Since 2000, The Latin Recording Academy has honored the top Spanish- and Portuguese-language artists who dominated the radio waves and streaming platforms with a jolly, spectacular awards ceremony celebrating the year that was, and the 23rd edition of the Latin Grammy Awards continued that tradition at the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas last Thursday.
This year’s show, however, expanded that celebration — not by its runtime, but with its scope, furthering its appreciation of the past, present and future and the Recording Academy’s notion that the event truly is the most important night for Latin music.
Rather than articulate the importance and influence of the music, the Latin Grammys demonstrated it with a diverse field of nominees ranging from teenagers to seniors from all regions and performers that roused the crowd to a fever pitch, showing why Latin music has been and continues to be a driving force in the live entertainment industry.
“Latin music is expansive and expressive, full of diversity and flavor, a faithful reflection of the Latin community. It’s a true representation of culture representing a variety of countries and customs from genre to genre,” Manuel Abud, CEO of the Latin Recording Academy, told Pollstar prior to the big night. “There really is a sound for everyone, every occasion, uniting us. Creativity abounds, and innovation never stops, but there is always a deep respect for tradition and paying homage to legacy.”
The sonic diversity was on display from the get-go with pop stars paying tribute to Mexican icon Marco Antonio Solís singing a medley of his popular tunes, including an upbeat performance of “Más Que Tu Amigo” from Goyo, Aymée Nuviola and Gente de Zona that set the festive tone for the remainder of the evening.
It was only fitting that the best new artist category ended in a tie between Mexican newcomer Silvana Estrada, 25, and 95-year-old Angela Alvarez from Cuba, showing the multigenerational reach and diversity of Latin music.
Estrada, who performed at Chicago’s intimate Schubas Tavern venue in March and sold every ticket, said she was moved to tears by Alvarez’s story and the fact that the nominations list that included mostly women was already a big victory.
“New music, old music, what is it? What exists [in music] is honesty; what exists is the work; what exists is the representation for the little girls in future generations, that they know it’s worth it to dream, fight and work for it.”
Alvarez shared a similar message to those who have not yet realized their dreams, saying, “Even though life is difficult, there is always a way out. And with faith and love, you can accomplish it, I promise you. It’s never too late.”
Minutes after the historic victory of the two female artists, which left many audience members reaching for a tissue to wipe away tears, Marc Anthony galvanized the crowd with a rendition of “Mala,” showcasing not only his talent but also the power of live Latin music. Nearly every person stood up from their seat, danced and sang along with the 54-year-old American salsa star, who is one of the most popular draws among his peers and grossed more than $1.7 million at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, earlier this month, according to Pollstar box office reports.
The Latin Grammys also put on display genre-melding Spanish star Rosalía, who took home four awards and electrified the crowd performing hits from her album of the year winner “Motomami,” a critical darling commended for its innovation and amalgamation of various styles to deliver experimental pop bliss. The Barcelona native embarked on a 44-show world tour earlier this year to promote the release of her album and it closes at AccorHotels Arena in Paris, France, on Dec. 18. According to Pollstar box office reports, Rosalía has averaged an impressive $1.36 million and 11.5K tickets per show.
Rosalía is one of many Spanish-language artists who have served as a boon to the music industry and live entertainment venues that remain on a long road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which forced arenas and theaters to shutter their doors for more than a year. Bad Bunny, who was absent from the ceremony and won five Latin Grammys, not only leads the pack of Latin artists when it comes to ticket sales and profits from live shows but is among the top earners in the entire industry. The Puerto Rican rap star has the second best-selling album in the U.S. this year and was No. 3 in Pollstar’s Q3 charts with a gross of nearly $163.6 million from 46 concerts. Should his record-setting showings continue over the next three weeks, Bad Bunny could join Ed Sheeran as being one of the only acts to cross the $400 million threshold in a single year.
English-language artists also participated in the celebration of Latin music with John Legend joining Sebastián Yatra for a duet of the Colombian’s hit “Tacones Rojos,” which won best pop song. Yatra seems to be on the rise after selling 3,413 tickets and grossing nearly $200,000 for his show at the Rosemont Theatre in Illinois. Rock legend Elvis Costello performed alongside Latin veteran Jorge Drexler, who led all artists with six Latin Grammy victories. The Academy Award-winning Uruguayan singer/songwriter favors intimate venues and has an average gross of $40,000 with about 1,200 tickets sold per show, according to recent Pollstar box office reports.
Though Latin Grammy Awards producers boasted a remarkable roster of performers that included Karol G. and Romeo Santos, they opted to go with a Mexican band from the 1970s for the final performance, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of the night. Beloved Mexican pop group Los Bukis excited the crowd with their breakup anthem from 1987 “Tu Carcel,” their most famous hit that surpassed 142 million streams on Spotify and is one of the rare songs that can prompt young viewers to sway and sing along with their grandparents.
The band cemented itself as one of the biggest acts to hit the road when it reunited in 2021 following a 25-year hiatus and played nine shows at six stadiums for the Live Nation-sponsored “Una Historia Cantada” (“A Sung History”) Tour. Los Bukis grossed $49.7 million and ranked No. 6 on Pollstar’s 2021 Year End Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart.
Los Bukis frontman Marco Antonio Solís, who went on to have a successful solo career, was honored by the Latin Recording Academy as the Person of the Year for his legacy and what he continues to contribute to the business and art. Solís is a big believer in the inspirational power of music, especially in live form, calling it a “basic need in our world.”
“I think live concerts are very necessary, more than ever after what we’ve been through [with the pandemic], after being isolated, after being reflective of our lives and realizing how short it is and how fragile we are,” Solís told Pollstar on the red carpet prior to the Person of the Year dinner celebration at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas on Nov. 16. “I have felt the people turn to concerts, to live them, to share them and feel that energy. The people come out and supported us and my colleagues, and that gives me great pleasure because music nourishes us. It is a curative nourishment that fills us with joy.”
The Latin Grammy Awards understood the idea of music being a positive force on Thursday and delivered a show that was much more than spectacle and pats on the back. It truly felt like a celebration of the sounds that unite people, regardless of their status, age and background. The 12,000-seat arena was at capacity with attendees dressed to impress, but the feeling wasn’t one of formality. The vibe of the evening was of a family quinceañera dance party, and the DJ played all the best hits, old and new.