Poder A La “Gente”: The Latin Pop Resurgence Is On

By Chris DeVille

“Mi Gente” is the perfect name for it, really.

Colombian pop star J Balvin (pictured) and French producer Willy William had a hit on their hands well before Beyoncé jumped on their collaborative single, the title of which translates to “My People,” and shot it to #3 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100. The original track, which found Balvin singing over a previously released William instrumental called “Voodoo Song,” peaked at #19 — a rare and remarkable achievement for a song sung entirely in Spanish. (The only bigger Spanish-only hit I can think of is Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” which went to #1 in 1987.) You know that lyric Beyoncé’s husband once rapped, “We don’t believe you, you need more people”? This was the opposite of that. A takeover was in progress.

“Mi Gente” was already a legitimate monster in the Latin market and making significant headway in the English-dominated pop mainstream, arguably boasting even more momentum than Puerto Rican stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” could claim before some gently cooed English from Justin Bieber cemented its Song Of The Summer status. (By comparison, “Despacito” made it to #48 in its pre-Bieber, Spanish-only form.) And once Bey showed up on the remix, wilding out in three different languages, a jagged reggaeton-pop bop capable of inciting involuntary motion became something like a movement itself: In a show of goodwill that seems to be eluding certain elected officials these days, Beyoncé donated her proceeds from “Mi Gente” to hurricane and earthquake relief efforts in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

All year we’ve been seeing streaming manifest as a democratizing force on the pop charts: helping rap to reestablish its foothold at the center of pop culture, limiting the hit-making power of the established industry machine, clearing the way for primarily Spanish-language singles to become not just hits but, in the case of “Despacito,” historic smash hits. Marginalized populations have long been underrepresented on the singles charts largely because they were underrepresented on the radio. Streaming data is imperfect in its own way — for one thing, it skews heavily toward younger listeners who no longer buy albums like their parents and grandparents — but it has been helping to provide a more accurate, more diverse picture of what really qualifies as pop music. At a time when many in power seem eager to fiercely and exclusively police what qualifies as “the real America,” the boundaries of the American pop chart have never been more open and inclusive.

Given how slow and outright reluctant pop radio stations can be to embrace new sounds, it seems unlikely that “Despacito” and “Mi Gente” would be enjoying their current level of success without streaming. Case in point: “Mi Gente” is only #29 on Billboard’s Radio Songs chart this week, yet NPR points out it has been wildly popular on Spotify, YouTube, and Shazam. As these songs become hits within their various online enclaves and race up the charts, they make headlines and attract outside attention from listeners and performers alike. Success begets success, and you end up with a subculture nudging out of its self-contained bubble and into the mainstream spotlight. As Lin-Manuel Miranda explained to Billboard, “I was listening to Luis Fonsi in college. Luis Fonsi is no overnight sensation to me or to any Puerto Rican on the island. It’s the rest of the world that has caught up.”

When “Despacito” first hit #1, I wondered if its success might signify another wave of Latin pop acts crashing the mainstream as happened in the late ’90s after the success of “Macarena.” Five months and one record-tying run later, that certainly seems to be the case. With “Mi Gente” at #3 and “Despacito” still holding on at #9, the Hot 100 top 10 includes two predominantly non-English songs for the first time ever. Per Billboard, 11 primarily Spanish songs have cracked the Hot 100 this year, up from two last year. And although current chart leader Cardi B is enjoying a populist success story of her own right now, it’s not inconceivable that “Mi Gente” could become the year’s second Latin pop hit to go #1, which would be a first in the chart’s 59-year history.

To get to the top of the chart, it may have to contend with another Latin pop behemoth in Miranda’s new Puerto Rico benefit single. Organized by the Hamilton creator, “Almost Like Praying” features a cast of Latinx all-stars including Fonsi, Fat Joe, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Camila Cabello, Gloria Estefan, and John Leguizamo among others. The multi-lingual track is based on “Maria” from West Side Story, source material chosen pointedly because its proceeds entirely benefit the Hispanic Federation’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “Almost Like Praying” is very likely to be this week’s top-selling song and to make a strong showing on next week’s Hot 100. And if the current trajectory holds, there will soon be many more Latin pop hits following in its wake.


