Once again, the Latin Grammys ignore the influence of Reggaeton

Nicky Jam, J Balvin. Nicky Jam, left, and J Balvin accept the award for airplay song of the year for...
Eric Jamison/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The two most-nominated artists at this year's Latin Grammys are from Spain. Alejandro Sanz leads, with eight nominations, and Rosalia follows, with five. Rosalia’s regular producing partner, El Guincho, another artist from Spain, was nominated for five awards as well. Meanwhile, global chart-topping hitmakers like Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, Ozuna, and J Balvin were largely ignored in all categories except for Urbano. Bad Bunny’s album X 100PRE, which had international success and received critical acclaim, wasn’t nominated for any awards outside of the Urbano categories. Ozuna and J Balvin, whose music has consistently remained at the top of global and Latin charts, weren’t included in nominations for Record of the Year, or Song of the Year.

Reggaeton artists are still being neglected by the Latin Grammys. Considering that the award show for Latin music is still working with limited categories and an overall Eurocentric approach to curating their nominations, there’s an unfortunate limit to their ability to be inclusive. Even when the nominees are from Latin America, they’ve largely been lighter-skinned artists, despite so much of Latin American music being shaped by Black and Brown people.

And while this is not surprising, the awards have had 19 years to improve themselves — the program was created in 2000 in order to honor music from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. That same year, the Los Angeles Times observed that the Latin Grammys had “been a magnet for controversy, ranging from concerns about segregation to hostilities among ethnic, national and linguistic groups who have been lumped together — sometimes with great difficulty — beneath the huge ‘Latin music’ umbrella.”

Since the beginning, the show has always seemed intent on ignoring Reggaeton — it was finally acknowledged with the Urbano category in 2005. That reflects a larger attitude in the Spanish speaking world, where Reggaeton has been looked down on, cast aside as a lower form of music because most of the creators of and in the genre were Afro Latinx. As Remezcla noted last year, “by keeping reggaeton mostly in the Urbano category — separate from the entertainers who were viewed as ‘authentic’ — the Recording Academy reinforced those beliefs.”

It has been Reggaeton artists from Latin America who have put Spanish-language music in the international mainstream: J Balvin collaborated with French artist Willy Williams, and with Beyonce (!), for “Mi Gente.” The song “Te Bote,” by Nio Garcia, Magic Casper, and Bad Bunny has been streamed nearly two billion times on Youtube alone.

Following the announcement of the nominations on Tuesday, several Reggaeton artists including Nicky Jam, J Balvin, and Daddy Yankee all posted a photo on Instagram that read “Sin Reggaeton, No hay Latin Grammy,” (Without Reggaeton, there is no Latin Grammy).

They’re right. The majority of the revenue and streams for Spanish-language music are coming Reggaeton listeners, and the renewed relevance of Spanish-language music on global airways are coming from Reggaeton artists. J Balvin and Bad Bunny collaborated with Nigerian star Mr. Eazi for “COMO UN BEBE,” a decidedly pop hit that paired South American and West African sounds into a cohesive, and infectious, track that has over 8 million streams on Youtube. Even Rosalia, who began her career with Flamenco inspired pop music, hopped on Reggaeton beats this year. Her nominated songs include her collaboration “Con Altura” with J Balvin and El Guincho, and her most recent release, “Yo x Ti Tu x Mi” with Ozuna.

“Con Altura” won the in the “Best Latin” category at the MTV Music Video Awards and is also nominated for Best Urbano Song at the Latin Grammys. But even the Spanish artist’s Reggaeton didn’t make the cut for Song or Record of the Year; her poppier single “Aute Cuture” was nominated for Record of the Year instead.

Every few years, virtually the same conversation happens: Reggaeton is snubbed, despite the evidence proving its influential role in the growth of Spanish-language music. However, as tht role expands, it’s becoming harder to ignore. This year, some of the biggest names in Latin music decided to respond with protests. It is unclear how far that effort will go, or if the Latin Grammys will bother responding. But if the academy continues to ignore one of the most successful genres of the last few years, their own cultural currency will continue to decrease, as Reggaeton artists look elsewhere for acknowledgments and accolades.