Those who don’t regularly follow the Latin categories in the Grammys may be marveling at the diversity to be found there. Those who do follow these nominations every year are marveling at the fact that, overwhelmingly, they’re going in two distinct directions. One is the hard-to-get-in club of former nominees; the other is the club of recordings very few people have ever heard, as if the Grammy nominations were a discovery playlist.
This is not a good thing.
Consider this: Every single nominee in the best Latin pop album category has been nominated before; not once, but multiple times. That’s remarkable. Likewise, three of the five nominees in the best urban, rock and alternative category have multiple previous nominations. And, aside from Residente (who as part of Calle 13 has won that category three times before), there isn’t a single other urban act vying for an award at a time when urban music is the soundtrack of the world.
To be clear, this is no knock on Residente. If anyone deserves to be nominated this year, it’s him, for an album that was as risky as it was dazzling.
But how can there be no other urban contenders in the category that includes urban music? Where is Ozuna’s Odisea, an excellent debut album that has spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart? Or Nicky Jam’s trailblazing Fénix? Or Prince Royce’s eclectic Five with its bevvy of well-thought-out duets?
While we can all agree that the Grammys are here to celebrate the best recordings, as opposed to the most popular, summarily ignoring everything that is popular, unless the artist has previous nominations, makes no sense either. That’s especially true today, when “Despacito,” arguably the most successful record of the year, is up for for both record and song of the year in the main categories.
If we move to the regional Mexican and tropical categories, the questions endure. While the repetition factor is not in prominent display, the unknown factor is. Yes, all the recordings here may be excellent. But we have to wonder why it was necessary to dig so deep for them, going as far as to include a compilation album that never made it onto any Billboard chart in the Best Regional Mexican Music album category?
As for the best Tropical album category, the only nominee aside from Ruben Blades (who just won the Latin Grammy Album of the year) who made it to a Billboard chart is Silvestre Dangond, a superstar in his native Colombia who gets his first Grammy nod with a vallenato fusion album (Gente Valiente) that balances hits and quality, an ideal mix.
As the Latin Grammys have evolved, more and more eyes are turned to those awards, as they have the depth of categories to truly focus on specific genres as well as songs and videos, not just albums.
But the Grammys are still the Grammys. If anything, the very few Latin categories that exist should act as a kind of “Best of” everything that falls under Latin music. Instead, they’ve become so esoteric as to not represent the Latin marketplace, either here or abroad.