Shania Twain’s acclaimed comeback album Now debuts at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week. Billboard reports that Now racked up 137,000 equivalent album units and 134,000 in pure sales, good for her second #1 album (following 2002’s Up!) and this year’s second country #1 (following Thomas Rhett’s Life Changes). It’s also the first country album by a woman to hit #1 since Miranda Lambert’s Platinum in 2014.

Up next at #2 is Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits, re-entering the chart in a big way due to the legendary rocker’s sudden death. Originally released in 1993, the collection tallied 84,000 units and 52,000 in sales, and its #2 chart placement surpasses its former #5 peak. Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me is next with a #3 debut on the strength of 74,000 units and 48,000 in sales. Rising rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is next, accruing 67,000 units (though only 10,000 in sales) for his debut album The Bigger Artist. Then comes Miley Cyrus with a #5 debut for the underwhelming Younger Now; its 45,000 units and 33,000 in sales did not come close to the 270,000 in first-week sales for 2013’s #1-debuting Bangerz. The rest of the top 10 comprises longstanding hits from Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar, and Ed Sheeran.

Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” holds onto #1 on the Hot 100 singles chart for a third straight week. Per Billboard that makes it the longest tenured #1 hit by an unaccompanied female rapper, surpassing the two-week reign of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar” remains at #2. As referenced above, J Balvin and Willy William’s newly Beyoncé-infused “Mi Gente” charges from #21 to #3, becoming the first top-10 hit for Balvin and William and the 17th for Beyoncé.

Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid’s “1-800-273-8255″ holds at #4, while Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” falls to #5. “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man reaches a new #6 peak, while Imagine Dragons score their second top-10 hit of the year as “Thunder” climbs to #7. Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” also rises to a new peak of #8, becoming her highest-charting hit ever by surpassing the #9-peaking Joe Jonas duet “This Is Me.” Rounding out the top 10 are Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” at #9 and French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” at #10.


Maroon 5 & Julia Michaels – “Help Me Out”
Accidentally woke pop-rock hit-makers Maroon 5 never cease to nab impressive guest stars. In recent years they’ve collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, Future, and SZA, and this latest single matches them with young phenom Julia Michaels.

Sam Smith – “Pray”

Daya – “New”
Daya season approaching! She didn’t work with the Chainsmokers on this one, but it does have a big EDM soft rock chorus and the requisite Afrobeats-jacking drums.

Louis Tomlinson – “Just Like You”
It’s no masterpiece, but Tomlinson’s making a play to move up in the One Direction power rankings with this enjoyable Biebercore track.

Jessie J – “Not My X”
I like this new Jessie J song because it sounds more like a Jessie Ware song.


Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, the Chainsmokers, Demi Lovato, Sam Smith are among the artists playing some of the dozen iHeartRadio Jingle Ball shows around the country this winter. [iHeart] Swift will also play 99.7’s Poptopia in San Jose and B96’s Jingle Bash in Chicago in December. [Breathe Heavy] In virtual Taylor Swift news, she previewed The Swift Life, her new social networking app. [YouTube] One more Taylor Swift thing (you can tell she has an album coming out): Not only is she dropping in on fans’ Instagram Live streams — this week she surprised a young UK fan at her house. [Instagram] Bruno Mars leads the American Music Awards nominations with 8. [Variety] Pink joined Guns N’ Roses at MSG last night. [Twitter] Here’s a trailer for Sam Smith’s album The Thrill Of It All. [YouTube] Paramore’s Hayley Williams has launched a line of temporary hair dye in time for Halloween. [Billboard] Adam Levine is the new US fragrance ambassador for YSL Beauty. [Glamour] The Chainsmokers made a prank video with Instagram’s FuckJerry for Tommy Hilfiger. [YouTube] Lil Yachty made a surprise appearance at Georgia State University’s music journalism class. [Twitter] Migos, Post Malone, and Young Thug will headline Red Rocks’ first-ever New Year’s Eve concert. [303] Zedd will play drums with Linkin Park at the Chester Bennington tribute in LA later this month. [Twitter] Isla Fisher, who often gets confused for Amy Adams, says Lady Gaga once told her that she loved her in American Hustle. [Vulture]


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