Latin music is expected to reach the billion-dollar mark in revenues by year-end in the United States for the first time, according to the RIAA. That’s a big deal. But at the pace the genre has been growing over the past decade, it’s not surprising.
“I feel every year we’re talking about the Latin boom and we’re certainly not going ‘despacito,’” says Hans Schafer, senior vp of global touring at Live Nation. “I’d say this is the best year for Latin because we see it in streaming, in the number of tickets we’re selling, grosses in those shows and it’s not only Bad Bunny.”
Of course, Bad Bunny and his record-shattering album Un Verano Sin Ti — which became the first all-Spanish album to be ranked No. 1 on the Billboard 200 year-end albums chart — played a major role in giving the genre a boost. But the Puerto Rican hitmaker isn’t the only factor at play in what has been a years-long slow boil for Latin music, which was often seen as a fad in the past but is now regarded as a cornerstone genre in the U.S. music market.
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Spanish-language music has been having a moment in the U.S. ever since Daddy Yankee released his breakthrough single “Gasolina” in 2004. After the Latin explosion of the late ‘90s, when Shakira and Ricky Martin were recording in English to achieve mainstream success in the U.S., the euphoric anthem became the first time a Spanish-language hit went global. Then, there was Luis Fonsi‘s “Despacito,” the Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping song — spending a then-record 16 weeks at No. 1 in 2017 — that changed Latin music forever, spearheading a global Latin movement made possible by streaming.
This year, Spanish-language music in the U.S. and other non-Latin markets has reached new heights across multiple metrics, including on the charts, in market share growth and in global reach. In the U.S. alone, market share for the Latin genre — defined as music sung predominantly in Spanish — was 6.6% of the total market in the first half of the year, up from 5.9% last year, according to the RIAA’s mid-year report in October.
On the Hot 100 chart, a total of 45 Latin songs have entered the tally so far this year, way ahead of 2021’s 25 titles. Among this year’s crop, 22 were off Bad Bunny’s genre-hopping set Un Verano Sin Ti, which powered his extraordinary year along with two history-making U.S. tours. Those back-to-back runs grossed a total of $373.5 million from 1.8 million tickets across 65 shows, allowing the superstar to rank as the top act on Billboard’s year-end Top Tours chart.
Newer acts have also seen success on the touring front this year. Colombian reggaeton artist Feidsold out all 14 dates of his first-ever U.S. tour in a span of 24 hours after announcing it in October. So did up-and-coming sad sierreño act Ivan Cornejo, whose first U.S. trek — supported by local promoters and set to kick off in January for a total of 13 shows — sold out “within minutes,” according to his team, of the pre-sale.
The development of new artists, and understanding how the touring component complements their streaming and music video views, has been key to the continued growth of Latin music in the U.S. Emerging artists across Latin genres, notably in regional Mexican, are more diverse and younger, which has led to a new generation of Latin music fans who are bilingual, tech-savvy and more likely to embrace genre-blurring acts. The rise of Latin also coincides with shifting demographics in the U.S., where Latinos now represent nearly 20% of the population.
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Mexican music had a banner year. The legacy genre is reaching a wider audience thanks to a new generation of acts such as Grupo Firme, the first banda outfit to perform at Coachella, who followed up that history-making performance with a stadium tour; Eslabon Armado, whose Nostalgia became the first top 10-charting regional Mexican album ever on the Billboard 200; and artists like Ivan Cornejo and Yahritza Y Su Esencia, to name a few. On Billboard’s year-end Hot Latin Songs Artists chart, seven out of the top 20 are regional Mexican acts. What was once considered music by Mexican artists for a Mexican audience has now become big business in the U.S. market.
“[Regional Mexican] music is a lot more relatable now for a Mexican American kid that lives in the U.S. because the sound and lyrics have evolved,” says Brayan Guerra, label manager at Lumbre Music, whose roster includes Yahritza Y Su Esencia. The sibling trio broke earlier this year with “Soy El Único,” which became the fourth regional Mexican song ever to enter the Hot 100. In November, they signed with Columbia Records in partnership with Lumbre and Sony Music Latin, making them the first Mexican music act to join the Columbia roster.
Streaming has played a huge role in the increase in Latin music consumption, with the RIAA’s mid-year Latin revenue report showing that streaming revenues were the biggest growth driver for the genre. Through the first half of 2022, music streaming formats comprised 97% of all Latin music revenues ($510 million), with paid subscriptions the biggest source of sales at 71%. That amounts to 69% of overall Latin revenues, totaling $350 million in paid subscriptions alone.
“Artists were able to build communities during the pandemic because of the time people spent consuming music during lockdown, and we’re seeing the impact now,” says Carlos Abreu, a London-based music agent at UTA. “Like Karol G when she had all her fans wearing blue wigs, Rosalía with the motomamis and motopapis.”
Success in the U.S. reflects the ever-growing popularity of the genre in other non-Latin markets. “Latin America and the U.S. continue to drive the consumption and engagement, but we do see it becoming more global with bigger acts like Rosalía, Karol G and Bad Bunny being consumed in continents like Africa,” says Maykol Sanchez, head of artist & label partnerships, LatAm & US Latin at Spotify, where 10 Latin artists were within the Top 50 global most-streamed artists this year. “The last few years have been an explosion with our friend Bad Bunny leading the way but a lot of other great artists having big moments too.”
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To name a few, Anitta reached the No. 1 spot on Spotify’s Top 50 – Global chart with “Envolver” in March, making her the first Brazilian artist to do so. The same day, Paulo Londra landed in the No. 2 position with his song “Plan A.” And in July, Argentine producer Bizarrap and Spanish artist Quevedo reached the No. 1 position on the Spotify Global tally with their smash hit “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 52.”
“It’s more a global business than it ever has been,” says Abreu, whose client Rosalía earned $28.1 million touring on three continents so far this year. Europe is now quicker to embrace Latin music than it did previously, he adds. “I’ve seen the shift in real-time. Especially [when] booking European festivals and tours. Before there was the education that needed to happen, the convincing. Five or six years ago we were trying to convince promoters or buyers that these artists were mainstream. It’s exciting that the world is [finally] catching up and it feels good to say, ‘I told you so.’”
In terms of expanding Latin music’s global reach, the U.S. remains the jackpot market “because it’s the seal of approval” that helps launch Latin artists in other parts of the world, says Bruno Del Granado, head of global Latin music touring at CAA. “When I started working in the label business many years, at the end of the year the U.S. market would generate probably 70% of our revenue and international was 30%. Now it’s the opposite: 30% U.S., 70% international. The U.S. gives you prestige, but you also want China, India and Latin America. It adds into this big puzzle and every artist, the smart ones, always look at the world as their market.”
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