50 Greatest Latin Pop Songs: From ‘Bonito’ to ‘Despacito’ – Rolling Stone
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50 Greatest Latin Pop Songs

Rolling Stone chronicles Latin America’s most influential pop songs, from the 1950s to now

50 greatest latin pop songs

With Latin pop getting heightened visibility in the American mainstream this year, it’s time we call for a history lesson. This summer “Latino Gang” Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin nabbed the Number One spot on the Billboard Hot 100 with their Latin trap hit, “I Like It.” But in sampling the Tony Pabon and Manny Rodriguez-penned single, “I Like It Like That,” this win marks the third time the boogaloo song has cycled through the United States pop chart: first by Pete Rodríguez, whose original recording hit Number 25 in 1967; then again by Tito Puente, Sheila E. and the Blackout All-Stars supergroup in 1996.

By reading Anglophone music media, one might think Latin pop’s ubiquity in the United States is a sudden one – but it’s hardly as recent a phenomenon as new listeners believe. From the Cuban mambo craze of the 1950s to the global virality of “Despacito,” Latin American music has been a fixture of popular music around the world so long as it’s been recorded. Just ask Romeo Santos and the Bronx-based bachata group Aventura, whose 2002 single “Obsesión” scored Number Ones across France, Italy and Germany before the United States caught on.

Encompassing everything from salsa to rock en español, Latin pop is a constantly evolving genre colored by the traditions, migrations and innovations of Latinx people in spite of all odds. Some of the most famous Latin pop songs have survived military dictatorships, war, famine and natural disasters – and they still hold up in spite of passing trends. Rolling Stone contributors selected 50 of the most influential songs in Latin pop history, ranked in chronological order.

50 greatest latin pop songs
44

3BallMTY, “Inténtalo” (2011)

As 3BallMTY, DJ Sheeqo Beat, DJ Otto and former member Erick Rincon updated traditional Latin American sounds with the futuristic ambitions of EDM. The result was a style dubbed tribal guarachero, an amalgam mixing regional Mexican styles and Afro-Cuban rhythms over an electronic framework. Admittedly, 3BallMTY were not the first to modernize ancestral sounds with urban beats; groups like Tijuana’s Nortec Collective and collaborative projects between Celso Piña, Control Machete and Blanquito Man pioneered the hybrid approach a full decade before as part of the Monterrey-based movement La Avanzada Regia. But where those efforts largely lived in the fringe, 3BallMTY were the first to go truly global. As the title track and breakthrough single off the trio’s 2011 debut album, “Inténtalo,” featuring Mexican singers América Sierra and El Bebeto, introduced international audiences to the tribal guarachero sound, with 3BallMTY as its de facto leader. A commercial success, the track garnered the group a Number 1 position on the Billboard Latin Songs chart. After they performed the song live at the Billboard Latin Music Awards in 2012, 3BallMTY took home the Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist that same year. J.O.

50 greatest latin pop songs
45

Alex Anwandter, “Cómo Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo?” (2011)

For gay pop idol Alex Anwandter, a loaded question – “How can you live with yourself?” – is not just a sentiment repeated to his ilk by homophobes, but doubles as the cheeky chorus of this LGBT-positive synth-pop intervention. A tribute to Paris Is Burning, the 1991 documentary chronicling the New York ballroom scene, the music video stars queer Chileans of many genders, lording over the runway with finesse. “Y aunque digan que es malo,” (“Even if they say it’s bad”) Anwandter sings defiantly, “Yo me siento en el cielo!” (“It feels like heaven!”) Like the legacy of Chilean rock group Los Prisioneros, this pop song both lights up the dance floor and challenges the powers that be. S.E.

50 greatest latin pop songs
46

Marc Anthony, “Vivir Mi Vida” (2013)

Marc Anthony’s crossover success came during Latin pop’s late Nineties takeover, along with Ricky Martin, and ex-wife/collaborator J.Lo. In that time, he cranked out hits like 1999’s “I Need to Know” and “You Sang to Me.” But his greatest contribution to pop is in his first love, which is salsa. While the Boricua singer took cues from Fania All-Stars Tito Puentes, Hector Lavoe and Rubén Blades, he decided to put his salsa mastery to exceptional use in 2012’s 3.0 — his first all-salsa album after a decade of tropical music hiatus. Originally a raï song by Algerian-French singer Khaled, the album’s greatest hit, “Vivir Mi Vida,” skyrocketed to Number One in Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs, Latin Pop Songs and Tropical Airplay charts – proving the lasting viability of salsa genre. The song went on to reach 16x Platinum in the US. “This means more to me than ever because I am in a special time of my life and the words ‘Live My Life’ says it all,” said the Puerto Rican singer during the 14th annual Latin Grammy Awards. I.R.

