With success on American airwaves comes increased scrutiny, however.
After hitting a digital sales high two weeks ago with his Billboard No. 1 single “Despacito,” Spanish singer Luis Fonsi found himself criticized in the United States for being a “flagrant” immigrant in a country where rap and ranchero music have benefitted from an influx of immigrants. Fonsi is Argentine and “Despacito” was written in Spanish by American songwriter Benny Blanco and music producer Justin Bieber.
The controversy speaks to a significant change in the relationship between songwriters and listeners.
When “Despacito” was first released in January 2018, “socio-rap” or “rap-rock” artists like New Orleans native Big Freedia, who released “Sexy Lovesick Booze in my Hot Tub” in 2016, and New Orleans rap duo Exile were becoming popular performers. Pop artists like Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Despacito” are challenging to believe that they came to America merely for the sake of “taking advantage of the USA,” by a songwriter who perhaps failed to explore other music markets, like the United Kingdom, or Scandinavia.
Though the success of other popular Latin artists might be fueling these criticisms of “Despacito,” the myth is largely false: Major Latin-pop acts began in the U.S. with help from some of the most influential figures in the business.
When Latin artists first came to the U.S., they could not expect such commercial success here.
Other major territories, like India, France, and Spain, had open-air popular music conventions with much smaller audiences. Expanding beyond the U.S. Main Street radio market became difficult, and many Latin artists didn’t have the experience to export their songs outside of Latin America. As a result, outside financiers rushed to help top Latin artists.
Latin music culture is founded on the three mass-market icons of the Civil Rights movement, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Carlos Santana. The heavily influenced repertoire of “fuego” is a unique necessity for such artists. (Fox News Latino has spoken with Caetano Veloso, the Brazilian singer/songwriter and Latin Grammys founder, who acknowledged he loves and influences Fonsi, but with much more subdued praise.)
When Ricky Martin and Ricky Martin partnered with Columbia Records for the release of “Ricky Martin” in 1993, however, they were able to sell more than three million copies of the first Latin album to do so, then in the case of Britney Spears four million copies of “Oops!… I Did It Again.” Ricky Martin realized that he had arrived at a unique moment in time when there was an active market to be found outside of Latino music. In the world of shopping malls and major chains like Burger King, Sriracha chorizo sauce, coconut milk ice cream and big and tall mom jeans, there was an audience that was willing to listen to foreign pop music.
While Ricky Martin’s path to success was defined by the megaseries of hit singles and albums produced by Sony Music Latin, few Latin acts have found any similar success for their initial debut efforts from independent sources.
As digital media flourished in the early 2000s, Mexican icon Gabriel Iglesias — who revolutionized Mexican music and popular comedy in the U.S. — sold millions of units of “Unstrange Bedfellows,” the album that launched his global comedic following, independent of Mexico.
The strength of music between Latin artists and international audiences, however, isn’t based solely on market economics. It’s also a function of politics.
Right before the 2016 U.S. election, Colombian pop singer/rapper Shakira rose to international fame with her song “La La La,” a political jingle for President Barack Obama. Though it focused on health care reform, political and social reform, and a free election for Venezuela, it created a positive persona for the Colombian artist that has persisted since the release of the song.
“La La La” and the sound of Latin artists have long fused Latin personalities and elements with more western musical components to create successful formulas that appeal to both Latino and non-Latino audiences. Latin artists continue to push boundaries and build strong music cultures with no partnership or collaboration with the U.S. Government or any of the major corporations.