged "passion point" for Latins, to reach bilingual or bicultural fans.

Justin Bieber collaborated with J Balvin and dances to Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" at his shows; in the wake of Donald Trump's ­inflammatory remarks about Mexicans, Hillary Clinton reached out to Hispanic voters through Marc Anthony, who introduced the candidate at a Miami concert in October 2015; Cuban-American singer-songwriter Jencarlos Canela played Jesus Christ on Fox's The Passion; and Mexican chanteuse Carla Morrison sings on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' new album.


Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images
Among the Latin artists who will participate in panels at the 2016 conference are Gente de Zona.

"I call this 'the new America,' " says Andrés Ordoñez, chief creative officer at advertising agency Energy BBDO. "It's not about 'This is for Hispanics, this is for non-Hispanics.' We're ­everywhere."

The 50 Greatest Latin Songs of All Time

The genre's mushrooming impact on American popular culture -- and the artists and entrepreneurs who are looking to capitalize upon it -- will take center stage at the Billboard Latin Music Conference, which runs April 25-28 at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami. Among them: Billboard cover subject and conference keynote speaker Anthony, who, in 2015, launched the artist and athlete ­management firm Magnus Media. (Chicago Cub Jorge Soler and Cuban ­reggaetón act Gente de Zona are clients.) "Musicians and athletes are ­influencers of people," Anthony tells Billboard. "They mean something culturally." And that ­influence can translate to dollars spent. According to Nielsen's "Listen Up" report on Hispanic ­consumers and music, Hispanics -- ­regardless of origin, age, immigration status or linguistic preference -- spend an average of $135 per year per capita on music, nearly 30 percent more than the average American.

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Among the Latin artists who will participate in panels at the 2016 conference are Luis Coronel.

This remarkable growth -- and the opportunities it represents -- will be explored at the ­conference through a program that includes ­candid, ­in-depth discussions of the ­following major trends:

Streaming Strong With Latin Listeners

With music fans increasingly adopting digital ­streaming as their preferred mode of listening, Latin ­consumers are leading the way. ­According to Nielsen Music, the share of ­streaming equivalent-album sales across all genres rose to 38.5 percent in 2015. (The service counts 1,500 streams of a track as the equivalent of a physical sale of one album.) In the Latin genre, however, that ­percentage was much higher than any other genre: 73 ­percent. Marcos Juárez, head of Latin programming for ­Pandora, tells Billboard that 25 percent of its ­listeners ­identified as Latin in 2015, 12 percent of the music played is Latin music, and the percentage is increasing. And over at Spotify, the world's leading subscriber streaming service, Baila Reggaetón is the platform's third-most-streamed channel globally behind Today's Top Hits and Rap Caviar, says Rocío Guerrero, Spotify head of content ­programming for Latin/global, who will take part in the conference's "Urban Music" panel (April 26, 11:45 a.m.).

Kruz Rivera
Among the Latin artists who will participate in panels at the 2016 conference are Zion & Lennox.

?Reggaetón Rules

Arguably the most powerful factor fueling Latin music's impact on the broader culture is the rise of reggaetón, an adaptable, accessible subgenre that has become familiar to listeners of pop radio thanks to Bieber's collaboration with J Balvin on "Sorry" and Nicky Jam's "El Perdón" (featuring Enrique Iglesias), which, in addition to being the most successful Latin hit of 2015, climbed to No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.

On April 27, the popularity and influence of the musical style will be dissected at two key presentations: At 11:15 a.m., Jam will sit down for a Q&A presented by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and at 2:30 that afternoon, the two musicians most responsible for reggaetón's explosion, Yankee and Don Omar -- whose joint tour, The Kingdom, makes its U.S. debut in Las Vegas on May 4 -- will speak for the first time at the Latin conference on a panel titled "Clash of Titans." (They also will receive the Leadership Award at the Billboard Latin Music Awards on April 28.)

The reggaetón boom has led to the increased popularity of Latin urban-format radio stations -- such as WSKQ (Mega 97.9 FM), the most listened-to radio station in New York, in any language -- which in turn has popularized such urban acts as Ken-Y, Gente de Zona and Zion & Lennox, who will take part in "The Urban Panel" (April 26, 12:45 p.m.).

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Jam will participate in a Q&A session. 

Latin's Sports Connection

In stadiums across America, batters are ­heading to the plate with walk-on music from Yankee, Pitbull and Nicky Jam. According to Major League Baseball data ­compiled by Baseball Prospectus for 2015, reggaetón is the new sound of the sport -- the third-most-popular genre among players, 27.1 percent of whom are Hispanic -- next to rock and hip-hop. Among the most ­popular tracks: "El Perdón" (favored by Los Angeles Dodger Enrique Hernandez) and "Como Yo le Doy" from Pitbull. ESPN music director Kevin Wilson, who reports that the network has significantly upped its use of Latin music since 2013, and Michel Vega, the CEO of Anthony's Magnus Media, will be among the panelists discussing the synergistic relationship at the "Music and Sports" conversation on April 26. "We have as many Hispanic fans as Caucasians or African-Americans," says Wilson. When music by artists like Yankee, Yandel or Alexis & Fido is broadcast, he says, "we see an immediate reaction on social media. Reaching our Hispanic fans has become more of a priority for the network." Anthony also will discuss how he founded Magnus to bridge the gap between the Latin and mainstream markets during his ­keynote speech, "Creating Music That Stands the Test of Time" (April 27, 4:15 p.m.).

Jesse Light
Rob Light, partner, managing director and head of music at Creative Artists Agency, will be a featured speaker.

Translating Latin Music To Other Mediums

Advertisers seeking to reach a broad ­audience also have found growing value in Latin urban and pop. "The use of music in campaigns in the U.S. that comes from Latin artists is on the rise year after year," says Tomas Cookman, president of Nacional Records, a leading independent Latin label, who will speak at the "Music, Film and TV" panel (April 26, 10 a.m.). It's also true of international markets as well, including Japan and Australia, adds Cookman.

Energy BBDO's Ordoñez, who will take part in the "Beyond the Jingle: Creating New Partnerships Between Brands and Artists" panel (April 26, 2:45 p.m.), explains the strategy behind the "Sarah and Juan" ad campaign for Extra gum. Although the music is American -- American Idol's Haley Reinhart sings Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" -- male character "Juan is Latin, Sarah is not, because that's the reality of the market," he says. "This market is multicultural, and we wanted to speak to that." And consumers listened: The ad has received 90 million views on Facebook.

This article originally appeared in the April 30 issue of Billboard magazine.

Billboard Latin Music Awards 2016