50 greatest latin pop songs
47

Enrique Iglesias feat. Sean Paul, Descemer Bueno, Gente De Zona, “Bailando” (2014)

The son of Spanish pop balladeer Julio Iglesias and Filipina socialite Isabel Preysler, Enrique Iglesias scored the first of twenty number one songs with his 1998 English-language single, “Bailamos.” He would be subsequently dubbed by critics as the King of Latin Pop. But his greatest hit would come 14 years later in “Bailando,” a viral hit co-starring Cuban artists Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona. The original Spanish-language version was a beast unto itself; it spent a record 41 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart (four years before “Despacito” surpassed it). The official video, the 11th most-viewed video on YouTube today, was the first Spanish-language music video to reach more than 1 billion views. But it was the Sean Paul-assisted Spanglish remix, however, that helped “Bailando” reach crossover audiences – it peaked at Number 12 on the Hot 100 chart, one of the few songs primarily in Spanish ever to do so. Its global appeal lives within the song’s multicultural mix of Spanish flamenco, Latin pop and Cuban-flavored reggaeton. Iglesias later released two additional Portuguese renditions, separately aimed at Brazilian and Portuguese audiences, once again steering an already-global hit into new territory. With the multilingual approach of “Bailando,” Iglesias and company flexed the power of the Latin music market, while helping lay the groundwork for the Latin pop revolution currently dominating this decade. J.O.

50 greatest latin pop songs
48

J Balvin, “Ginza” (2015)

Before he was raking in Number One hits with Beyoncé and Cardi B, Colombian singer-songwriter J Balvin slinked into mainstream Latin pop territory with his arty, bare-bones takes on reggaeton and dancehall. “Si necesitas reggaetón, dale,” encourages Balvin – “If you need reggaeton, get it.” Balvin’s unbothered, melodic flow sets him apart from the aggro reggaeton players of yesteryear; as do the understated synth-pop flourishes laid down by producer Sky Rompiendo. After sitting at the top of the Hot Latin Songs chart for 22 weeks, “Ginza” broke the Guinness World Record for the chart’s longest stay at number one by a solo artist. But with equal emphasis on his visual output, Balvin also became one of the most-watched artists on YouTube: by 2016 he raked in over a billion views for his 2013 hit “Ay Vamos” – a first for any reggaeton artist – thus joining the 10-digit views club, where fellow Latin heartthrobs Romeo Santos, Enrique Iglesias and Maluma reside. Balvin would crack the billion mark again with 2017’s “Mi Gente” and 2018’s “X,” forever altering the standard by which future Latin hits would be measured. S.E.

50 greatest latin pop songs
49

Pitbull feat. Sensato, Osmani Garcia and Dayami La Musa, “El Taxi” (2015)

Known as “Mr. Worldwide” to his Anglophone fans, Cuban-American rapper Pitbull dialed it back to his native tongue on 2015’s Grammy-winning album Dale, his second Spanish-language album. As Mr. Todo El Mundo, he offered up a Spanish-language rendition of “Murder She Wrote” by Jamaican reggae duo Chaka Demus & Pliers – this time, starring a sexually forward woman in a taxi cab. Using wordplay only Cubans would get – “Ella hace de todo, todo, to to,” Pitbull sings (“She does it all, all, [euphemism for vagina]”) – the foursome playfully skirted around strict Cuban censorship laws, and the lasting product is pure fire. S.E.

50 greatest latin pop songs
50

Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee, “Despacito” (2017)

It’s the song that your mom and abuelita know by heart – not to mention the anthem that soundtracked virtually every single wedding, quinceañera and bar mitzvah across the nation last year. As one of the biggest and best songs of 2017, “Despacito” from Puerto Rican crooner Luis Fonsi, alongside reggaeton king and “Gasolina” star Daddy Yankee, is the undeniable all-time champion of Latin pop. As one of the most successful hits in pop music history, “Despacito,” combined with its Justin Bieber-assisted remix, is the most streamed song of all time; as well, the original’s official music video remains the most-viewed clip on YouTube ever. The fact that this reggaeton-meets-Latin-pop hybrid is primarily in Spanish further amplifies its universal appeal. “At no time was I trying to write a crossover record,” Fonsi told Rolling Stone last May. Regardless, the resulting so-called “Despacito effect” has advanced a wave of subsequent Spanish-language hits and mainstream crossovers, from the Latin trap explosion to J Balvin’s reggaeton globalization.  J.O.

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