Getty Images/Art treatment by Liz Coulbourn
In this op-ed, cultural critic Jenzia Burgos responds to Latine musicians being “snubbed” at the Grammys 2024, arguing that Latin music is not suffering from a lack of global visibility — the American music industry simply does not know, or care to know, how to recognize the movement as anything other than a monolith.
If there was ever a question about the “Latin music boom” being here to stay, the resounding success of Latine artists over the last year should put those doubts to rest.
In 2023, reggaetón, Latin pop, and regional Mexican music climbed the charts for weeks on end, broke streaming records, hit all-time revenue highs, launched global stadium tours, and accounted for the most listens in any language other than English both in the U.S. and around the world. It all made for one of the most transformative years in music, as Latine and Spanish-language artists seem to have finally cemented their place among the mainstream — but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the 2024 Grammy nominations.
When nominees for the 66th Annual Grammy Awards were announced in November 2023, the Recording Academy faced swift backlash for failing to nominate a single Latin music artist in any of its Big Four categories (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, and Record of the Year). Only one Latine artist got a major category nod: Afro-Latina rapper Ice Spice, who makes music in English, is up for Best New Artist. In a glaring omission to the category, Grammy voters chose not to nominate Peso Pluma — the raspy voiced wunderkind who spent the better part of 2023 putting música Mexicana on the world map. In another upset, Karol G — who made history as the first woman to top the Billboard 200 with a Spanish-language album — missed out on main category nominations for 2023’s Mañana Será Bonito, despite the LP taking home the award for Album of Year at the Latin Grammys.
After Bad Bunny’s takeover at last year’s main Grammy Awards ceremony, this year is serving up another blunder of “speaking non-English” proportions. Only now, the oversight feels even more deliberate, coming at a time when members of the Latine community continue to face mounting xenophobic attacks and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S. For Latines, the message is clear: the Recording Academy, much like many members of the American public, are refusing to recognize us for who we truly are.
This criticism, of course, isn’t new. Every year, come awards season, the Internet explodes with demands for better representation. At this rate, however, expecting the Recording Academy to heed any criticism reveals a fundamental, institutional misunderstanding of the Grammys itself.
As a televised event, the Grammys is primarily interested in creating a spectacle — one where snubs and red carpet soundbites often spark more headlines than a deserving artist’s success. And while getting recognition from the Grammys is a boon to any musician’s career, Latine artists and fans must now ask themselves if “music’s biggest night” is even worth following when it keeps sidelining the acts that soundtracked music’s latest year.
Today’s Latine artists have a unique opportunity to embrace their differences, rather than flatten them for the Western gaze. This means operating in ways that transcend the rigid categories imposed by both the Grammys and the Latin Grammys. While the Latin Grammy Awards were established to honor the work of Latine artists, they still suffer from the same lack of clarity that plagues the main event, lumping different genres together and relying on dated terms like “urbano” to define hip-hop and reggaetón artists.
Read More: The 15 Best Non-English Albums of 2023
As much as a nod from either award show can feel like a small slice of recognition, Latine artists are the ones putting in the work to honor their respective genres each day — from reggaetón’s dembow riddim to the blaring charchetas of corridos tumbados. Many Latines recognize these styles across the diaspora, but it’s only through exposure that others may come to understand the nuances for themselves one day. With the world finally listening, Latine artists must continue to bring it all to the table.
Many Latine artists are already proving that they don’t need validation from the Grammys, Latin Grammys, or any white-dominated media for that matter, to define their success. As Bad Bunny put it in an interview with Vanity Fair last year, “I sing for those who want to listen to me and those who understand me.” Artists like Benito are choosing to make music exclusively in Spanish, instead of worrying about appealing to the English-speaking mainstream. This approach marks a major shift from the early 2000s, when artists like Ricky Martin and Shakira were forced to play the caricature of a hip-shaking, Spanglish-speaking star livin’ la vida loca to attain crossover success. While these reductive stereotypes persist in popular culture today, Latine artists and audiences are increasingly recognizing our own power to shape the narrative.
Listeners, in particular, have more agency than ever. We are taking music discovery and consumption into our own hands — with fans of Latin music genres displaying some of the strongest investment yet. According to data gathered by Luminate, last year saw “Latin music super fans” in the U.S. spending 30% more per month on music expenses, including live music, streaming, and artist merch, compared to super fans of other genres. While there are no perfect solutions to inequity under capitalism, there is also no denying that money talks when fans continue to show up and show out for Latine artists.
This level of support reflects a larger shift in the culture, brought on in part by this country’s changing demographics. Over the last five years, the Latine population in the U.S. has steadily grown into the largest ethnic minority, with about 1 in 5 Americans now identifying as Hispanic/Latino as of recent census data. These numbers are only projected to grow, and so too will the demand for music that speaks to the many identities under the Latine umbrella. This is the case for young people especially, considering 1 in 4 members of Gen Z are Latine. As some of the largest drivers of the music industry today — both as artists and consumers — young people are poised to usher in an era of music as bold and diverse as their generation itself.
As their influence continues to grow, however, it's also important for Latine artists to make their empowerment inclusive — especially in a world where the Grammys fall short. Genres like reggaetón, dembow, and Latin trap remain male dominated, with some of the biggest names benefitting from the industry’s inherent colorism. In 2024, there is still room to share the spotlight. We can look toward artists like Afro-Latina dembow rapper Tokischa and Puerto Rican trap star Young Miko, who are the forefront of a new guard that sees queer identity and feminine pleasure taking center stage, as prime examples. Their music not only challenges traditional norms but also signals a future where all Latine voices, even those on the fringes of society, can be heard and celebrated.
Read More: Tokischa's Metamorphosis
It may take the Grammys a long time to catch up to this standard, if they ever do. In the meantime, Latine artists, fans, and industry executives alike should continue to do the necessary work to make our own spaces safe and fair for all. Only then can true transformation occur, and that alone would be worth more than any golden statue sitting on a shelf.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue
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