By: Leila Cobo
At the start of this year, the Latin music world faced a reckoning. Reggaetón and urban had, over the previous few years, helped take Latin mainstream in the United States, but there were few women among the genre’s new stars. In 2015, only three female artists ranked in the top 50 of Billboard’s year-end Hot Latin Artists chart; in both 2016 and 2017, there were four. “There were always obstacles when you went to radio,” says Mayna Nevarez, whose PR/marketing firm clients include Daddy Yankee and Natti Natasha. “There was an ongoing rhetoric: that women couldn’t be too sexy, that they didn’t sell, that they were divas and complicated.”
But during the past year, a change has come over the Latin landscape. All three major labels have made a noticeable effort to sign new female acts, both in the United States and throughout Latin America and Spain. Rising female artists are collaborating with one another more than their predecessors ever did, crossing label lines (like their male counterparts do) and exhibiting similar camaraderie on social media — witness Natti Natasha and Becky G’s “Sin Pijama,” a major hit for both artists; Mau y Ricky and Karol G’s “Mi Mala,” with a remix featuring Leslie Grace, Becky G and Lali Esposito; and the friendship between YouTube queen Lele Pons and Anitta, who frequently support each other on social media.
The results are clear on the Latin charts. “We made a commitment to bring diversity to the Latin music landscape, and this year we’ve had a record number of hits by female acts,” says Nir Seroussi, president of Sony Music U.S. Latin, whose roster includes Becky G, Shakira, Grace and Jennifer Lopez, in addition to Natti Natasha, whom Sony distributes. In 2017, there were 24 tracks with lead or co-lead female artists on Hot Latin Songs. In 2018 thus far, the number has swelled to 36. On the Latin Airplay chart, four tracks by or featuring women hit No. 1 in 2017; so far this year, the number has jumped to 13.
“There was definitely an opening for women [this year],” says Angel Kaminsky, executive vp Latin America/Iberian Peninsula for Universal Music, whose roster includes Karol G, Mon Laferte, Argentine former Disney star Tini and 19-year-old Aitana, a finalist on the Spanish reality TV competition Operación Triunfo. “There has been a surge like we’ve never seen before of female acts from many different countries with lots of attitude and potential. These girls are writing at a younger age, and the material reflects their stories and their lives, leading to bigger engagement.”
Sony Latin, for example, has tapped female artists’ songwriting potential in its so-called “secret sessions,” which have produced material for female acts and fostered collaborations among them. Lopez’s “El Anillo,” which reached No. 1 on Latin Airplay, and “Sin Pijama,” the first top 10 on Latin Pop Songs since 2014 with two credited women, were both created at these sessions.
And while in the past male support was essential to getting a woman’s voice noticed or landing it on the charts (see: Bad Bunny with Natti Natasha, Ozuna with Karol G), labels and artists themselves are now actively seeking out all-female collaborations. Universal Spain’s Aitana and Ana Guerra released “Lo Malo” earlier this year; a new remix added newcomers Tini and Colombian actress-singer Greeicy. Now, Guerra and Tini have exchanged invites to perform at each other’s shows. Female artists “are all pushing for each other,” says Kaminsky.
As Latina artists’ presence has expanded on the charts and beyond this past year, the industry is honoring them accordingly. In January, roughly half of the performances at Univision’s Premios Lo Nuestro featured women. In October, the Latin American Music Awards focused on female contributions to Latin music, spotlighting singers like Lopez and Gloria Estefan, who paved the way for a new generation of female artists. As for the Latin Grammys in November, J Balvin leads the nominations with eight, but Sony Spain’s Rosalía scored a surprising five nods, and singer-songwriters Kany García and Natalia Lafourcade have four each. And on Nov. 17, Univision Radio will present Las Que Mandan (The Female Bosses), a concert at Los Angeles’ Forum with an unprecedented lineup of established and up-and-coming female artists, including Natti Natasha, Gloria Trevi, Thalía and Paulina Rubio.
“Seeing more women become part of the shared voice in music is really exciting,” says Univision Radio president Jesus Lara. “Considering the political and social context that we’re living in now, we thought it was important — from an artist development standpoint, and a celebratory one — to bring more women to the forefront.”