January 17, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

The 10 best Latin music moments of 2020

2020 was the year that Latin music became nearly ubiquitous in American popular culture. Whether it was Shakira and Jennifer Lopez storming the Super Bowl halftime show, or the many Latin American-grown sounds that seduced anglophone acts like the Weeknd, the Black Eyed Peas and even Snoop Dogg, the Latinx influence is rife on the pop charts and beyond.

In chronological order, here are 10 memorable moments from a historic year in Latin music.

1. Rosalía introduced herself at the 2020 Grammys.

Born and raised in Barcelona, 27-year-old flamenco-pop star Rosalía has become something of a chaos agent within the Latin music industry. Following in the footsteps of fellow Spaniard Alejandro Sanz, she’s immersed herself in popular sounds like Latin trap and reggaeton and emerged with a style of her own. This past January, many Americans got their first taste of her star power at the 2020 Grammys, where she became the first artist from Spain to be nominated for best new artist, and the only Spanish-language artist to be nominated in a general category.

2. Shakira and J. Lo made her-story at the Super Bowl LIV halftime show.

History was made at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium as two Latina powerhouses — Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — headlined the Super Bowl LIV halftime show in February. In a Latin bonanza for the ages, Colombian superstar Shakira shredded on guitar, banged the drums and belly danced to some of her greatest hits, including a salsa remix of “Chantaje” with guest star Bad Bunny. Repping the Nuyorican contingent was J. Lo, who showed off her “Hustlers”-inspired pole-dancing skills, sang “Mi Gente” with J Balvin and donned a Puerto Rican flag for a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” It left conservative talking heads fuming and enthralled Latinos the world over.

3. Residente opened up about his mental health struggles on “René.”

When people think of Puerto Rican MC Residente, it’s hard not to think of the cheeky tough-guy rapper who came up in Calle 13. But this spring the Grammy-winning artist unveiled a more vulnerable side of himself on the minimalist spoken-word track “René,” on which he tells his life story, recalling the deaths of loved ones, divorce and a depression that leaves him wishing for his own demise. He said the song came to him after he called his mother while having a panic attack on tour; “René” ultimately won song of the year at the 2020 Latin Grammys.

4. Bad Bunny transformed into a drag queen.

Since the surprise February release of his landmark reggaeton album “YHLQMDLG,” the Puerto Rican trickster has created enough memorable moments to triple the size of this list. In September he serenaded New York hospital workers from the top of a moving semi and this week he became the first artist ever to top the Billboard 200 with an all-Spanish-language album. But most shocking (and delightful) of all was his March video for “Yo Perreo Sola,” or “I Twerk Alone” — which saw him emerge for the first time in full femme drag. A song for those who want to dance freely without harassment, “Yo Perreo Sola” became a theme song for women and the LGBTQ community, as Bad Bunny flaunted his own gender-nonconformity for the world to see.

5. Reggaeton legends Tainy and Luny faced off on Instagram.

Reggaeton wouldn’t be the global force it is today without the work of pioneering Puerto Rican producer duo Luny Tunes and their 2003 mixtape, “Más Flow.” By 2005 the two adopted a teen protégé, nicknamed Tainy, who would later shape the sounds of top-charting crossover hits by Daddy Yankee, J Balvin and Bad Bunny. In April, one half of the legendary duo, Luny, went head-to-head with his mentee on a Verzuz-style Instagram battle. The battle proceeded until midnight — around the time Luny’s phone started dying.

6. Raymix came out as gay — just in time for LGBTQ Pride Month.

“So many dreams do not fit in a damn closet,” wrote Mexican NASA engineer-turned-techno cumbia star Raymix in an Instagram post in June, which coincided with LGBTQ Pride Month. “I’m officially saying it to the universe: I am Edmundo and I am gay.” He followed up with a YouTube video in which he addressed the lack of LGBTQ representation in the industry: “Can you believe that in 2020, there are people in the industry who told me not to do this video? … Today I am freer, happier than ever, because now I know that I can express myself as I really am.”

7. ChocQuibTown vocalist Goyo schooled the Latin music industry on anti-Black racism.

As the Black Lives Matter protests hit a fever pitch in the States, Latinos stateside and across Latin America struggled to grasp the message — and plenty of Latin pop stars, including Colombian singers J Balvin and Karol G, fumbled when boasting of having Black friends (or dogs!) on social media. Enter Goyo, lead vocalist of Latin Grammy-winning hip-hop group ChocQuibTown, who cited examples of police brutality in her native Colombia. “More than 100 million Afro-Latinos share experiences of racism that confront us,” she wrote in an open letter. “We succumb to the inferior narratives in the media when we do not show our histories. … Equality is a right.”

See more coverage of 2020’s best music

8. Becky G and Chiquis Rivera released the Mexican “Jolene.”

This summer, Latin pop star Becky G and banda royalty Chiquis Rivera updated Dolly Parton’s 1974 classic “Jolene” with a smoldering, outlaw-style cumbia remix. Rewritten in Spanish by songwriter Luciano Luna, the Mexican-American divas go toe-to-toe in the song, lending the Nashville standard a SoCal flavor.

9. The Latin Grammys changed its tune on reggaeton.

In 2019, Daddy Yankee and J Balvin boycotted the Latin Grammys, alleging that the show regularly snubbed reggaeton artists — some of the top-selling acts on the Latin charts — in its general categories. The Latin Recording Academy bounced back in 2020 with a new group of categories, including best reggaeton performance and best rap/hip-hop song. This seemed to satisfy J Balvin, who in November returned to a socially distanced ceremony in Miami; there, he accepted the award for best urban album and performed an evocative, gospel version of his ballad “Rojo.”

10. Snoop Dogg became an honorary regional Mexican artist.

It’s no secret that Snoop Dogg is a huge fan of regional Mexican music. A product of his Long Beach upbringing, the G-funk rapper attended high school with banda legend Jenni Rivera and has been seen smoking blunts and vibing to Bukanas de Culiacan on his Instagram page. This year, Snoop Dogg finally made crossover magic with two songs: first with Banda MS in “Que Maldición,” then in December with “Feeling Good,” featuring “Corridos Tumbados” singer Natanael Cano, Ovi and Show Tha Product. Bienvenido, Tío Snoop!