With the astronomical success of “Despacito” and reggaeton’s ferocious, pop-friendlier comeback, Latin music is no longer a niche market, but a global force to be reckoned with. Singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade proved that vintage Mexican folk thrives through the filtered lens of pop; and Puerto Rican MC Residente showed that unflinching ideology still wins awards. Salsa mastermind Rubén Blades confirmed that traditional genres will continue to celebrated across generations; and in an unprecedented move, Latinxs wholeheartedly welcomed a handful of non-Latinxs stars into the mix. “It’s amazing to be accepted by the Latin culture,” said Steve Aoki during a red carpet interview. “The translation doesn’t matter. You can feel the rhythm universally.” Behold the best, worst and most WTF moments of this year’s ceremony.
“Puerto Rico doesn’t rise because it’s always been on its feet,” affirmed the pedagogic rapper against the dazzling, roots-driven backdrop of “Hijos de Cañaveral.” Donning white indigenous manta pants, Residente delivered a sincere message of hope and optimism in the wake of the multiple natural disasters that hit the Caribbean this year – namely Hurricane María, which catastrophically tore through his native island in September. Earlier in the night, ceremony hosts Roselyn Sánchez and Jaime Camil echoed similar sentiments, encouraging solidarity across the Americas by memorializing the victims of the Mexican earthquake.
Natalia Lafourcade is one of those delightful anomalies who has her feet planted on both the mainstream and alternative landscapes of Latin music. She’s a modern-day folklorist with an indie rock past – to the appeal of multiple generations. The Mexican singer appeared onstage evoking a Thirties-era Frida-like figure: colorful, confident and charmingly fierce. Backed by New York alt-mariachi troupe Flor de Toloache, Lafourcade cooed to the vintage-styled balada of “Mexicana Hermosa,” honoring the strong females of her native country. She then turns up the fandango alongside formidable bolero maestros Los Macorinos on the ravishing “Tu Si Sabes Quererme.” Midway through the song, a bevy of superstar front-row seaters start shuffling in action – among them, the unlikely pairing of Alejandro Fernández and J Balvin.
Armando Manzanero’s starring role in Bronco’s “Adoro” could’ve made for one triumphant moment at last night’s ceremony. The early Nineties grupera hit, after all, continues to resonate with both Latinx millennials and their parents. But instead, we can thank the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for crashing the party: According to El Comercio, the 81-year-old Mayan musician didn’t have an adequate visa to work in the U.S., thus he couldn’t perform. As sudden changes go, sibling pop duo Ha*Ash were enlisted the slot and delivered some satisfactory vocals. (Mind the overzealous belly rolls by Ashley Grace, which occasionally upstaged frontman José Guadalupe Esparza’s own dance chops.) Although Manzanero was in attendance, and received plenty of camera love from his seat in the audience, he seemed to be in great spirits – and was endearingly invited to join the group onstage for the applause of the song.
What caused Rubén Blades to gasp as he received Album of the Year for La Flor de Canela? What’s so surprising about a salsa dura pioneer, a rare and revered Fania legend, scoring the most prestigious award of the evening? Perhaps “Despacito” is messing with the psyche of what “good” Latin music should sound like, particularly for non-Latinx people; or maybe the market has determined that music is only new and exciting when chopped, screwed, remixed, sampled and fused. Keeping the sanctity of genre regionalism (e.g. salsa, boleros, mariachi, banda, sones, rumbas) was once thought to be a dying art form, but Blades’ win is a reassuring sign.
Hands down, the ballsiest moment at this year’s telecast goes to Residente when he basically called out the horde of baby-faced reggaetoneros a bunch of “posers of rhyme.” The moment occurred when the Puerto Rican MC righteously snagged the award for Best Urban Song for cacophony banger “Somos Anormales.”
“I’m going to say a few abnormal words,” he said, before calling out fellow “scenesters” at prestigious award ceremonies. “Let’s be real. Let’s talk about music and not the number of views! Let’s talk about real lyricism because it lacks! Art doesn’t have to do with rhyming, it has to do with speaking truth!” As the camera cut to the audience, viewers witnessed the bewildered, borderline mad-dog gazes abounding urban pretty boys like Bad Bunny and J balvin. Simply priceless.
The crown jewel of this year’s Latin Grammys was unquestionably Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s crossover hit, “Despacito.” The song won all four of its nominations – and how could it not? The record-breaking smash hit has reached 4 billion views on YouTube, and remained Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 for 16 consecutive weeks. While anglophone media has struggled to decipher the hit’s unprecedented level of global popularity, myriad outlets have credited Justin Bieber’s remix of the song. Whether it helped or not, Biebz got no shouts from “Despacito” crew – not even when the remix won Best Urban Fusion/Performance. (Not that he would understand them, anyway.)
As for the ceremony’s finale, Luis Fonsi enlisted Diplo, psychedelic cumbia duo Bomba Estereo, and salsa veteran Victor Manuelle to season the smash hit with unique stylistic variations, one at a time. Unfortunately, this may have been a touch ambitious: when Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet wailed through no-show Daddy Yankee’s rap verses, her delivery was off-key and borderline cringeworthy. No need to change a good thing!
It was predicted that “Despacito” would snag most, if not all four awards. Yet in spite of its monolithic popularity – even a Beyoncé feature – J Balvin’s viral jam “Mi Gente” did not make the cut for a single award. Still, Balvin strived to make a lasting impression – rocking freshly dyed neon blond hair and fuchsia hip-hop windbreakers, the Colombian megastar channeled a Latin raver Eminem. Appearing alongside Bad Bunny for hit single “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola,” the glowing trap tune slyly transitioned into a heavily stylized, more hyped-up “Mi Gente,” in the good hands of Steve Aoki. Bronx rapper French Montana also joined the party, presenting their rap ditty duet, “Unforgettable.” The dizzying performance was indeed so hard to forget, it should have come with an epilepsy warning.
Self-proclaimed “Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy” Maluma brought steam and slickness to the stage. But while performing the tantalizing tropical pop of “Felices Los 4,” he pulled off a Jim-Morrison-on-the-Ed-Sullivan-Show move, and got censored by Univisión. The effects may have differed in the late Sixties – though no artist back then wanted to risk being banned from a widely popular TV show, but Morrison only amplified his bad boy persona. Although the Colombian reggaetonero kept his original steamy lyrics about foursomes intact, the annoying beeping censors killed his naughty vibe and our listening experience.
With their dashing looks, impeccable dance moves and earworm-ready hits, Latin American upstarts CNCO are like the K-pop of Latin urban – and their show during the telecast was well worth screaming about. The thing is, CNCO was the only band of their kind at the ceremony: a commercially-manufactured boy band who first garnered fame in 2015 for winning the competitive TV show La Banda. Their prize included a worldwide tour with Ricky Martin and a five-year recording contract with Sony Music Latin. Whether or not they actually possess the compositional genius, their highly-charged performance of smash hit “Reggaetón Lento” was pure flames.
As opposed to the shocking disregard for politics at the 2016 Latin Grammys, this year’s ceremony compensated tenfold. Spanish crooner Alejandro Sanz, who’s been churning out timeless pop hits since the Nineties, dedicated his prestigious Person of the Year award to Dreamers and DACA recipients. Although he’s not quite known for the same political candor as, say, Residente, Sanz delivered an impassioned speech that shed a light on disenfranchised populations of America. During the slow-burning “Cuando Nadie Me Ve,” he interjected to say, “There are those who spend a lifetime building walls, and those others spend breaking them. And for each thrown rock there’s a dreamer.” Cue the surprise troupe of actual Dreamers, who would join him onstage for a massive, tearjerking singalong.
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