Since Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” remix featuring Justin Bieber came out one year ago, the bilingual megahit’s reverberations through the industry have only intensified. Superstars like Beyoncé and Demi Lovato jumped on Latin hits like “Mi Gente” (with J Balvin and Willy William) and “Échame la Culpa” (with Fonsi), respectively. Viva Latino and Baila Reggaetón became two of Spotify’s five most listened-to playlists in the world, according to the streaming platform. Over one-third of the acts on YouTube’s Music Global Top 100 were Latin. And on the Billboard Hot 100, for the first time ever, two Spanish-language songs — “Despacito” and “Mi Gente” — simultaneously occupied the top 10.
Celebrating the past year’s Latin takeover, the 29th annual Billboard Latin Music Conference, taking place April 23-26 at the Venetian in Las Vegas, will feature panels highlighting how Latin artists and festivals are reaching non-Spanish-speaking audiences, the new trap and reggaetón chart-toppers and the game-changing young “Mexillenials” taking center stage in the regional Mexican world. On the last day of the conference, Telemundo will broadcast the Billboard Latin Music Awards live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Colombian stars Balvin and Shakira lead the nominees list with 12 entries each, followed by Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Ozuna and Maluma with 10. In keeping with the past year’s cross-genre collaborations, non-Latin acts scored a significant number of nods, too: Bieber with eight and Beyoncé close behind with six. Here, a look at the nominees for three of the big night’s top categories.
Artist of the Year: J Balvin, Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Ozuna
Now surpassing 5 billion YouTube views, “Despacito” earned Fonsi and Daddy Yankee a spot in the top category. (Both artists are also up for songwriter of the year.) Balvin’s exuberant global collaboration “Mi Gente” won him a nod, while rising Puerto Rican reggaetón and Latin trap star Ozuna, whose Odisea is now the longest-leading No. 1 by a male artist on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, closes out the quartet of nominees.
New Artist of the Year: Alta Consigna, Bad Bunny, Christian Nodal, El Fantasma y Banda Populares del Llano
Crooner Christian Nodal, who notched his first No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums tally with debut EP Me Dejé Llevar, is up against fellow rising regional Mexican acts Consigna and El Fantasma y Banda Populares del Llano, both of which also scored No. 1s on the genre’s albums list. On the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum: trap sensation Bad Bunny, whose 22 charted hits on Hot Latin Songs (six of which reached the top 10) and current, first-ever U.S. tour make him a strong contender for the honor.
Tour of the Year: Marc Anthony, Ricardo Arjona, Enrique Iglesias & Pitbull, Marco Antonio Solís
This category’s finalists are all reliable arena fillers who claimed some of the highest-grossing tours of the past year, according to Billboard Boxscore. Iglesias and Pitbull teamed up for a blockbuster two-leg, 35-concert trek. They’re up against box-office king Anthony; Guatemalan singer-songwriter Arjona, who played one of the first post-Hurricane Maria shows in Puerto Rico; and Mexico’s Solís. — GRISELDA FLORES
The Nominees: Producer Of The Year
From: Cayey, Puerto Rico
Known for: Collaborators ranging from pop stars to urban up-and-comers: He produced boy band CNCO’s 2016 debut, Primera Cita, and has also worked with Jennifer Lopez (2017’s “Amor, Amor, Amor”), Ozuna (“Escápate Conmigo”) and Chayanne.
Sounds like: Explosive reggaetón, exemplified by his own star duo, Wisin & Yandel.
From: Carolina, Puerto Rico; now lives in San Juan
Known for: The 28-year-old dynamo arrived on the urban Latin scene six years ago, producing, writing and arranging for Wisin & Yandel. Since then, he has racked up credits on tracks by Ozuna and Daddy Yankee.
Sounds like: Sensual Latin trap, exemplified on his J Balvin, Ozuna and Arcángel collaboration “Ahora Dice,” a Hot Latin Songs top 10 hit.
