Back in 2015, Marc Anthony brought out a surprise guest during one of his two sold-out dates at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. “I want to recognize someone who came to the concert tonight,” he said. “Please, with all the respect in the world, let’s hear it for Hillary Clinton.”
A beaming Clinton, dressed in an aquamarine suit, came out to what was a deafening few minutes of cheers — but also some audible jeers.
It could have been a harbinger of things to come. Clinton would eventually win Miami Dade county by a 30-point margin in 2016 — but four years later, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden led only a 7% margin, while two Democratic Congressional seats were lost in the county.
This, despite the fact that Miami-Dade remains a bastion of Hispanic diversity, and that dozens of Latin artists with Miami ties — including Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Luis Fonsi, to name just a few — actively spoke out in favor of the Biden/Kamala Harris ticket, exhorting their fans to vote Democrat.
“It’s too conflictive. In past years, artists would support one candidate or the other and it was fine. This year, if someone takes a stance, the other side will bash you,” says Miami-based popular DJ Alex Sensation, who streams his daily radio show to his more than 1.3 million Instagram followers and closely watches artist feeds. “I honestly don’t think celebrity endorsements sway one way or the other. How you vote is something personal and private, and each person makes individual decisions that you have to respect. My message has been: do your homework and vote.”
Latin music artists, with their huge and hugely engaged followings, seemed a natural fit for candidates seeking to energize the Latin vote, particularly among young voters.
The Biden campaign actively sought these acts out, licensing Latin music for campaign ads and participating with them in multiple events, despite complications stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past few weeks, Luis Fonsi introduced Biden at an event in Orlando, Jennifer López and Alex Rodriguez appeared in virtual chat with Biden and wife Jill, and Shakira encouraged fans to vote for Biden. In all instances, their posts were met with both support and antagonism from divided fans.
“We have this notion that influencers can actually influence a decision, and this is a much deeper issue than if you like a song or not,” said one Miami-based live industry executive who declined to give his name, but who voted for Trump. “But everybody is entitled to their opinion. There’s a huge influx of Colombians and Venezuelans in Miami-Dade County. Venezuelans in particular don’t want anything that smells, resembles, in any shape or form Venezuela. It is the most important factor,” he added.
Many industry observers also see wading into political waters as a lose-lose situation for Latin artists. “Many artists have their views, but they’re not U.S. citizens and they can’t vote,” says one manager, whose artist did not endorse any candidate precisely for that reason. “[My artist] has his views, but he also has the integrity to realize he may not be as well informed, because he is not a citizen.”
“Citizens don’t really feel like they need an artist or celebrity to make a decision,” says Jammin Johnny Caride, program director supervisor and on-air talent at SBS in Miami. “Artists and celebrities are people too, and have every right to endorse their candidates. But many fans who don’t like the endorsement tend to write on their walls.”
And while endorsing a democratic candidate in general, and a candidate opposing Trump, would seem like a safe bet for a Latin act, it didn’t turn out to necessarily be the case. The last politically inclined Instagram post from Fonsi, for example, was a photo with Obama with an innocuous caption: “Such an honor to share the stage with a true leader,” and the hashtag #BidenHarris. It elicited hundreds of “Trump 2020” replies.
“These elections, there was so much evenly divided passion that as an artist you stood the chance of losing fans if you went either way,” says Caride. But irritation from either side is eventually expected to dissipate.
“It’s very easy to like Biden and very hard to vote for Trump,” admits the touring executive. “But I think Latins are much ‘lighter’ in the sense that we will go see our artist regardless of where they fall [in the political spectrum]. When Marc brought Hillary out during that Miami concert, that put the fan in a very awkward position. ‘I’m not here to see Hillary; I’m here to see you.’ But I like Marc Anthony. I won’t stop going to his shows because he supports Biden.”