Beatriz Luengo was in a writing session for a major female artist when another writer volunteered a lyric for the chorus that went, “I want you to spray me with your hose all night.” Luengo bristled: Her label, Sony Latin, had brought her in to provide a female perspective in the songwriting process. “If we’re going to talk sex, let’s talk sex that’s good for both sides,” says Luengo, 36. “Music has influence. I don’t want to tell young girls that ‘getting sprayed’ is the new sexy.”
The Latin Grammy-nominated artist and songwriter, who has penned hits for Ricky Martin and CNCO, is one of just a handful of Latina songwriters working on charting Latin hits. That scarcity goes to the core of a long-standing issue in the genre: With fewer women writing, it’s harder for them to get on the charts than men.
Sony Latin is trying to change this dynamic by bringing in established writers like Luengo to better accommodate young Latina singers, one of many efforts the music industry has made in the last two years. Latin labels are actively pushing new female acts like Lali and Paloma Mami (Sony), Greeicy and Mariah (Universal), and Cazzu (Rimas) — a major shift in focus. Univision’s Premios lo Nuestro and Telemundo’s Latin American Music Awards both had all female hosts for their most recent editions for the first time in their histories, and Spotify and Apple Music actively promote female artists on their platforms.
And there has been a tangible effect. In 2015 and 2016, the percentage of titles with women on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart hovered around 8%. Once the push to promote Latina talent kicked up in 2017, the dial began to shift. In 2018, there were 36 such songs on the chart, approaching 15%.
Yet the number has slipped again this year, and among those tracks that have reached the top 10, just four songs include women, down from 10 in 2018. Of those four, the two that made it to No. 1 — Shakira’s “Chantaje” (featuring Maluma) and “Dame Tu Cosita” by Pitbull, El Chombo and Karol G — featured men. On Country Airplay, which also has come under scrutiny for a lack of diversity, women were featured on 21% of the songs between January 2018 and July 2019, according to a SongData study.
Part of the issue is that the dominant subgenres on the Latin charts are reggaetón and urban, which historically favor male singers. Becky G, Karol G and Natti Natasha, who crossed over from pop to urban music, are exceptions, but they are outliers in that they write most of their own songs. The majority of urban music is written for male artists from a male perspective because virtually all of the Latin producers, engineers, DJs and songwriters creating the material are men. “The lack of women in the creative space [is worrisome],” says Nir Seroussi, executive vp at Interscope Geffen A&M. “There isn’t one female producer I know.”
In June, Spotify launched the Casa de Música — Escuta as Minas initiative, a recording studio in São Paulo. “The goal was to create a safe space and environment in an all-female-led studio,” says Mia Nygren, Spotify’s managing director for Latin America. Casa de Música is part of a Listen to Women initiative Spotify debuted in Brazil in 2018.
Erika Ender, who co-wrote “Despacito,” is excited to see more female colleagues in writing sessions. But, she says, “my personal perception is it’s still not being reflected in the charts. Perhaps it’s a matter of time.”