The Hispanic Influence: Latin Crossover 2.0
Having one aspect of another culture become a visible, important part of the American zeitgeist takes time. Remaining in the mainstream requires that imported culture to evolve. The Hispanic influence in Americana has a foothold in several of our cultural mainstays; yet, it becomes extremely important to highlight when one of those mainstays makes history. Take Latin music, for example. Enjoying a long list of contributions within the American soundtrack, Latin music consistently reinvented its sound driven not only by a desire to produce more music based on the different Latin rhythms—really, genres—available but also by catering to the generational changes in public taste.
All came to a head in the late 90’s with the immense success of Latin crossover artists. Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca,” and Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos,” just to name a few, brought a renewed potential in having the Latin artist be extremely popular outside the distinctly Latin communities. Yet, even here, the Hispanic influence–musically and culturally–still felt forced, even a bit inauthentic. One question remained: if songs with major Spanish undertones can receive airplay among many American markets, why can’t one that is strictly or mostly sung in Spanish?
This is why what happened this past summer is historic and undeniably telling. Not one but TWO predominantly Spanish songs ascended the Billboard charts. Admittedly, this is not the first time a Spanish song was chart-worthy if we harken back to “Quizas, quizas, quizas” written by Cuban writer Osvaldo Farrés and sung by many American artists including the late, great Nat King Cole.
However, the impact “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi/Daddy Yankee and “Mi Gente” by J. Balvin/Willy William far outpace whatever advancement came before it. Why? First, their staying power. Both led the most important charts including Billboard Hot 100 and Spotify Top 50 as #1 songs. They continue to command these charts now. Second, they are, again, predominantly Spanish songs. In a world where cultural isolation still runs rampant, that major non-Spanish speaking markets like the US flocked to these songs is groundbreaking. Finally, both songs broke the fear of the English-based crossover. Too many popular, even great, Latin artists reserve many doubts about making the crossover into the American market strictly because their control of the English language may not be perfect. Fonsi’s rhythmic “Despacito” and Balvin’s kinetic “Mi Gente” allows these artists to regain confidence that whatever their style choice or English abilities, they will not compromise their artistic voice—literally and musically—in order to achieve crossover success.
Undeniably, the Hispanic influence is here to stay. Coming from a Hispanic family in Miami myself, I am fully aware and incredibly invested in having the Latin culture be a primary mover in the American way of life. And it does not simply end with music… Pero, tranquilo “Mi Gente,” vamos “Despacito,” porque tenemos tiempo!