The Grammys have often gotten it wrong when it comes to Latin music, nominating a mishmash of music that goes from the esoteric to the non-essential along with big commercial releases with little critical relevance. Then, last year was a serious miss when the Academy did not nominate a single reggaeton artist or album in any of the Latin categories.
But in 2019, a year in which Latin has continued to show its mettle as a global genre, the Academy has gotten things right. Yes, not everyone who needs to be here is here (Ozuna and Romeo Santos, we feel you), and not everybody who is nominated necessarily deserves it.
But overall, this is a worthy, serious, laudable list of contenders that even-handedly respects both the categories (even that awful best Latin rock, urban or alternative album category) and the works released within the time frame, even if it did strike it safe in the tropical and regional Mexican categories.
In best Latin pop album, a category that struggles by virtue of the struggling pop genre that vacillates between pop and urban, the Grammys found a good middle ground, balancing legacy (Ricardo Montaner, Alejandro Sanz and Luis Fonsi) with new (Maluma and Sebastian Yatra) artists. Maluma, in particular, is an artist that could also fit in the urban category and who often has described himself as an urban act. But he is a pop star that straddles many sounds. His appearance in this category is welcome and opens the door to a broader definition of what Latin pop is today.
As for that best Latin rock, urban and alternative album category, at this point, with urban music thoroughly dominating the Latin charts it’s strange to see this category still in place. Are there still not enough urban submissions for the genre to merit its own subcategory within Latin? If not, it behooves the Grammys to reach out to that community, involve them and get them to submit their product. Merit or not, there cannot be such a major distance between the charts and what the Grammys perceive to be the reality of Latin music.
Having said that, Rosalía’s El Mal Querer, Bad Bunny’s X 100PRE and Bad Bunny & J Balvin’s Oasis are excellent recordings. This is also a huge step up from last year, when not a single reggaeton album was considered, as if the genre did not merit a place. Having Bad Bunny and Balvin goes a long way in proving Ozuna’s Aura would have been the fourth contender to make this list a standout. Why is he not here? The other two (deserving) nominees — Flor de Toloache for Indestructible and Ile for Almadura — seem like afterthoughts in an urban world.
Which leads us to best regional Mexican album, where ostensibly Flor de Toloache could also live. It would have been welcome in this field that is overwhelmingly steeped in tradition. Here, however, the spotlight has gone to a mix of traditional mariachi and legacy norteño (Intocable and La Energía Norteña) with youth coming in the form of Joss Favela’s Caminando. For Favela, a singer/songwriter who performs very personal material in a world of groups, it’s a great get. And for Intocable, who have gone indie again (after returning to Universal), it’s a kudos for taking a risk.
Tradition also reigned in the best tropical Latin category, with Marc Anthony (Opus) and Juan Luis Guerra (Literal) leading the list with very fine albums. Luis Enrique + C4 Trio, surprise winners in the Latin Grammys, are also contenders, as is Aymée Nuviola with her A Journey Through Cuban Music and Guerra’s protégé, Vicente García, with Candela. Yes, it’s a safe category. But it did manage to strike all the right notes: Commercial success married to artistry (Marc Anthony and Guerra), independence (Nuviola and Luis Enrique) and a touch of new blood (García).
Safe? Yes. But also right and fair. And that is no easy feat.