In 2013, Robert Fernandez — CEO and co-founder of Pitbull’s Mr. 305 label — laid out a vision for Latin music’s future. The “perfect artist,” he told Billboard that year, would be “of Spanish descent but have] the possibility of crossing over into the general market without having it be forced — meaning, without] having to teach them English.”
He was hardly alone in his assessment. For years, achieving success as a Latin artist often meant “crossing over” into English, and the media and marketers have long called attention to the demise of Spanish as the language of choice among U.S. Hispanics. As recently as 2015, the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project reported that Spanish-language dominance was on the decline among second- and third-generation Latinos, while English-language dominance was on the rise across all generations.
But today, as second- and third-generation U.S. Hispanics embrace Spanish on their own terms, the language is experiencing a resurgence across media, including music. In its August La Oportunidad Latinx report, Nielsen revealed that even though 95% of Hispanics under 18 are U.S.-born, younger Hispanics still speak Spanish at an all-time high: 71% of all Hispanics speak Spanish at home.
That likely has contributed to a greater presence of Spanish on the charts. In 2016, only four Spanish-language tracks appeared on the Billboard Hot 100. So far in 2019, 19 have, and only two (Bad Bunny and Drake’s “MIA” and DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” with Selena Gomez, Ozuna and Cardi B) are bilingual. “There is a fluidity of language in the home,” says Nielsen vp strategic initiatives Stacie de Armas. “Hispanics today feel that continuing their cultural tradition is incredibly important. One of the ways to do it is the language.”
Spanish was not “cool” to young Hispanics before, says Ismar SantaCruz, vp/managing director of radio strategy for Univision. “But music has permeated the coolness factor with this explosion of rhythmic artists. Historically, an English contemporary hit radio station would have never touched Spanish. But over the last five years, stations that played just one song in Spanish now are playing Spanish songs every hour.” And where Spanish-language media once consisted of only Telemundo, Univision and local radio, today, says de Armas, consumers have “frictionless access” to a wealth of content at the click of a button.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” says SBS executive vp programming Jesús Salas. “There was a point when we were all concerned: Will the kids of English-dominant Hispanics forget about the music? But there has been a resurgence, and it’s continuing to grow.”