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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
18

Los Prisioneros, “Tren al Sur” (1990)

Established in 1979 under the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Chilean synth-pop pioneers Los Prisioneros were instrumental in founding the Nuevo Pop Chileno movement of the 1980s. Their protest rock was eventually banned from radio play until 1990, but fans circumvented government censorship by covertly sharing the band’s music via unlabeled cassette tapes. Part-autobiographical, part-social commentary, frontman Jorge Gonzalez revisits his impoverished childhood in 1990’s “Tren al Sur”; he recounts the sounds of a locomotive, the smell of metal, stunning sights of Chilean landscapes, a father’s embrace. Los Prisioneros take you on a jangly ride as they poignantly unveil the stigmas shouldered by working class commuters. It also packs one hell of a rhythm that lends itself to rose-hued dance-rock. Their stylistic innovations set the groundwork for modern-day Chilean pop, inspiring legions of artists like Alex Anwandter, Gepe and Javiera Mena. I.R.