In 2018, Streaming Services Helped Fuel A New Latin Explosion Spanish-language artists like Ozuna, J Balvin and Bad Bunny dominated YouTube with billions of plays. Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras and contributor Stefanie Fernández explain how we got here.

In 2018, Streaming Services Helped Fuel A New Latin Explosion

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NPR Music's Alt.Latino is out with their year end list of 2018's best songs and albums. And they've also been doing some reading and deep thinking about a trend that started in 2017 and shows no signs of slowing down. Alt.Latino hosts Felix Contreras and NPR Music contributor Stefanie Fernandez, now a producer with The Atlantic, are here to talk about that. Welcome.



FADEL: So let's start with the trend, this ongoing thing you've been following. Tell us what it is.

CONTRERAS: It's all about streaming, Leila - things like YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and not just here but in Spanish-speaking countries around the world.

FERNANDEZ: According to data from YouTube, the three most streamed artists with the most views in 2018 were all Spanish-language artists - eye-popping numbers from Ozuna at 10 billion views and J Balvin at 11 billion views.

FADEL: And that's billion with a B. What explains how these numbers got to be so big?

CONTRERAS: A variety of factors, OK? Last year, there was a perfect storm of a catchy tune, an unforgettable video and a title that could be easily sung by those who don't speak Spanish.


LUIS FONSI: (Singing) Despacito, quiero respirar tu cuello despacito.

CONTRERAS: "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was the song of the spring and summer of 2017. And it was really like catching lightning in a bottle. It was unexpected, organic and driven by the fans, not conceived in a marketing meeting. And that sparked interest in Latin pop music. It was fueled by a very popular reggaeton beat. And this thing took hold all over the world. It was international, not just here in the United States.

FADEL: Right. I mean, you couldn't really go anywhere without hearing that song.

FERNANDEZ: And this year, the most viewed video was the remix of "Te Bote."


NIO GARCIA: (Singing) Te bote, de mi vida te bote - yo te bote - y te di banda y te solte.

CONTRERAS: This is a track that included a lot of heavy hitters.

FERNANDEZ: Yeah. It's not new, but the remix with Ozuna, Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, Casper, et. al. was incredibly popular just because it gathered the most popular players in the genre together in one video.

CONTRERAS: And, you know, eight of the 10 most watched music videos released this year on YouTube are Latin songs or urbano songs - Latin urban. And that's not an accident.

FADEL: OK, so we've talked about the numbers. So put on your sociologist hats for a moment. What's going on that's driving this?

CONTRERAS: The Felix theory - there are a couple of things, OK? Demographics, first of all - I mean, the Latino population skews very young - OK? - which means they're more tech savvy, more mobile devices. And they're mostly bilingual.

FERNANDEZ: And they've been turning to streaming services in big numbers as a younger group on YouTube especially, which is a more egalitarian platform, I think, than Apple Music and Spotify, and, of course, has held the monopoly on video streaming for over a decade now. It's easily shareable. And around the world, it's been accessible for a long time.

CONTRERAS: And then after "Despacito" and later "Mi Gente," it led to explosions in revenue last year. Like, they discovered that you could make a lot of money at this stuff. And it proved that streaming, for the first time, was the most profitable way to sell music, especially to this demographic.

FADEL: Stef, you talk about this group. Do you consider yourself part of it?

FERNANDEZ: I guess I am, Leila. I honestly grew up listening to reggaeton at parties and out in the world, but I never considered it music I liked, strangely enough. And I think this is common across younger Latin American groups. And as I got older, I realized I do love this music. It was music that was previously looked down upon and seen as low class, in many ways, across our community. But nowadays, it's become impossible to ignore the popularity and the infectiousness of it.

FADEL: And, Felix - how do I put this delicately? You're not exactly part of that youth-driven trend.


CONTRERAS: OK. My experience is really the - thank you for putting it that way, too, by the way.

FADEL: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: My experience reflects the declining influence of Latino baby boomers. Now, not unlike the entire baby boomer class, when it comes to music, we were really slow to catch on to streaming. I make Spotify lists, but I still ask the bands to send me CDs to preview for Alt.Latino because I listen mostly in my car.

FADEL: CDs, man, that's real old school.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

FADEL: Time for a little best of, Stefanie. What was on your list this year?

FERNANDEZ: Oh, man, a lot of the artists that we've talked about already - J Balvin and Bad Bunny definitely. But this year, especially in streaming, was kind to women in reggaeton, which is something new that we've seen. In particular, Natti Natasha and Becky G released a song called "Sin Pijama" that while is not necessarily a feminist anthem is definitely a reflection of the growing power of women in reggaeton.


BECKY G AND NATTI NATASHA: (Singing) Si tu me llama', nos vamo' pa' tu casa, nos quedamo' en la cama sin pijama, sin pijama.

FADEL: We've heard the word reggaeton a few times now. Remind us what that is.

FERNANDEZ: Here's the thing. Reggaeton is not a new genre. It's been around for 40 years as it was pioneered by Afro-Panamanians in the 1980s and '90s. It's a genre that takes many genres from the Caribbean - Dembow, reggae, dancehall - and transforms it into urban music that is danceable and infuses rap and trap nowadays.

FADEL: What are you expecting for 2019?

FERNANDEZ: Well, we're going to be watching the Grammys in February. And we remember "Despacito" losing Record of the Year to Bruno Mars despite being the most ubiquitous song of that year. Time will tell if Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin's "I Like It" can take Record of the Year this year. But for now, "Estamos Bien."


BAD BUNNY: (Rapping) No te preocupes, estamos bien.

CONTRERAS: "Estamos Bien" is one of the songs that caught our attention this year. It's also a Bad Bunny tune, and we thought it would be a nice tune to go out on.

FADEL: Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras and Alt.Latino alum Stefanie Fernandez, now a producer with The Atlantic. You can find great coverage of Latino arts and culture on the Alt.Latino podcast and blog. Thank you both.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

FERNANDEZ: Thank you.


BAD BUNNY: (Rapping) No te preocupes, estamos bien, yeah.

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