Billboard Music Awards’ Latin Winners

Romeo Santos won top Latin artist at the Billboard Music Awards and Enrique Iglesias won top Latin album for Sex and Love while his hit “Bailando,” featuring Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona, won top Latin song.

The wins were no surprise: Santos and Iglesias have in one way or another dominated charts and attention for much of the year and indeed were the big winners at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.

The bigger story is just how much the direction of Latin music has shifted in this country in the past five years, and how much consumer tastes have followed — or perhaps, have led the charge.

Regardless, the end result is the same. When it comes to Latin music in the charts, at least, it’s not just about love and dancing anymore. It is also, as Iglesias aptly puts it, about sex, and dance and a decidedly urban sensibility.

No one embodies this better than Iglesias, who started his career in 1995 as a romantic crooner and has evolved at an accelerated pace, keeping up with trends and often setting them. His current year beautifully exemplifies this. He titled his album Sex and Love. He recorded “Bailando,” a seamless blend of urban, dance and Latin sensibilities. He had the incredibly good fortune (or perhaps foresight) of tapping two Cuban artists right before Obama decided to normalize relationships with Cuba: his longtime collaborator (and singer/songwriter) Descemer Bueno, and Gente De Zona, a Cuban duo who now are breaking in a major way on their own (thanks to no small degree to Iglesias’ vote of confidence). Iglesias toured with Pitbull, a rapper. And now, he’s featured on “El Perdón,” the track by reggaeton artist Nicky Jam that’s become another runaway hit.

But the fact that Iglesias and his music are elastic enough to adapt and change without sounding forced is certainly not something many other artists can, or want, to do.

“I’m pop,” Luis Fonsi, an artist who started as a crooner but has evolved into more uptempo fare without delving into bachata or reggaeton in the process, told Billboard recently. While Fonsi readily admitted he’s willing to experiment (as he did performing with Afrojack at the Billboard Latin Music Awards), he also emphasized the importance of staying true to an idiom the artist feels comfortable with.

If that happens to be ballads, many of these acts say, so be it, radio airplay or not.

And radio airplay for romance is far from doomed.

It’s easy to forget, in all the Romeo Santos mania, that Santos is a romantic crooner; but one who happens to sing bachata, a genre meant to be danced to, albeit pretty closely. That Santos’ songs play on tropical radio as well as pop is often more a question of semantics than of sound alone.

Indeed, even in the realm of reggaeton and rap, Latin acts tend to be much more romantic than their U.S. counterparts. While J Balvin’s “6 a.m.” (feat. Farruko) is an all-out party track, for example, his “Ay Vamos” is a love song. So is Nicky Jam’s “El Perdón.”

And lest we forget, in the roundup of finalists for the Billboard Music Awards, Mexican singer/songwriter Juan Gabriel, one of the reigning masters of romance, was a double finalist, for top Latin album (for Los Duos) and for Latin artist of the year.

So, fear not, romantic ones. Yes, dance and sex and rap may be dominating the charts. But romance is never too far away. And it tends to pounce in the most unexpected moments.

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