With urbano music dominating the pop charts today, it may seem like Latin pop has fully crossed over in the United States. Though we’d be remiss to forget the genre’s monumental year of 1999: it was the year Ricky Martin ushered in the so-called “Latin pop explosion” during his iconic Grammys performance; when Selena actress Jennifer Lopez became a double threat with her exceptional debut; when salsero Marc Anthony brought the tropics to mainstream pop with his first English-language album; and when Santana swept the pop charts with his Spanglish hybrid masterpiece, Supernatural. As Spanish-language music continued to pick up steam in the States, cultural institutions like the Latin Grammys and the Latin Alternative Music Conference were established to catch up with the genre’s increasing popularity.
The experimentations pioneered by Latin rockeros set a precedent for more daring music in Spanish. In September 1998, a Colombian singer-songwriter by the name of Shakira released ¿Dónde Están los Ladrones? — a rock en español opus that resonated well outside of Latin America, through a winning combo of Middle Eastern rhythms and infectious pop hooks. The album hit Number One in 1999 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, where it remained for 11 weeks; it then peaked at Number 131 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. No longer as predictable, 1999 saw rock en español evolve beyond the trappings of the guitar-bass-drum formula — closing the 20th century by making room for cross-genre innovations with mainstream pop potential. Here are 10 memorable masterworks of the Y2K age.