When the nominations for the 2016 Latin Grammy Awards were announced Sept. 21, the acts that were named followed historical precedent — a handful of Latin music’s biggest stars and hits were recognized, but the top categories were dominated by lesser-known artists.
What’s more, almost no urban or regional Mexican music, by far the most popular Latin genres in the United States, was represented among the nominees, outside of their respective subcategories.
Record and song of the year nominations went to Enrique Iglesias for “Duele el Corazón,” featuring Wisin, and Carlos Vives and Shakira for “La Bicicleta,” while the late Juan Gabriel (a likely candidate for a major musical tribute during the Nov. 17 show that will air live on Univision) is up for album of the year for Los Dúo 2.
But those superstar nominations are the exception rather than the rule for the Latin Grammys.
Bringing in four nominations each are three non-superstar (yet popular and acclaimed) acts — Colombian singer-songwriter Fonseca, Mexican sibling duo Jesse & Joy and Brazilian singer-songwriter Djavan.
And this should come as no surprise. U.S. hitmakers traditionally have not dominated the nominations or victories at the Latin Grammys as they do in the mainstream Grammy Awards. In 2015, Mexican artists Leonel García and Natalia Lafourcade led the field of nominees with six and five nods, respectively, eclipsing the likes of Iglesias and Nicky Jam. Lafourcade went on to win four Latin Grammys, including song and record of the year for “Hasta la Raíz.” Even Gabriel failed to get an album of the year nomination in 2015 for Los Dúo, despite its stature as the biggest-selling album of the year.
When it comes to U.S. artists, there’s a good reason why they fail to dominate the Latin Grammys’ top categories. For the mainstream Grammys, which are presented each February, a recording must be released in the United States for consideration. However, submissions for the Latin Grammys come from all over the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world as well as the States. In fact, 2016 yielded a record 10,500 submissions for consideration, up from 9,000 the year before.
With so many submissions, recognition was thinly spread — so thin, in fact, that one of the song of the year candidates, “A Chama Verde” by John Finbury featuring Marcella Camargo, from the jazz/bossa nova album Imaginário, had fewer than 1,000 plays on Spotify when it was nominated.
So where does this place some of the most popular genres in Latin music?
Reggaetón is on the rise almost everywhere in the Latin world by every measure, from concert ticket sales to global Spotify and Shazam numbers to the Billboard charts. But aside from the top-category recognition for two major hits created with reggaetón beats — “Duele el Corazón” and “La Bicicleta” — there are no other leading reggaetón acts nominated across the top categories. J Balvin’s Energía garnered only a single nomination for best urban music album. Jam and Maluma — who, with Balvin, are arguably reggaetón’s hottest stars — were completely ignored.
The unusual choices among Latin Grammy nominations makes handicapping the awards a worthwhile exercise. Billboard’s preview of five key categories offers a suggestion of who is most likely to achieve a victory in 2016’s voting — or the act that most deserves to win.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
This category, which recognizes the technical excellence of a recording, is given not only to the artist but also to producers and engineers. There are impeccable tracks in contention for record of the year, including Pepe Aguilar’s “Cuestión de Esperar” and Andrea Bocelli’s “Me Faltarás.” Of the 10 records nominated, only two are by superstars: Vives and Shakira’s “La Bicicleta” and Iglesias’ “Duele el Corazón” (featuring Wisin). The winner could very well be “La Bicicleta,” whose producers and engineers include previous Latin Grammy winner Andrés Castro.
Additional nominees: Pablo Alborán, “Se Puede Amar”; Buika, “Si Volveré”; Djavan, “Vidas Pra Contar”; Jesse & Joy, “Ecos de Amor”; Laura Pausini, “Lado Derecho del Corazón”; and Diego Torres, “Iguales.”
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Only two of this category’s 10 nominations are by superstars: Bocelli’s Cinema and Gabriel’s Los Dúo 2. Gabriel, who didn’t garner a single nomination in 2015 for the top-selling and widely acclaimed Los Dúo, will finally get recognition following his Aug. 28 death for this equally compelling sequel. Top nominee Fonseca would have had a chance with Conexión, an album where he takes risks by exploring different genres. But there’s a recent precedent that also favors Gabriel: Guitarist Paco de Lucía won this category in 2014 after his passing earlier that year.
Additional nominees: Alborán, Tour Terral (Tres Noches en las Ventas); Andrés Cepeda, Mil Ciudades; Djavan, Vidas Pra Contar; Jesse & Joy, Un Besito Más; José Lugo & Guasábara Combo, Donde Están?; Torres, Buena Vida; and Julieta Venegas, Algo Sucede.
SONG OF THE YEAR
When Colombian cyclist Nairo Quintana won Spain’s very demanding Vuelta a España bicycle race in September, he said Vives and Shakira’s “La Bicicleta” was the song that propelled him to victory. Catchy and earthy, the track is one of only two global hits in the running among 10 songs in this category, which recognizes songwriting. But “La Bicicleta” might nab the honor, given the song’s pedigree. Its three co-writers, Shakira, Vives and Andres Castro, are all previous multiple Latin Grammy winners.
Additional nominees: “A Chama Verde,” Patty Brayden, Ned Claflin and John Finbury; “Bajo el Agua,” Manuel Medrano; “Céu,” Celso Fonseca; “Duele el Corazón,” Enrique Iglesias, Patrick A. Ingunza, Silverlo Lozada, Servando Moriche Primera Mussett, Hasibur Rahman, Francisco Saldana and Wisin; “Ecos de Amor,” Jesse & Joy, Danelle Leverett, Jason Reeves and Rune Westberg; “En Ésta No,” Sin Bandera; “Es Como el Día,” Kevin Johansen; “Hermanos,” Moska and Fito Páez; and “La Tormenta,” Flavio Cianciarulo.
BEST NEW ARTIST
The Latin Grammys have traditionally nominated acts in this category before they have made a significant commercial impact. But in 2016, many of the 10 nominees boast notable success. At least two — Chileans Mon Laferte and Álex Anwandter — have several albums. (The academy allows a nomination upon the release of “the first -recording that establishes the public identity of that artist.”) Competition will be keen among Laferte, Anwandter, regional Mexican singer-songwriter Joss Favela and Colombian singer-songwriter Manuel Medrano. The favorite: Medrano, whose -countrymen and -collaborators Monsieur Periné won in 2015.
Additional nominees: Sophia Abrahão, The Chamas, Esteman, Ile, Morat and Ian Ramil.