Four years ago, Bad Bunny's main gig was bagging groceries at a supermarket in Puerto Rico while he self-released music on SoundCloud. And while daily political turmoil and pandemic isolation may have screwed with our collective sense of time since then, Benito's rise to cultural prominence can only be described as meteoric.
Since the release of his breakout single "Soy Peor" at the tail end of 2016, the rapper has released three studio albums and a collaborative record with Colombian singer J Balvin, becoming one of the most in-demand features artists in popular music. Earlier this month, he cemented his place in music history when his latest album, El Último Tour Del Mundo, became the first all-Spanish-language album to reach number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
The milestone has been a long time coming, and the Latin music community at large is rightly celebrating it. The chart-topping success of El Último Tour comes at a time when Latin music growth is outpacing that of all other U.S. music markets. The industry experienced double-digit growth in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and while streaming is down overall during the pandemic, Latin music appears to be headed for a fourth straight year of record-breaking gains.
One strong indication of just how pivotal 2020 would be for Latin music came early in the year when Jennifer Lopez and Shakira were chosen to play the Super Bowl halftime show in Miami. Save for a few pearl-clutching prudish conservatives, the show was widely lauded, with Shak and J.Lo all proving themselves worthy of their own 15-minute solo headlining performance.
They've certainly earned it.
Both artists entered the U.S. market during the so-called Latin invasion of the late '90s. At the time, crossovers by artists like Shakira, Marc Anthony, and Ricky Martin were considered nothing more than a fad. But two decades later, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez used their time on the world's biggest stage to introduce two artists — Bad Bunny and J Balvin — who walked through the doors they knocked down long ago.
The increasing popularity of Latin music has led to a spate of high-profile bilingual collaborations as of late, from Karol G and Nicki Minaj's "Tusa" to Rosalia's feature on The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" remix and Kali Uchis and Rico Nasty's "Aquí Yo Mando."
While this is a growing trend nationally and internationally, local Miami artists have led the bilingual boom in recent years, from folk duo Dracula to Dama Vicke and rockers-turned-Latin trappers Baby City Club. This, of course, follows the footsteps of local pioneers such as Gloria Estefan, whose Miami Sound Machine released songs in both English and Spanish at a time when the market and demographic conditions were nowhere near as favorable as they are for Spanish-speaking artists today.
It's hard — and perhaps a bit misguided — to feel certain about anything that concerns the year 2020, but given the continued rising popularity of Latin music despite a global pandemic that has put the music industry in a tailspin, it stands to reason that Latin artists will continue to dominate the charts in 2021 and beyond.
After witnessing the long-term impacts of a musical movement that was perceived as a flash in the pan 20 years ago, it's a fair bet that Bad Bunny's historic, chart-topping feat is only the beginning.