In an unsurprising but satisfying outcome, “La Bicicleta” — the joyful anthem by Colombian stars Carlos Vives and Shakira — took top honors at the 2016 Latin Grammy Awards, winning song and record of the year. Likewise, Los Dúo 2, the top-selling and final album by Juan Gabriel, the iconic Mexican singer/songwriter who died unexpectedly in August, won album of the year and best traditional pop vocal album, affording the late Mexican singer/songwriter his first-ever Latin Grammy wins.
“It’s a privilege to write loving songs,” Vives said, accepting his song of the year award, capping four years of Latin Grammy successes.
Later, Vives — who performed “La Bicicleta” alone after Shakira had to cancel last-minute due to one of her sons falling ill — said he knew the song was a hit. “I want to thank Shakira for falling in love with the song, and I was extremely happy that we could do things together,” Vives said backstage. “We’re very sorry she’s not here with us. When I first started receiving messages from kids, it was a sign that we had done things right.”
“La Bicicleta” not only topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart; it also entered the Billboard Hot 100, an anomaly for a Spanish-only track.
But Vives and Shakira were not the only big Colombian winners of the night. Top nominee Fonseca took home two awards (cumbia/vallenato album of the year and best tropical song), and newcomer Manuel Medrano, nominated in three categories, won two, including the coveted best new artist and best singer/songwriter award.
“Music has become a very important surname for Colombia,” Fonseca said. “After years of having terrible surnames, we have a very positive surname.”
“I feel out of this planet,” Medrano said, referencing one of his singles. “I’ve been at this at least 10 years, ever since I wrote my first song at 18.”
Wins aside, perhaps the biggest moment of the awards, which aired live on Univision from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, was the Jennifer Lopez-Marc Anthony kiss. Yes, the exes kissed, right after they sang “Olvídate y pégame la vuelta” (Forget me and turn around) together, a song from 1984 originally recorded by Argentine sibling duo Pimpinela.
“I want to say a few words,” Lopez said following the performance, evocative of the pair’s famous performance of “Escapémosnos” during the Grammys back in 2005.
“Marc is a living legend who bares his heart and soul in his musical journey. He’s a pure and magical artist who gives us classics that will stay with us forever. Personally, we’ve learned so much in our own personal and artistic journey,” she said, prompting the audience to chant “Beso, beso” (Kiss, kiss).
“He will always mean many things in my life,” continued Lopez, unfazed. “Mentor and soul mate. And it gives me great pride to give the person of the year award to my love, Marc Anthony,” she said, sealing the award with a kiss.
The gesture capped a strong week for Anthony, who was feted the night before as the Latin Academy’s person of the year, and heralded a strong year for Lopez, who is in the midst of recording her upcoming Spanish language album.
It was a big artist moment for the 17th annual Latin Grammy Awards, which didn’t stick to the script of previous years.
In the wake of a divisive U.S. presidential election that saw Donald Trump win with an anti-immigrant rhetoric, the Latin Grammys opted for tackling controversy head on, with a provocative opening performance by Spanish singer/songwriter Pablo Lopez, featuring Juanes.
Backed by a gospel chorus and Cirque du Soleil acrobats, Lopez, who is little-known in the U.S. and has never charted on Billboard, performed “Tu enemigo” (Your Enemy), a thought-provoking song with topical lyrics (“Feeding the monster of rage, your enemy, who comes from another country to profane you, who steps on your city without permission, who will toss your things out on the street”).
It was an early indication that this year’s Latin Grammys were not going to be business as usual. Politics were an intrinsic part of the evening, “Here in the U.S. we just lived some pretty strong elections,” said Sebastian Rulli, who co-hosted the awards with Roselyn Sanchez. “At the same time,” added Sanchez, “In the next three hours we will live an adventure that will make all of us proud of our roots.”
But it also featured multiple new artist performances, including by Medrano, whose deep voice is soul-touching, and regional Mexican singer/songwriter Joss Favela, who writes songs with a depth and poignancy beyond his years.
As far as wins were concerned, however, there were few surprises, with most trophies scooped up by veteran, established names.
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, an Argentina ska/rock institution that performed in its first-ever Latin Grammys, took home two awards, for best rock song (“La tormenta”) and best rock album for La salvación de solo y Juan.
So did reggaeton star Yandel, whose “Encantadora” won best urban fusion/performance and best urban song.
But the most salient was Juan Gabriel, who had never won a Latin Grammy before and who finally got two.
Early winners included Alejandro Sanz, Paula Fernandes, Fonseca, J Balvin, Juan Gabriel, India, Los Tigres del Norte, Julieta Venegas and Michael Salgado.
Beyond the wins, the early ceremony featured heartfelt speeches, with multiple calls for unity through music in the post-Trump era.
“Walls should be only mental,” said Mexican alt/rocker Carla Morrison, who won Best alternative song for “Vez primera.” “I hope us as a Latin community can focus on making quality music, sending a message of quality and quality in music to the new artists who aspire to be on this stage. It’s important that we open our minds to give inspiration through music. We should not only talk about love. We have to open consciousness and open doors for new generations. Let’s not allow some orange Son of a Bitch take away our mental, spiritual and emotional liberty,” she added, directly referencing Trump, though not naming him.
“There is no racist or fascist who can harm us,” said bandleader Arturo O’Farrill, who won best Latin jazz album with his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra for Cuba: The Conversation Continues.
O’Farrill has taken the ashes of his father, the late Chico O’Farrill, to be laid to rest in Cuba in December, after 15 years of negotiations that were resolved this year when president Obama normalized relationships with Cuba.
Beyond politics, big early winners were alt Argentine duo Ilya Kuryaki & The Valderramas, who won best alternative music album for L.H.O.N. and best short-form video for “El gallo” in a category that featured little-watched productions and none of the big names that have made YouTube waves this year.
Also, Brazilian singer Céu won Best Portuguese language contemporary pop album for Tropix, which also won Best engineered album.
Fonseca, who along with Jesse & Joy was the most-nominated artist this year, won best cumbia/vallenato album for Homenaje a la música de Diomedes Díaz.
“Vallenato was the genre that inspired me and I receive this award with a lot of respect,” said Fonseca, who also has a second album, Conexión, up for album of the year.
Fellow Colombian J Balvin won best urban album for his commercially successful and much-touted Energía, while best urban song went to “Encantadora,” the Yandel hit co-written by Farruko, Yandel, Egbert Rosa Cintron and Eduardo Vargas.
The competition was decidedly more heated in the tropical categories. Best Salsa album, a category featuring only veteran acts, was won by Intensamente India con canciones de Juan Gabriel, India’s heartfelt homage to her good friend Juan Gabriel, who was involved in the album’s production.