MAURICIO RENGIFO & ANDRÉS TORRES
From: Cali and Bogotá, Colombia, respectively; both now live in Los Angeles
Known for: Luis Fonsi played the duo a romantic pop ballad, they added a reggaetón beat, and “Despacito” was born.
Sounds like: Rengifo, of urban-pop duo Cali y El Dandee, and Torres were spreading their tropical-urban style long before “Despacito” on tracks by Thalía, Alejandro Sanz and David Bisbal.
From: Quibdó, Colombia; now lives in Medellín
Known for: A string of Nicky Jam hits, from Hot Latin Songs record-breaker “El Perdón” with Enrique Iglesias to “X,” the artist’s J Balvin pair-up that is No. 2 on the chart.
Sounds like: Dancehall and Afro-Colombian influences meets more lyrical Colombian styles, reggaetón and pop.
— JUDY CANTOR-NAVAS
Repping for Rock en Español
Over a three-decade career, Mexican rock group Maná has scored 30-plus hits on the Hot Latin Songs chart, 15 entries on Top Latin Albums and 24 Billboard Latin Music Awards — and counting: This year, the band is up for Latin pop songs artist of the year, duo or group. Ahead of the 2018 awards, where the members will receive the Lifetime Achievement honor and give a special performance, frontman Fher Olvera and drummer Alex González spoke about Maná’s extraordinary longevity and philanthropy.
Throughout such a long career, what has been your proudest achievement thus far?
González: Maná became huge in the United States singing in Spanish. We never did anything in English or any crossover. The U.S. is the most difficult country in the world as far as making it goes, and it’s also the most important in the industry. In the beginning, it was difficult for us, but to this day we’re selling out the biggest arenas in the U.S., from Madison Square Garden [in New York] to the Staples Center [in Los Angeles].
The band has always embraced social justice, particularly through its Selva Negra ecological foundation, which was founded in 1995. What drives that dedication?
Olvera: We’ve always had an interest in collaborating with both people and the planet. We wanted to plant a seed in people’s hearts and, together, to respect all the species that surround us, and to fight for a better world.
How has the industry changed for Latin rock groups since you started out?
González: It’s disappointing to see how record labels and radio stations have lost interest in rock en español bands. It’s not like it used to be in the ’80s, ’90s or even the early 2000s. But it’s awesome that there are so many genres and fusions of sounds going on in Latin music now. — G.F.
Guiding the Next Generation
Working with Bad Bunny, Ozuna and a slew of rising regional Mexican acts, respectively, the executives on the conference’s “New Starmakers” panel — Rimas Entertainment founder/co-owner Noah Assad, Dimelo Vi vp entertainment Vicente Saavedra and Gerencia 360 founder/CEO Luis Del Villar — have learned what it takes to launch nontraditional Latin talent. In advance of their April 24 conversation in Las Vegas, the power trio reflect on their success thus far.
How would you describe your style of management?
Saavedra: I’m a warrior, I’m a psychologist; they are artists, [and] they think differently. I’m like a doctor who understands them and enters their mind.
Del Villar: We start from scratch, where sometimes there’s only a mom and dad behind the artist. At Gerencia, we’re like a university, and education and discipline are fundamental. Our conviction is not just to develop talent, but better human beings.
What’s your biggest achievement thus far?
Assad: Bad Bunny gave me artist recognition, but every step feels like an achievement, from getting to 100 million views to working with artists day to day.
Del Villar: One of the biggest achievements was three gold records from Noel Torres. We believe artists like Cornelio Vega y Su Dinastia, Adriel Favela, Jonatán Sánchez and Omar Ruiz will reach that goal, too.
Saavedra: We believed in launching albums when people said to just work singles. Being on the charts for this long has been a major highlight.
How have streaming platforms helped your artists?
Del Villar: Streaming platforms like Spotify are really tools to develop a song. Whether the song is actually good determines the success.
Assad: YouTube is an algorithm based on traffic and browsing for content. But the algorithm helps you get discovered more than any routine way music is consumed.
Saavedra: Spotify and YouTube are the thermometers of music. They allow us to see where we need to go.
— JUSTINO ÁGUILA