The Latin Recording Academy celebrated its 20th annual Latin Grammys on Thursday night, and with no shortage of legends past, present, and future. Even amid ongoing political tensions between the institution and disgruntled reggaetoneros — or on a graver note, between artists and their respective governments — the show must go on, and what a show it was.
An all-star cast of artists honored four late greats with their respective greatest hits — and it only got more lit by the second. In memory of the Cuban salsera Celia Cruz, Brazilian superstar Anitta, merengue icon Olga Tañon and starlet Milly Quezada sharde vocal duties on her dance-floor anthem, “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.” Then Mexican balladeers Reik, Leonel García and Carlos Rivera stepped into the spotlight to perform “Querida,” the timeless song by Mexican legend Juan Gabriel. This was chased by yet another emotional Mexican classic, “Secreto de Amor” by Joan Sebastian, sung by bachata singer Prince Royce, members of Calibre 50, and Spanish singer Natalia Jiménez.
As if the scene couldn’t get any more sentimental, the massive tribute closed out with guns blazing — or, with an electrifying performance by pan-Latin rock legends Draco Rosa, Fito Páez, and Beto Cuevas. Together they gave “Música Ligera” justice to the Argentinian icon Gustavo Cerati, and with a vocal assist from ceremony host Ricky Martin.
Thanks to a vitalizing new wave of talent, regional Mexican music has exponentially grown its reach and popularity in 2019. The Latin Grammys gave a nod to its roots on Thursday night, as three generations of ranchera royalty — Alex Jr., Alejandro, and Vicente Fernández— shared the stage for a jaw-dropping performance that will certainly go down in Latin music history. Ranchera king Vicente “Chente” Fernandez broke retirement to perform a few songs with his family, including “Alma Rota” and “Volver, Volver.” Together they were joined by the ensemble Mariachi Sol de Mexico — all dressed in matching black sombreros and traditional charro suits. “When you listen to the voice of your blood, you feel immortal,” said Chente as his son and grandson took the mic. The scene was so monumental that it earned a standing ovation; chanting “otra” in unison, the crowd pleaded just one more song: “I [could] sing 50 more songs,” said the senior Fernandez.
Puerto Rican urbano star Bad Bunny won his very first Latin Grammy on Thursday night: His 2018 masterwork, X 100pre, was named Best Urban Album. Yet those watching the broadcast Thursday night could hardly make out his acceptance speech, which was almost entirely obscured by a gratuitous series of bleeps. Between fleeting spurts of profanity, Bad Bunny took the chance to address the contested status of reggaeton at the Latin Grammys.
“To all the musicians, to all the people who belong to the Academy, with all due respect: reggaeton is part of Latin culture, and we represent, just like lots of other music genres, Latinos around the world,” he said in his acceptance speech. “Also, I tell my colleagues from reggaeton, let’s make an effort; let’s bring back creativity and sincerity. The genre has become about views, numbers. Let’s turn things around and do genuine things and different things for the people.”
Rosalía scored a whopping five awards Thursday night, including for Album of the Year for her 2018 opus, El Mal Querer. Dressed in a fluffy, red organza outfit, the 26-year-old Catalan star made the live debut of her avant-hip-hop single, “A Palé.” Flanked by a team of dancers in white, Rosalía rocked her tresses from the centerstage and transitioned the song into her summer hit, “Con Altura (feat. J Balvin and El Guincho).” Though her male collaborators were absent from the stage, she filled the vacancy with fierce dance moves.
Unbeknownst to many in the audience, however, was a new and totally unprecedented collaborator: the non-binary Venezuelan artist, Arca. Violent echoes of “¡Escuchanme! Tu ere’ una bruja!” (“Listen to me! You’re a witch!” filled the arena — which turned out to be recordings Arca made in the days leading up to her monumental meeting with the Spanish star. We look forward to the day Arca actually makes her own real-life, and undoubtedly hair-raising, Latin Grammys debut.
Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Pedro Capó hit the jackpot when he, Gabriel Perez, and George Noriega penned “Calma” — which eventually won Song of the Year. Its subsequent remix with reggae star Farruko was also named Best Urban Fusion/Performance; and the Spanglish remix of the song, co-starring the 15-time Grammy-winner Alicia Keys, was given coveted stage time at Thursday night’s show.
Despite it being her first Latin Grammys appearance, Keys seemed right at home behind her piano; and once the Mexican-American R&B singer Miguel emerged, everything seemed gravy. But when Miguel and Keys used the time to promote their new English-language single, “Show Me Love,” it felt like a brazen act of usurpation, on behalf of the anglophone agenda. It was also a missed opportunity: Miguel had plenty of material from his first Spanish-language EP, Te Lo Dije, released earlier this year.
After nearly a month of protests against Chilean president Sebastian Piñera, singer-songwriters Mon Laferte and Alex Anwandter brought the spirit of dissent to the red carpet on Thursday evening. Both nominated for Best Alternative Album, the two used the Latin Grammys as a platform to decry human rights violations committed by the Chilean military and police during the demonstrations. “Did you know that they violate human rights in Chile?” read a placard held by Anwandter. Meanwhile, Mon Laferte bared her chest, on which she wrote with black marker, “In Chile, they torture, rape and kill.” She would later win Best Alternative Album for her 2018 opus, Norma; during her acceptance speech, she read a chilling poem from an anonymous friend, dedicated to those resisting government repression. “Chile hurts me inside,” she read. “You bleed through my every vein/Every chain weighs on me/That imprisons you.”
Ricky Martin, Residente, and Bad Bunny joined forces for a cross-generational celebration of Puerto Rico’s musical heritage at the Latin Grammys on Thursday. Following an epic summer of Puerto Rican protest, the three stars united once more for their new collaboration “Cántalo,” which attempts a bold merger of canonical salsa, radio-friendly reggaeton and window-shaking trap. The song opened with full-throated singing from Martin, who also served as the host of this year’s Latin Grammys ceremony. A blast of horns signaled that it was time to pass the baton to Residente, who rapped with casual ferocity. The chorus reverted to full-throttle salsa before Bad Bunny bounded out of the crowd to rap his own verse, and add a necessary dose of heat to the ceremony.
Colombian rock-pop superstar Juanes performed several of his greatest hits at the Latin Grammys on Thursday. A longtime Latin Grammy darling, he was also honored as the Person of the Year at the ceremony.
The special segment was, however, far from business as usual. after closing out his procession of hits, Juanes was surprised by a longtime hero from the anglophone world: Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
“[I met] Juanes years ago, after performing in Mexico,” Ulrich said in English. “And I have keenly watched his music, his creativity and his radiant humanity soar across this beautiful planet. Then I learned he was a Metallica fan… Now tonight, we come full circle. I proclaim myself a Juanes fan! Mi amigo, mi parcero, I’m proud to recognize you as Person of the Year from the Latin Recording Academy!”
“I thought it was a ghost at first,” Juanes later said in the press room.
Though he didn’t know it at the time, José José made one of the most unforgettable moments in Latin music with his 1970 performance of “El Triste” at Festival Mundial de la Canción Latina. It was a spine-chilling showcase that introduced El Príncipe de la Canción to the world, and one that ushered in the era of the Latin romantic crooner. On Thursday night, that memorable moment was recreated by ranchera star Pepe Aguilar — backed by a sweeping orchestra, the Mexican singer served up the tearjerking song with an impressive range and a whole lotta heart.
Though Camila Cabello won two Latin Grammys Thursday night — both for “Mi Persona Favorita,” her hit with Academy favorite Alejandro Sanz — the Cuban-American singer was nowhere to be found at the ceremony. Still, Sanz performed the song sans Cabello Thursday night, and in her stead, appeared a lineup of three promising young women in Spanish-language music: Best New Artist nominees Aitana Ocaña, Greeicy Rendon and eventual winner, Nella. It proved to be a satisfying collaboration between the rising pop stars, who will undoubtedly benefit from the airtime.