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Inside Latin Music’s Global Takeover

After U.S. breakthroughs in recent years, superstars like Bad Bunny and J Balvin helped Latin music experience its biggest year of growth to date.

Latin music’s big year started in February with Shakira and Jennifer Lopez delivering the Super Bowl halftime show in Miami. It ended with Bad Bunny as Spotify’s most-streamed artist of 2020, while his November album, El Último Tour del Mundo, became the first all-Spanish No. 1 on the Billboard 200. In between, Maluma’s “Hawái” became the first Spanish-language track to top the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. list (Billboard launched its global charts in September), and stateside, over 40 tracks sung predominantly in Spanish entered the Billboard Hot 100, up from 19 in 2019.

All of which indicates that in 2020, three years after “Despacito” broke through at American top 40 radio, Latin music (defined as music performed predominantly in Spanish, regardless of genre or provenance) experienced the biggest boost in its global expansion. It’s all part of what Universal Music Latin America/Iberian Peninsula chairman/ CEO Jesús López calls a “cultural movement.”


This consumption of Latin music in the United States grew faster than that of any other genre. According to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, Latin music registered 39.75 billion on-demand audio streams through Nov. 19, a 26.4% gain compared with the previous year that exceeds gains registered for country (21.8%), R&B/ hip-hop (15.3%), pop (11.6%) and rock (10.7%). And according to the RIAA, consumption of Latin music had grown faster than that of the overall market at midyear: 18.6% compared with 5.6%.

During any given week in 2020, 30% of all tracks on YouTube’s Global Top Songs chart featured Latin artists, and on Spotify, Latin America is the fastest-growing user base in the world. Plus, as Spotify managing director for Latin America Mia Nygren says, “Latin content is also growing in terms of our global footprint.” Nygren says the genre is rapidly expanding in markets like the United Kingdom, France and the Philippines — largely because it has “raised the bar in terms of its creative and promotional aspect” this year, scoring high-profile ventures outside of music. Maluma is starring in Marry Me alongside Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, J Balvin joined Travis Scott as only the second celebrity in 30 years to get a namesake McDonald’s meal, and Rosalía became a global ambassador for MAC cosmetics.


Meanwhile, newcomers like Camilo and Rauw Alejandro — who signed to Sony Latin in 2019 and 2020, respectively — made inroads toward global success. Camilo is up for best Latin pop or urban album at the upcoming Grammy Awards (against Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin and others), while Alejandro hit No. 13 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart in July.

As Sony Music U.S. Latin president Alex Gallardo says, “When you look at Billboard’s global charts and see Latin music’s clout, it’s clout it never had before.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard.