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Deep Dive

Led By Superstars Bad Bunny And J Balvin, Latin Music Conquers The Global Charts

Billboard’s new global charts debuted Sept. 19, meaning there is just three months of chart data to draw on, but already patterns have emerged surrounding listening and consumption around the globe, w…

Billboard’s new global charts debuted Sept. 19, meaning there is just three months of chart data to draw on, but already patterns have emerged surrounding listening and consumption around the globe, where Latin tracks — defined as those sung predominantly in Spanish — do much better. For the chart dated Dec. 5, for example, 38 Latin tracks sat on the Global Excl. U.S. chart, including three in the top 10, as opposed to 28 and two on the Global 200; Spotify’s top artist of 2020 was Bad Bunny, while on Deezer — which has a stronger streaming hold in Latin America and Europe than in the United States — it was J Balvin.

Latin music’s domination of the Global Excl. U.S. chart comes as no surprise to those with an international perspective. “If you look at the YouTube global charts on any given week, 40 to 50 tracks are Latin,” says Andrew Kronfeld, Universal Music Group’s executive vp global marketing. “On Spotify’s global chart, 30 to 40 are Latin. You would never see that locally.”

But Latin is certainly growing in the United States: According to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, through Nov. 19, Latin music registered 39.75 billion on-demand audio streams, a 26.4% gain compared with the previous year — far higher than the gains registered for R&B/hip-hop (up 15.3%), rock (up 10.7%) or country (up 21.8%). And according to the RIAA, Latin consumption grew faster than the overall market at midyear by a wide margin: 18.6% vs. 5.6%.

Yet U.S. consumption still lags behind the global market where, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, Latin is the third most-consumed genre in the world, behind only R&B/hip-hop and pop. “The most difficult markets for us with Latin repertoire are the English-language markets: the U.S. non-Latin audience, the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand,” says Kronfeld. “European markets are used to multiple languages. Asian markets are used to multiple languages.” But, he adds, “I’m proud to say we do better every month.”

Latin artists, as with many international acts who cross over into the U.S. market, also benefit from the tried-and-true tactic of focusing first on markets closer to home. That was true of Panamanian R&B/reggaetón fusion singer Sech, whose team focused on key markets like Mexico, Argentina and Chile, with a healthy reliance on data to know where to go next.

“We hit hard on TikTok campaigns and influencer marketing,” says Josh Méndez, president/COO of Sech’s independent label, Rich Music. The team followed the data and Sech started to receive airplay in those markets, building enough of a profile to start branching out into high-profile collaborations like “Relacion” alongside Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Rosalía and Farruko. The song reached No. 8 on the Global Excl. U.S. chart, higher than its peak on the Global 200, and at one point this summer was the top track on TikTok. (TikTok is not part of Billboard’s global charts calculations, which draw on digital sales and streams from over 200 territories.)

Alex Gallardo, president of Sony Music U.S. Latin, says that digital is reshaping the global market. “Historically, those of us who worked physical product know that before an artist was worked outside his or her own country, he had to establish himself in the country of origin,” he says. “Those barriers fell with the digital world.” At this point, says Gallardo, consumption of Latin music “acts almost like a single territory. What you hear in Argentina is similar to what you hear in Mexico.” Camilo, for example, a regular presence on the global chart, is Colombian, but consumed most in Mexico, followed very closely by Argentina, Chile, Spain, Peru and the United States. “Today, quite often the music travels on its own,” says Gallardo. “It’s about paying attention to where the fans are.”

Increasingly, those fans are everywhere. At Apple Music, Latin is the fastest-growing genre in the United States, registering a 29% year-over-year rise in streams, which slightly outpaces the overall market’s growth of 27%. At Spotify, “Latin America is the fastest-growing user base in the world,” says Mia Nygren, Spotify’s managing director for Latin America.

Spotify is also seeing consumption of Latin music growing quickly in territories as diverse as the United Kingdom, the Philippines and France. “Our global footprint has helped this,” says Nygren. And so have programming and promotion tools that allow the digital service provider to serve listeners more music from the artists they stream, as well as more choices. “We have editorial playlists and algorithmic playlists and we’re getting better and better at delivering the true reflection of what each user wants.”

Bad Bunny was Spotify’s most-streamed artist of 2020, and when his album El Último Tour del Mundo was released in late November, the platform partnered with him for a global campaign that included 24 markets across North America, Latin America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Editorially, he became the first Latin artist featured on the cover of Today’s Top Hits, Spotify’s most popular playlist, with over 27 million followers. He was also featured on the service’s largest Latin playlists, ¡Viva Latino! and Baila Reggaeton, each of which boast over 10 million followers. El Último Tour del Mundo became the first all-Spanish-language album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the 64-year history of the all-genre chart.

“In this past year, Latin music has really raised the bar in terms of its creative and promotional aspect,” adds Nygren. “It’s a cycle that feeds on itself. At the end of the day, this is mainstream. This is global.”

Additional reporting by Eric Frankenberg