Latin music’s biggest industry event touched down on Vegas on Thursday night — and with it, a star-studded cast of nominees and performers, including Ozuna, Bad Bunny, J Balvin and many more. The culmination of a week-long music business summit, the 2019 Billboard Latin Music Awards brought forth the fruits of everyone’s labor across the industry, by recognizing artists in tandem with their labels, publicists and managers. As data shows Spanish-language music has been steadily ramping up in popularity the world over, 2019 proves a pivotal year for this oft-underrated corner of the music market. Here are the best things we saw at this year’s Billboard Latin Music Awards.
Caso Cerrado‘s Dr. Ana María Polo Says ‘Case Closed’ on Reggaeton
In a no-nonsense blazer and slacks, Dr. Ana María Polo made a striking appearance on the red carpet Thursday night — and as a presenter she flaunted her matter-of-fact Miami Spanglish with verve. For those who don’t know, Dr. Polo is the television host of Telemundo’s daytime court show Caso Cerrado — think: People’s Court with more bizarro family squabbles — which essentially makes her the Cuban-American equivalent of Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer and Judge Judy, all rolled into one. When asked about her stance on reggaeton, a genre which counted for 40 Billboard Latin nominations this year, the Doctor finally put the case to rest for its detractors. “I appreciate it a lot and I think we have to respect it,” she told Telemundo on the red carpet. “¡Y pa’lante!”
J Balvin and Nicky Jam: This is What Healthy Masculinity Looks Like
Although ‘Men Being Nice to Each Other’ doesn’t make the snappiest of headlines, Colombian superstar J Balvin and Puerto Rican don Nicky Jam showed the world just how sweet it can be when men are sweet to each other. The two scored their first award that night for their 2018 single, “X,” which was named Airplay Song of the Year; sporting a canary yellow suit, Balvin responded to the victory by leaping into Jam’s arms. The two reggaetoneros exchanged a prolonged koala hug before they took the stage to accept the honors.
“Thank God, thank Sony, thank our producer, and thank J Balvin for bringing me this song,” professed Jam. “I needed a single, so he called me and said, ‘I care about you very much, and I got your song.’ Thanks papi, I love you!”
“You’ve been one of the genre’s biggest legends,” said Balvin. “You’re a brother and a friend, and it’s very hard in this industry to find such camaraderie. I love you!”
“I love you more!” replied Nicky Jam — who capped off this moment of shared, bro-to-bro cariño with a special shout-out to Christ.
Revenge of the Spaniards
Joined by J Balvin in a performance of their 2019 single, “Con Altura,” Spanish artists Rosalía and El Guincho made a splash at the Billboard Latin Music Awards. Following in the footsteps of other Spanish citizens who historically thrived in the Latin American music market — from Rocío Dúrcal to Julio Iglesias, and eventually to his son, Enrique — singer-songwriter Rosalía paid her respects to the Latinx diaspora in song, showing reverence for Caribbean salsa legends like Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz. (Pedro Capó later revealed that Rosalía gave Alicia Keys Spanish lessons prior to recording the remix of his hit song “Calma.”) It was not so much an act of revenge as it was a full-circle moment for two of Europe’s best pop music exports: who wager that after centuries of colonization, there is not only so much to learn from Latinos, but to invent anew.
Anitta and Becky G Go Bananas
Off Anitta’s multi-lingual, genre-ambiguous new album Kisses, the Becky G-assisted “Banana” is admittedly the song least expected to make the broadcast on Thursday night. Singing salaciously in English, the ladies praised “that yum, yum” (and other things deemed too risqué for television) while straddling a gigantic banana. While it may have been the visceral equivalent of performing 2001-era Britney at a middle school talent show… it was brilliant. Compared to the vast number of urbano songs sung by men, the saucy innuendo of “Banana” might come off as child’s play; but together the Brazilian pop titan and Chicana princess are continuing to expand the range of female sexual expression, and are not afraid to get silly with it.
