Although 2018 was a banner year for Latin albums, there were also plenty of stand-out singles that refused to be ignored. As reggaeton royalty like J Balvin and Bad Bunny cleaned up on the Billboard Hot 100 with multiple genre-bending hits, first-time chart-toppers Nio García, Darrell and Casper Mágico struck gold with their dark horse contender, “Te Boté.” And though it was originally released in 2017, it was the gift that kept on giving, finally generating a Number One-worthy remix in 2018 with Ozuna, Nicky Jam and Co. Meanwhile Brazilian superstar Anitta sashayed her way from Portuguese to Spanish-language radio with “Medicina,” Spanish visionary Rosalía took the Anglophone world by storm with her brooding flamenco-pop fusions, and girls like Karol G and Becky G just wanna have fun — strictly on their own terms.
Mexican pop legend Thalía and Dominican femme fatale Natti Natasha team up in the reggaeton partystarter “No Me Acuerdo.” A shameless anthem for women behaving badly (in a fun way), the song audaciously shares what both Thalía and Natti do best: and that is pure, unadulterated camp. “If I don’t remember it, it didn’t happen,” sings the dynamite duo in the video, wining carefree for the camera in their mirrorball bodysuits. Finally — a motto for every tía who gets out of pocket at the family function!
On his final single of 2018, Balvin pays homage to many of the artists from reggaeton’s first wave of crossover over a decade ago. So it makes sense that he worked with the producer Tainy, who was in the studio when a lot of those original hits were made. Tainy and Balvin’s other go-to beatmaker, Sky Rompiendo, serve up a scrappy, grabby instrumental built out of little more than a pinging guitar loop and characteristically vicious drum programming. Balvin’s singing is light, but the tribute is forceful: He references Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee and the shattering Wisin & Yandel hit “Wiki Wiki.” E.L.
“Siete” is a dancefloor-killer, but you wouldn’t know it from the first 30 seconds. The track unravels in a leisurely fashion, with a tumble of drums and few jabs on sitar, before the percussion elements cohere into a firm, syncopated, throb. When the sitar returns, the song grows more sharp and urgent. Instruments continue to stack up: first a Bansuri, or bamboo flute, joins the fray, and then other sound-effects gurgle and pitter-patter. But the buzzing sitar, almost menacing at times, is the unusual and alluring engine here, turning “Siete” into a promising preview of Nicola Cruz’s upcoming sophomore album. E.L.
Anitta has already earned hits singing in three different languages (Spanish, Portuguese and English) and working in even more genres, from her native Baile funk to hard-hitting reggaeton to sentimental acoustic ballads to brusque club rap. “Medicina” mixes a screeching noise that evokes her 2017 hit “Sua Cara,” an always-reliable reggaeton beat, and a sing-song children’s chorus. That da-da-da hook is key: Regardless of what language you speak, it’s easy to sing along to. Or as Anitta puts it, roughly translated: “What others say doesn’t matter/ We all like to be seduced.” E.L.
Jessie Reyez rose to prominence for boldly confronting foul play in romance and relationships, all while maneuvering through its complexities with grace and badassery. And on “Sola,” her first Spanish-sung song, she makes striking moves by choosing to stay unattached. She channels the stripped-down splendor of a heart-on-sleeve balada romántica (think José José or Camilo Sesto), but with the brutal and gut-wrenching honesty of Dylan’s cold-hearted “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” The baddest girl of loner pop hasn’t sounded this emotionally raw before, and it hurts so good. I.R.
It starts with a deep question — the kind that could serve as a test and then a self-revelation — would you ride or die? Argentina’s most elusive rock stars ask. Charged with a suspenseful minimalism, the opening track of their 13th studio album, Discutible, journeys somewhere between the romantic cynicism of Seventies-era crooners like Sandro and Julio Iglesias, but with the sparkly, twisted coolness of Depeche Mode. Cryptic as it is, the song reveals one thing: and that is Babasónicos’ prowess at crafting some of Latin alternative’s most enigmatic compositions. I.R.
As Latin pop has taken over the world, it’s also been dogged by accusations of increasing homogeneity — that the industry is focused on “urban” music, at the expense of everything else. But those genres’ templates are impressively flexible, as shown by the rising singer Yashua on “Pena.” The beat flickering beneath him is slyly propulsive, neither straightforward reggaeton-pop nor thunderous trap, and Yashua sings with slippery grace, landing somewhere between melodic reggaetonero and soft R&B crooner. The results are impressive; hopefully more artists explore this territory in 2019. E.L.
“I’m la freaky of the reggaetoneros,” Chilean underground star Tomasa Del Real told Rolling Stone earlier this year; and there’s no better example of that than in the DJ Blass-produced “Barre Con El Pelo.” Slicked with autotune and a steely synth melody, the crowned Queen of Neoperreo — a cyber-tropical fusion that birthed a digital, DIY movement of reggaeton players — urges partygoers to get so low they sweep the dancefloor with their hair. S.E.
