Viewers of Thursday night’s Billboard Latin Music Awards, broadcast live from Coral Gables on Telemundo, might get a strong feeling of déjà vu. On stage will be longtime salsa-pop favorite Marc Anthony (that was him, too, in 2012, 2011 and 2010), pop diva Paulina Rubio (a repeat from 2012 and 2010) and reggaeton star Don Omar and veteran Mexican pop-rockers Mana (both appearing for the third year in a row).
Almost every artist who will perform at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center comes from a rotating cast of longtime stars who dominate this and similar shows such as Univision’s Premio Lo Nuestro and the Latin Grammy Awards.
TV awards shows are always packed with favorite celebrities to deliver ratings. But even though the mainstream music industry relies on longtime names like U2 and Jay-Z for events like the Grammy Awards, it also regularly breaks in a Bruno Mars, Arcade Fire, Nicki Minaj or other new blood. The Billboard awards, which recognize the top acts on the magazine’s sales and radio charts and round out this week’s Billboard Latin Music Conference in Miami, reveal an industry in which a new act cracking the mainstream has become extraordinarily rare.
Even as Hispanics have become the largest minority in the United States and a dynamic player in national politics, music — a central part of Latin culture that fueled a pop crossover explosion more than a decade ago — seems to have stalled.
“We’re not in a coma, but we’re pretty stagnant,” says Diana Rodriguez, a former Latin label executive who now runs the independent marketing company Criteria Entertainment. “That doesn’t mean there’s not new talent. … But the outlets are so driven by results that it becomes harder and harder to break in.”
Latin music executives say the scarcity of new names at the top of the charts reflects necessary caution after they were hit with a double whammy in the 2000s. Physical and online piracy hit Latin music harder than the U.S. mainstream, followed by the economic downturn in 2008.
Latin labels reacted by reducing staff and cutting back on signing new acts, hunkering down with proven stars.
“The industry overall was going through difficult times, and [that] made investing in new talent more challenging,” says Skander Goucha, senior vice president of digital business for Universal Music Latin Entertainment. “Superstar artists are more resistant to crisis.”
Latin labels have been slower than their mainstream counterparts to make the shift from CD to online sales — and more recently to the newly burgeoning realm of music streaming services like Spotify, which began its launch in Latin America with Mexico last week.
Goucha says labels have begun to adapt to the present reality — digital sales now make up half of sales at Universal — but that breaking in new acts will take time.
“We can invest again in finding new talent and taking more risks,” Goucha says. He pointed to his label’s 3BallMTY, a hot Mexican electronic music group that was a rare recent breakout act, as one example. “Lots of things are happening … that might not be visible until you see the results in the market. Maybe there aren’t enough of these stories yet, but we’re working on it.”