Regardless of what the Grammys may think, Latin music was dominated by urban beats in 2018 — more specifically that syncopated reggaetón beat that’s become our new definition of pop.
Reggaetón’s inescapable rhythm seemed to permeate every corner of our sonic landscape this year, blending seamlessly with pop, with rap, with rock, with everything, like a little black dress. Not that there was anything wrong with that: With its infinite catchiness, some great melodies as a complement and an often generous dollop of naughtiness, that reggaetón beat made us sit up, take note — and quite often, dance.
But in the midst of that syncopated chan…cha-chan, there were other songs that explored boundaries in their own way, blending genres and styles with defiance and a message and sometimes just beautiful simplicity. Clearly, the well of Latin music is just starting to open up to listeners at large. Here are our picks for the top 20 Latin songs of the year.
20. Becky G & Natti Natasha, “Sin pajama”
The notion of two girls doing naughty things has been virtually non-existent in Latin music. “Sin Pijama” (“No Pajamas”) upends the image of the nice girl, with stars Becky G and Natti Natasha unapologetically swapping lines like “I’ve always been a lady, but I’m a tramp in bed.” The fact that “Sin pajama” is an eminently catchy pop-reggaetón track only helps its cause. –– LEILA COBO
19. Monsieur Periné, “Bailar contigo”
The Colombian trio with the funky name made a name for themselves when they won the best new artist award at the 2015 Latin Grammys for their eclectic and often quirky mix of sounds, which range from swing to pop. “Bailar contigo” is far more mainstream but no less lovely for it: a lilting samba mixed with tropical beats and carried by singer Catalina García’s sweet guileless voice, soaring with subtlety. — L.C.
18. Karol G, “Mi cama”
“My bed makes noise and makes noise,” says Karol G saucily, injecting all the girl power she can muster into “Mi cama.” The song became one of the biggest hits of the summer thanks to its catchy, sheets-shaking melody. Unapologetically sexy and insistent about women reigning in bed, “Mi cama” also was gifted a remix with J Balvin and Nicky Jam, which helped Karol G land her first No. 1 on any Billboard airplay chart when it topped Latin Rhythm Airplay in August. — JESSICA ROIZ
17. Calibre 50, “Mi Sorpresa Fuiste Tu”
Calibre 50 really wanted everyone to fall in love in 2018 with their single “Mi Sorpresa Fuiste Tu.” The romantic Norteño track is fully charged with heartfelt lyrics about finally finding “the one” and making endless promises, with its heavy use of tuba making for an unlikely accompaniment to the slow melody. Even men in hats know of love: “Mi Sorpresa Fuiste Tu” is such a beautiful and relatable love song that it topped the Regional Airplay chart, jumping to No. 1 in September and becoming Calibre’s 12th No. 1. — J.R.
16. Mon Laferte, “El beso”
Chilean singer Mon Laferte’s burlesque vocals and Latin big band stylings bring playfulness back to Latin pop. Punched with a cumbia beat, murga horns and old-fashioned “ooh-la-la,” “El beso” is a party song for all audiences. — JUDY CANTOR-NAVAS
15. Pedro Capó, “Calma”
Pedro Capó gave a romantic vibe to summer 2018 (in between too many reggaetón songs) with his single “Calma.” The song fuses slow rhythms of reggae and was released along with a music video that shows the beaches and beauty of the Caribbean. Even in its subsequent remix featuring Farruko, the song is an invitation to relax and enjoy life. — SUZETTE FERNANDEZ
14. Maluma & Shakira, “Clandestino”
After testing the waters — rather explosively — with “Chantaje,” Shakira and Maluma teamed up again for “Clandestino,” a sexy, sultry reggaetón jam of give and take. The single has a minimalist sensibility; there is little accompaniment save for the beat and sparse piano chords. But there’s Shakira and her Colombian twin singing together in teasing banter. We know well that Shakira is married to Piqué, but it’s still fun to listen to this side flirtation. — L.C.
13. Luis Fonsi & Stefflon Don feat. Karol G, “Calypso” (Remix)
Luis Fonsi heated the summer of 2018 with “Calypso,” his delightful collab with English rapper and signer Stefflon Don, and then he pushed things up a notch with a follow-up remix featuring Karol G. It helped move the frisky track to No. 1 on Latin Airplay (chart dated Sept. 15) giving Don his first leader on the chart and Karol G her second. — S.F.
12. Alejandro Sanz, “No tengo nada”
Spanish pop star Alejandro Sanz returned three years after his last studio album with “No tengo nada,” a song that is spectacular in its simplicity. Remaining true to his gravelly talk-singing style and his everyman point of view, Sanz’s love ballad is a lesson in the power of humility. — J.C.N.
11. Ile, “Odio”
Ile’s “Odio” specifically honors the victims of Cerro Maravilla, a 1978 massacre of young independence activists by Puerto Rican police. But this visceral track that speaks of “walls, barriers and wires” perfectly captures this past year’s global tensions. The Puerto Rican artist, whose strength as a soloist was clear as soon as she emerged from the group Calle 13, where she rapped through her teens, steadily sings out against hate (“let hate die of hunger because no one feeds it”) against a backdrop of disquieting beats that gallop to a boiling point, as her vocals become more insistent and uncontrolled. Reclaiming the rhythm of Puerto Rican bomba, and referencing the Latin American protest tradition and international urban genres, “Odio” recalls both the revisionist folk of Violeta Parra and Kate Tempest’s urgent spoken poetry. — J.C.N.
