(Miami, Fla.) Spirits were high as Leila Cobo, Billboard’s executive director of Latin music and programming, kicked off Billboard’s first ever Latin Power Players event honoring Latin music's most powerful execs. She thanked Lexus for their sponsorship and the attendees for, “believing in the power of Latin music.” The inaugural event at the W Hotel in South Beach honors a genre that’s effectively reshaped music’s global pecking order over the last three years.
As Cobo put it, “having so many power players in one room, celebrating the common success of Latin music despite the fact that they are competitors, underscores the importance of the genre.” She went on, “Latin is experiencing its biggest growth in years. Our power players event was a testament to that.”
The popularity of reggaeton and Latin trap have helped the genre cross over into mainstream pop, resulting in nineteen Latin songs hitting the Hot 100 chart in 2017, up from a mere seven in the previous two years combined. With two months left in 2018, we’ve already seen twenty-two Latin songs crop up on the industry’s most coveted chart and there’s plenty of indication that the trend is primed to continue.
Shifting media consumption patterns along with advancements in tech became catalysts for the genre’s growth. Digital streaming platforms and social media make artists like Lele Pons more accessible to their existing fan bases while exposing them to new audiences worldwide. The YouTube star’s manager and CEO of Shots Studios, John Shahidi, highlighted the importance of truly connecting with an audience across platforms, observing that, “The more you know about an artist, the more you relate to them. So, when they put out that song you connect with it that much more.”
Walter Kolm, the Executive of the Year honoree and CEO of W.K. Entertainment, delivered a heartfelt address to the crowd following an introduction by friend and former Executive of the Year, Afo Verde (Chairman/CEO of Sony Music Latin).
Kolm spoke earnestly about the integral role that collaboration has played in propelling the popularity of Latin music forward. “Everyone here is very important. We share the goal of bringing Latin music to new heights and we must do it as a team. That’s the philosophy of my company, do everything as a team.”
Collaboration is only going to increase as the genre seeks to vie for a bigger piece of the mainstream market. Apple’s U.S. Head of Latin Music Jennifer D’Cunha echoed the sentiment. “Collaborations are exposing audiences around the world to new sounds, new songs and new artists that they may not have discovered otherwise. Now, the biggest acts in the world want to record in Spanish and they want to collaborate with Latin artists so it’s really opening the door for Latin music on a worldwide scale.”
A series of performances capped the night on an unforgettable high note after Kolm spoke. Manu Manzo commanded the stage with soul and poise. The Venezuelan crooner flaunted effortless vocals before giving way to Abraham Mateo who captivated the room from the comfort of his keyboard, delivering a chillingly powerful rendition of his 2016 hit single, “Mi Vecina.”
Justin Quiles was next to grace the stage. The “No Quiero Amarte” singer brought a playful energy, grinning from ear to ear before Lele Pons joined him for an impromptu duet. Fittingly, CNCO offered up the night’s final performance, showing their support for Kolm who recently signed the Latin boy band sensation to W.K. Entertainment back in May. Their performance of “Hey, DJ” got the crowd moving, making it clear that even the genre’s most powerful executives were fans of the music, first and foremost.
Throughout the night, excitement for Latin music’s milestone moment was balanced by an unmistakable enthusiasm for the sounds and artists that are ready to carry the torch into 2019. When asked what she’s looking forward to, D’Cunha declared that next year is, “Going to be a big year for R&B in Spanish,” before highlighting singer-songwriter Rosalia as an artist to keep on our collective radar.
“It’s really exciting to see so many talented female artists like Rosalia achieve critical acclaim and also commercial success. She is a creative force, she writes, she produces, she has an incredible voice, and she really has a clear artistic vision of where she wants to take her music.” When posed with the same question, Shahidi shared his high expectations for the future of Fuego. “He’s one of the next big stars out of the Dominican Republic. I saw him perform and kept screaming about how he’s the future. He’s unbelievable.” With an abundance of talent on the horizon and a growing global appetite for Latin music and culture, this recent trend is poised to establish itself as a new norm in music’s mainstream landscape.