Republic president Charlie Walk, who helped promote “Despacito” and “Mi Gente,” credits their successes to streaming’s democracy and access, and what he calls the platform’s “honesty and transparency.”
And then there’s YouTube, where Latin consistently over-indexes. For the week ending Oct. 11, 14 of the top 20 most-watched YouTube videos were Spanish-language songs.
A look at terrestrial radio indicates shifts in music tastes too. “The main radio markets now serve crossover markets,” says Tommy Mottola, who, as the former CEO of Sony Music, was an architect of the 1999 Latin explosion. “Bilingual and Latin sounds are going to be the way to go.”
The embrace of the bicultural market extends beyond music. There’s Narcos (whose September season-three launch was the most popular digital show in the United States, with nearly 30 million viewers, according to Parrot Analytics), and season three of AMC’s Spanish-language-heavy Fear the Walking Dead was the second most-watched cable show for its time slot, averaging 2.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen. There’s also English-language content that celebrates Latin culture, like the Netflix reboot of Norman Lear’s show One Day at a Time, this time conceived with a Cuban family at its core, now entering its second season. The “crossover of the Latin culture is the new norm,” says Enrique Santos, chairman/CEO of iHeartLatino. “It’s Jackie Cruz on Orange Is the New Black. It’s Beyoncé singing in Spanish.”
Recognizing this momentum, the music industry is activating. Cardi B released a remix of her No. 1 “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” with fellow Dominican and trap artist Messiah. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s charity song for Puerto Rico relief, “Almost Like Praying,” hit No. 1 in digital sales the week that it debuted. “There is hunger for Latin repertoire from a streaming and radio perspective,” says Sony’s Dusko Justic, who in 2017 was appointed to the newly created position of vp international marketing and partnerships for Latin Iberia, and is tasked with building Sony’s Latin music business outside the Latin region.
Other companies are making moves too. Rebeca Leon, J Balvin’s manager, this year partnered with Ron Laffitte’s Patriot Management Group, which represents artists like Pharrell Williams. Atlantic and Warner Music Latin jointly signed Venezuelan millennial singer-producer Danny Ocean (né Morales) and quickly released “Baby I Won’t,” an English version of his 2016 hit “Me Rehuso.”
As Latin artists turn to English, English-language acts like Bieber aim to try Spanish. “We love when it comes from the heart,” says Afo Verde, chairman/CEO of Sony Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula. “Others do it for commercial reasons, which we love less.”
Looking forward, executives say the day may come when the U.S. market won’t need English-speaking artists to sing in Spanish (or mainstream co-signs). “Already there are countries that don't want English,” says Fernando Giaccardi, Iglesias’ manager. Just look at “Bailando,” which scaled heights without a developed streaming market or broader cultural awareness of the Latin audience. Imagine what it could have done if it had been released today.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of Billboard.