10. Bad Bunny, Casper Magico, Darell, Nicky Jam, Nio Garcia, Ozuna, “Te Boté”
“Te Boté” was born while Hurricane Maria was passing through Puerto Rico. Perhaps that’s why Casper Magico and Nio Garcia’s song is so full of righteous anger at a cheating lover: “I kicked you out,” they sing plaintively, less than a minute in. On the song’s seven-minute remix, the refrain gets repeated by a parade of guest artists — including superstars Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny and Ozuna — which understandably turned the song into a massive hit. — S.F.
9. Fito Paez, “Tu vida mi vida”
In an era of reggaetón beats, Argentine pop/rock icon Fito Paez refused to take that direction, opting instead for dreamy rock to express love. “Tu vida mi vida” (“Your Life My Life”) is a mid-tempo rock track with lush sonic padding suitable for sweetly gushing lyrics (“Nothing is impossible with her illusion… the entire universe connects with our love”), from a man who has no qualms about saying exactly what he feels. — L.C.
8. Daddy Yankee, “Dura”
At this point, Daddy Yankee may be the longest-tenured reggaetonero on the charts. But the man has most definitely not lost his touch for producing hits, placing a handful on Billboard’s year-end Hot Latin Songs list. Our favorite was “Dura”: More reggae than reggaetón, this irresistible dance track sits on a thumping beat that makes it an ideal party — and Zumba — anthem. It’s no surprise the single spawned hundreds of “Dura” challenges, became a viral hit and ended 2018 at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs year-end list. — L.C.
7. Christian Nodal, “No te contaron mal”
Christian Nodal shocked everyone when he dropped his single “No te contaron mal” in September. The production not only showed a different side to the Mexican singer-songwriter musically but also physically, with Nodal flaunting his mature look and new tattoo sleeve in the music video. The lyrics in “No te contaron mal” demonstrate his flirtatious and rebellious ways, after coming clean about a one-night stand. — J.R.
6. Trending Tropics & Vetusta Morla, “Cyber Monday”
Trending Tropics is the producer-driven concept by Calle 13’s Visitante and singer-songwriter, Vicente García. “Cyber Monday” features the distinct vocals of Spanish indie-rock band Vetusta Morla’s frontman, Pucho (Juan Pedro Martí), and Carlos Alomar (David Bowie, Soda Stereo) on guitar. The track’s intro pushes an undertone of synth-generated exhilaration, which builds throughout the verses, propelled by a punchy disco beat. The result is a funk-bathed tune with electronic nuances and crazy guitar riffs. Its lyrics? Let’s just leave that up to Vetusta Morla’s guitarist Guille Galván and Alomar: nostalgia genética animal (“animal genetic nostalgia”) and no hay piscoanálisis que pueda asumir (“there is no psychoanalysis that I can undertake”.) — PAMELA BUSTIOS
5. Nicky Jam & J Balvin, “X”
Nicky Jam and J Balvin’s “X” fuses dancehall and reggae, resulting in a new Caribbean sound in the urban genre. Originally written by J Balvin for his buddy Nicky Jam (who in turned asked Balvin to be on the song), X’s now-recognizable signature hook and dance move inspired legions of fans to take on “X” challenges, propelling the track to No 1 on Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart. — S.F.
4. Bad Bunny & Drake, “MIA”
This year sparked some of the most interesting collaborations in Latin music history, including hip-hop superstar Drake linking up with Bad Bunny for the sultry “MIA.” The two artists surprised fans when the single dropped, with Drake flaunting his Spanish-speaking skills as he did in Romeo Santos’ “Odio” a couple years earlier. The infectious reggaetón track, with romantic-meets-kinky lyrics jumped 9-1 on the Hot Latin Songs art in late October, becoming both Bad Bunny and Drake’s second No. 1 on the chart. — J.R.
3. Reik feat. Ozuna and Wisin, “Me Niego”
Reik’s pull-at-your-strings ode to lost love — watch the video so you can cry along while listening — saw the Mexican band trio join forces with Ozuna and Wisin for one of the most successful pop/urban collaborations to date. “Me Niego ” became Reik’s first chart topper on the Latin Airplay chart (dated May 26). — S.F.
2. Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “I Like It”
You could say Cardi B’s “I Like It” is the ultimate Latin crossover track: an English-language song performed by a Dominican-American rapper that samples a track by a Bronx-born Nuyorican and features a Puerto Rican and a Colombian rapping in Spanish and English. In fact, the new “I Like It” pays beautiful homage to the original “I Like It Like That,” a boogaloo hit from Pete Rodriguez released in 1967 and revisited by The Blackout All Stars in 1994 for the film of the same name, with Tito Nieves on vocals. And then, along comes Cardi, simply saying “I Like It” to the following: dollars, diamonds, Balenciagas and more. Her ode to material things reaches its apex when Bad Bunny and J Balvin step in to strut their stuff in Spanish. And Balvin boasting about his Billboard cover? We like that, certainly. — L.C.
1. Rosalía, “Malamente”
Bursting with poetic lyrical imagery, “Malamente” is full of forceful handclaps and an avalanche of sounds from flamenco’s roots, which mesh with contemporary urban components. The first single off the album El Mal Querer, the song was written by C. Tangana (Rosalía’s ex), El Guincho and Rosalía. The stylistic musical collision makes the 25-year-old Rosalia a trailblazer of a genre that leans more on the senses than on a model that can be grasped. “Malamente” is urban, flamenco and R&B, all fused in an uncharted domain. — P.B.