Bad Bunny’s Costume Changes
While any artist is liable to change costumes in a single awards night, Bad Bunny’s sartorial evolution was by far the most striking. The Puerto Rican reggaetonero first stormed the red carpet decked in a lavender suit, a neon green buzzcut and matching glow-in-the-dark cat claws. He shifted gears as a part-time presenter alongside Gaby Espino, keeping it sleek in an all-black tux. His style only ascended — as he literally descended onto the stage atop a jet ski, in a black matte lifejacket and grey utility suit — to perform cuts off his album X 100PRE, including “200 MPH” and his trap-punk B-side, “Tenemos Que Hablar.” But most punk of all was when the singer accepted his award for “Te Boté” in a giant tee and flannel pajama pants. (Perhaps fans can look forward to his upcoming hit song, “Con Pijama.”)
— Premios Billboard (@LatinBillboards) April 26, 2019
Joanie Loves Chachi: Anuel AA and Karol G Conjoined at the Mouth
As individuals, Anuel AA and Karol G have each proved their mettle on the Latin charts many times over. They even competed against one another in the New Artist of the Year category, which ultimately went to Anuel. But the urbano power couple still made sure to flaunt their new engagement Thursday night; not just on the red carpet, but during their starry-eyed performance of 2019’s “Secreto.” The pair topped it off with a gratuitous smooch — and instead of dropping curtains on the lovebirds, the set designers aptly set off an onstage shower to cool them down.
Dominicans Win Big: Ozuna, Natti Natasha, Newly-Reunited Aventura
Anybody who’s tuned into any given Latin music awards show can see it’s been a banner era for Puerto Rican artists; and the Billboard Latin Awards were no exception. Yet other countries managed to get a shot at representation: Gente De Zona came through for Cuba, while La Banda Sinaloense MS elegantly showed out for Mexico; meanwhile Balvin, Karol G, Carlos Vives, Juanes and ChocQuibTown made stellar examples of Colombian excellence. Still, by the end of the night, it was clear that Dominicans stole the show.
Although he was born in Puerto Rico, Ozuna made sure to amplify his Dominican heritage with nearly every one of his record-breaking 11 wins on Thursday. D.R. native Natti Natasha also earned recognition as the Female Hot Latin Songs Artist of the Year, while Romeo Santos — and the newly reunited Aventura — collected awards for Tropical Artist and Tropical Group of the Year, respectively.
“I can’t believe I beat Marc Anthony!” said Romeo Santos when he accepted the honor of Tropical Artist of the Year. (Anthony, who opened the show with a show-stopping rendition of “Parecen Viernes” earlier that night, appeared to take no offense.) While praising the merits of urban music, Santos stopped to acknowledge the value of Caribbean-grown genres, like bachata and salsa, in growing his career. “To be a tropical artist,” said Romeo Santos, “you have to work hard, and you have to keep reinventing yourself. Long live tropical music!”
Juan Luis Guerra Honored with Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award
Cue the waterworks — and we’re not talking about the showers. Presented by a gracious Juanes, the Lifetime Achievement Award went to the most distinguished Dominican of the night: Juan Luis Guerra. As the man who first broke bachata into the mainstream — then freaked it, with his unique blends of bolero and merengue — Guerra has inspired many of Latinoamerica‘s biggest romantics over the past 35 years.
Present that night alongside his wife, Nora Clementina Altagracia Vega Rasuk, Guerra was not only granted a statue, but a star-studded tribute. Resplendent in a beaded floor gown, Kany Garcia opened the tribute with a sversion of his song, “Burbujas de Amor”; Pedro Capó followed with a hearty rendition of “Ojalá Que Llueva Café,” before Fonseca suavely emerged from backstage to regale a misty-eyed Guerra with “Nadie Como Tú.” In spite of all the pagaentry, Guerra kept things relatively straightforward in his acceptance speech: he thanked his wife, what sounded like every member of his family, as well as his staff, and of course, his most beloved Dominican Republic.