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
36

Ivy Queen, “Quiero Bailar” (2003)

Armed with a heady, acerbic flow skilled enough to put a 10-piece MC crew to shame, the legendary Puerto Rican wordsmith is too quick-witted, too fly and too formidable when seizing her solo voice. Even while hanging with the hardest, horniest, or most macho guys in reggaeton, Ivy Queen stands her ground as she lends her pipes to empower women everywhere. “Yo te digo si tu me puedes provocar (I’ll tell you if you can provoke me) … Eso no quiere decir que pa’ la cama voy (That does not mean I’m going to bed with you),” she ferociously spits on 2003’s feminist opus “Quiero Bailar,” commanding the dance floor with equal parts grace, dignity, and badassery. “My flow has always been defined by women’s rights,” Ivy Queen told Rolling Stone in 2018. “The first thing to come out of my mouth was to give respect to the ladies. I want women to identify when they hear me.” I.R.

50 greatest latin pop songs
37

Julieta Venegas, “Algo Esta Cambiando” (2003)

Julieta Venegas was the queen of Latin alternative rock… until she decided to burn her kingdom to the ground. Frustrated by writer’s block, Venegas tore up the rock en español playbook in search of pop perfection, resulting in her 2003 album . Gone were the raging guitars and cathartic vocals; in came the bright synths and sing-a-long melodies. “Algo Está Cambiando,” the album’s biggest hit, was the purest distillation of this new sound, with a production so smooth it could cure mal de ojo. This new path made Venegas a chart smash, while more importantly, opening a path for Latina artists to embrace the pop charts on their own artistic terms. A.C.

50 greatest latin pop songs
38

Daddy Yankee, “Gasolina” (2004)

Before taking over the world alongside Luis Fonsi with “Despacito,” Puerto Rican reggaeton singer/rapper Daddy Yankee broke through with “Gasolina.” As one of reggaeton’s first true global phenomenons, “Gasolina” announced Daddy Yankee as an international star and introduced the genre to the rest of the world. Released as the lead single off his 2004 Barrio Fino album, “Gasolina” came at a time when reggaeton was beginning to cross over into the U.S. and Europe. It was this track, however, that hastened reggaeton’s global momentum and launched a new Latin pop explosion. Powered by a driving dembow beat, a brutal rap flow and salacious innuendo, “Gasolina” carries all the elements that make reggaeton a thrilling genre. Sung completely in Spanish, the song’s success is bolstered by its inescapable hook, which found countless non-Spanish-speaking listeners around the world belting its catchy lyrics. In 2005, “Gasolina” became the first reggaeton song to receive a Latin Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year, marking a major industry milestone for the genre and legitimizing the sound in global Latin pop. Today, the legacy of “Gasolina” informs modern-day Latin pop beyond the confines of reggaeton and launched an international cultural movement beyond borders. J.O.

50 greatest latin pop songs
39

Grupo Climax, “Za Za Za (Mesa Que Mas Aplauda)” (2004)

The work of Veracruz one-hit-wonders Oskar Lobo and his Grupo Climax, their 2004 debut Za Za Za hit Number One on Billboard‘s Top Latin Albums chart – if only because its title track is a banger without comparison in the Latin pop universe. “Za Za Za (Mesa Que Mas Aplauda)” is as simple as it is self-aware: literally announcing itself as a party starter, the song ostensibly tells the story of a call girl over a frenetic merengue loop. It then quickly devolves into lists of random things, from occupations to cities to Mexican football clubs. It’s basic, it’s repetitive, but most of all it’s goddamn exhilarating, and will live on so long as Latino weddings have dance floors. A.C.

50 greatest latin pop songs
40

Calle 13, “Atrévete-Te-Te” (2005)

A reggaeton anthem for the new millennium, “Atrévete-Te-Te” grabbed bystanders by the musical jugular for its unmatched raunch, humor, and brilliant quips, inspiring many an ass-shake around the world. A vast departure from the hedonism and maximalist EDM of the time, Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 broke the boundaries of rap-reggaeton and shifted the course of Latin alternative music forever. “Who cares if you like Green Day?/Who cares if you like Coldplay?” asks MC Residente – addressing Boricua hipsters who turn their noses up at urban music. Whether it’s Visitante’s arresting reggaeton-cumbia beats, Residente’s fastball, sardonic banter, or that infectious clarinet intro, the group’s 2005 breakthrough hit will always remain one of the best things to come out of Puerto Rico since arroz con habichuelas. I.R.

50 greatest latin pop songs
41

Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean, “Hips Don’t Lie” (2006)

Released in 2006, the rocker-turned-Colombian pop empress Shakira dominated the Billboard Hot 100 charts for two consecutive weeks with “Hips Don’t Lie” – the singer’s first Number One single in the United States. The song, which also reached the Number One spot on the pop charts of at least 55 other countries, features Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean. Jean had initially evolved the hit from his original song, “Dance Like This,” for a potential Fugees comeback. (Yet according to Pras, Lauryn Hill wasn’t feeling it and walked out of the studio.) Shakira signed on to co-write the final edition and give it her own sazón – procuring trumpet samples from the 1992 salsa hit “Amores Como el Nuestro,” as performed by Jerry Rivera. An infectious worldbeat gem, “Hips Don’t Lie” went on to achieve countless honors, including a Grammy nomination, the Latin Billboard Award for Hot Latin Song and the MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography in a Video. Directed by Sophie Muller and filmed in Los Angeles, the video is bursting with color, harking back to Shakira’s hometown of Barranquilla and its local Carnaval. M.E.

50 greatest latin pop songs
42

Bomba Estéreo, “Fuego” (2008)

Catapulting electro-cumbia into the future, “Fuego” is a trailblazing mix of EDM brilliance, psychedelic cumbia, and rap-reggae. The explosive indie-pop banger seemed likely to remain in the underground, but the fiery duo’s swagger was too hot to be kept as Colombia’s best secret. They are an unlikely crossover act that’s not only globalized their hybrid craft, but they’ve managed to mainstream without capitulating to the marketability of pop-urban rhythms. In “Fuego” they announce their mission statement, inspiring legions of digital folklorists along the way. Bomba has been keeping it lit ever since. I.R.

50 greatest latin pop songs
43

Don Omar feat. Lucenzo, “Danza Kuduro” (2010)

There is no resisting this song. One minute you hear it while scanning for toothpaste at Walgreens – the next minute you’re looking up plane tickets to the Azores. Don Omar, Puerto Rican reggaetonero and longtime frenemy of Daddy Yankee, has been known to deal out some bangers. But with French-Portuguese singer Lucenzo by his side, Don Omar hit the jackpot in 2010 with the one-of-a-kind “Danza Kuduro,” a Spanish/Portuguese-language tribute to an Angolan dance move. In the aftermath of 2000s reggaeton-mania, Don Omar seized an opportunity to innovate, adopting the kuduro 4/4 rhythm and dusting off an accordion sample for good measure. Don Omar’s globetrotting formula earned him his second Number One hit on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart – as well as Lucenzo’s first – and the single sold over a million digital copies. S.E.

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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