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The Grammys’ Latin Music Problem: What Will It Take for More Representation?

Mr. Nimbus | 02/07/2024

If we’re going to talk snubs and surprises at the Grammys, let’s address the big Latin elephant in the room.

There was very little Latin presence at this year’s Grammy awards. Only three Latin names – Edgar Barrera, Gustavo Dudamel and 123 Andrés – were nominated in non-Latin categories (for songwriter of the year (non-classical), best orchestral performance and best children’s musical album, respectively). The first nomination is a major look, perhaps explained by the fact that this is a relatively new category with a fresh perspective.

And the latter two won – not entirely unsurprising, given Dudamel’s stature and new appointment as the director of the New York Philharmonic. The best children’s album win for 123 Andrés was the most poignant, a sign that the more innocent children’s music perhaps has less barriers.

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As for the show itself, only 10 to 12 awards of the 91 total are typically given out during the telecast. In his post Grammy column, Bob Lefsetz wrote, “Now if I want to be honest, a lot of other genres were recognized in the pre-show, but unless you won an award, or are related to or work with the winner, no one knows and no one cares. They won’t put this music on the telecast, it’s not broad enough.”

I beg to differ. First, many categories are given out in the pre-telecast simply because only a handful of awards are given out on air. There are many others that many people care about.

When it comes to the Latin music categories historically, however, they have hardly ever made the telecast – despite the fact that Latins now represent nearly 20% of the U.S. population, and that Spanish is the second most-consumed language in music in the country. But, the Grammys aren’t about representation, right? If that were the case, we would be advocating for Latin nominees in every category of the awards, because, well, we’re 20%. But that’s not it.

The Grammys are about quality, and cultural and artistic impact. That’s why the absence of Peso Pluma – a catalyst for the revival of an entire musical genre that has impacted the charts and American consciousness, and whose music is downright dazzling — in the general categories was so jarring.  

The Mexican music superstar’s absence was especially conspicuous in the best new artist category. He was eligible among 405 new artists who competed for those eight slots, but he was not nominated. In fact, only two other artists who perform in Spanish have ever been nominated for best new artist – Rosalía in 2019 and Anitta in 2022, and neither artist won.

Why was Karol G considered good ratings fodder – the stadium headliner was seated at the front of the room and received her award for best música urbana album on air, after all — but was still shut out of any non-Latin category? This, despite the fact that she ended the year at No. 23 on Billboard’s year-end top artists chart, her Mañana Será Bonito was a top 20 album on Billboard’s year-end chart, and she played to sprawling sold-out crowds all year.

Clearly, despite all the positive moves towards diversifying the Recording Academy’s voting body, members are still resisting the concept of including music in Spanish as part of the mainstream. In the entire history of the Grammys, only one album in Spanish has ever received an album of the year nomination: Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Tí in 2023. The last Spanish-language song nominated for song of the year or record of the year was “Despacito” in 2018. It didn’t win in either category, but it got the chance to compete. The importance of those opportunities to participate in the competition cannot be overlooked.

Ironically, the first-ever record and song of the year winner, back when the awards launched in 1959, was an Italian-language song, Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare).” Then in 1964, the Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto version of “The Girl From Ipanema” won record of the year. Los Lobos’ hit cover version of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” was nominated for both record of the year and song of the year in 1988, and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was nominated in those same two categories in 1999 (although Martin’s smash was mostly in English). That’s an awfully short list across 60-plus years, and yet we remain unable to even consider Spanish-language music as a real option in the Big Four.

Yesterday, a major Latin recording artist told me, “How come we never get nominated in the main categories? It makes me really angry.”

It doesn’t make me angry. Just sad.

Leila Cobo is Billboard’s Chief Content Officer for Latin and Español.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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