Mexican-American pop chameleon Becky G takes off the gloves — and nearly everything else — in “Sin Pijama,” her saucy duet with Natti Natasha. Guest-starring bachata monarch Prince Royce, the video shows the two women indulging viewers in a heteroflexible slumber party fantasy, assuring one another in the chorus that nobody’s sleeping a wink that night. Jokes aside, in what Anglos might call “No Pajamas” lies a beguilingly catchy assertion of female desire and sexual expression. “In this industry they try to pit [women] against each other,” Becky G told Genius earlier this year. “People were like, ‘[Natti’s] your number one competition, why would you do that?’ But I respect talented women who know what they want.” S.E.
The prolific Chilean artist Gepe schooled fans in longstanding Latin American folk traditions in his LP, Folclor Imaginario; yet it wouldn’t be a genuine Gepe track if it didn’t offer some fresh revelation. Flushed with sunny hues, Gepe’s original song “Joane” reverently illustrates the life and tragic death of Joane Florvil, a Haitian immigrant woman who died under dubious circumstances following her incarceration in Chile. “It’s time for me to stop being normal,” he meditates, “[And] thinking that someone who is a stranger/Is a threat to my neighborhood.” Knowing one’s history is crucial, no matter the birthplace; to an artist like Gepe, diligently connecting the dots between past and present lays the foundation for a more imaginative future. S.E.
Off his 2016 mixtape, Wannabewithu, the new and improved version of “Amor de Siempre” thrusts the bedroom pop artiste out of his usual computerized bathysphere sound and into the buoyant domain of live mariachi. Although Cuco typically goes it alone in his records, he’s no stranger to the traditional Mexican art form: the 20-year-old once did a stint playing trumpet in a youth mariachi band. Capping it off with a brisk samba breakdown, together Cuco and Las Lindas reclaim the vintage, exoticist kitsch of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and bring it on back home to sunny Los Angeles. S.E.
An ode to love at first dance, Monsieur Periné’s “Bailar Contigo” is one of the year’s most charming singles. But what makes it great is its coy expression of infatuation as an equal mix of optimism, exhilaration, and desperation. Behind the bossa nova guitar line, Caribbean rhythms and atmospheric synths is a song about two people begging for the other to whisk them away and dance together for eternity. That the song’s soft instrumentation doesn’t deviate into bland adult contemporary music is a testament to Catalina Garcia’s vocals, which mix flirtation with a subtle yearning that only the hopelessly romantic can conjure up. A.C.
No one had more hits than Ozuna this year: He placed a mind-boggling 43 different singles on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart, including “Ibiza,” a handsome duet with Romeo Santos that finds a bridge between Santos’ beloved bachata and the reggaeton that is Ozuna’s bread-and-butter. Usually in situations like this, the youngster is boisterous and the veteran is unflappable, but that dynamic is upended here: Santos’ voice is tense and volatile, full of melismatic quavers and dramatic confessions of love, while Ozuna remains even-keeled. Of those 43 hits, none was prettier than this. E.L.
Mon Laferte’s latest album Norma is a globetrotting rendezvous that ventures into the rise and fall of romantic love, and this tropical-flavored kiss-off captures its bittersweet breaking point. Rather than displaying a sour disposition with a snarky “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye,” the coquettish singer brings an exhilarating perspective to calling it quits. In a similar spirit as the timeless ballad “Bésame Mucho,” Laferte gives her soon-to-be-ex — played by one of Mexico’s biggest heartthrobs, Diego Luna — valuable lessons in how to plot your exit make-out session. Because after all: last impressions matter just as much as the first. I.R.
Fans of the Colombian duo’s previous bangers — “Chantaje,” “Trap,” and “La Bicicleta” remix — are spoiled with a fourth helping in their buoyant reggaeton single, “Clandestino.” Shakira’s breathy soprano melds hotly with Maluma’s smirking harmonies, as they sing of an illicit romance; it’s near-vexing how the significantly younger of the two stars can sound so chill while sing-flirting with a goddess like La Shak. Are they destined to be the Latin pop world’s Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers? Guess we’ll have to wait for the release of Shakira’s 2019 album, El Dora2, to find out. S.E.
In praise of those for whom zero fucks are given, Bad Bunny’s psychedelic gospel trap — which translates to “We Good” — is one of Bunny’s most driving and evocative vocal performances yet. The song took on a more political tenor after he performed a haunting rendition on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, pleading the United States government to be accountable to the victims of Hurricane Maria. “Joda que se joda,” he bellows — “fuck it” — and it resonates across the ether like a prayer. S.E.
All the single ladies: Colombian reggaeton princess Karol G gets one over on a philandering ex in her campy pop missive, “Mi Cama.” Here the Latin Grammy-winning singer lets her inner rude girl out — “My bed [creaks],” she brags in Spanish, “And your memory leaves” — offering an empowered woman’s point-of-view amid a genre full of womanizers. As for the unsung star of the song? That would be its slinky, bedspring squeak-turned-beat, which needs no translation. S.E.
Do you believe in love at first sight? Nicky Jam and J Balvin do — and they have a super sensuous, bordering-on-salacious way of saying it. The Latin pop titans combine their lovers rock with dancehall swagger, marked by a head-spinning, synth-horn doodle. Offering “kisses on your neck to quench the thirst,” Jam’s silver-tongued come-ons complement Balvin’s effortless cool. S.E.