our infinite influence
Content sponsored by a brand

The Latino takeover (playlist)

American mainstream artists are savoring Spanish-language songs, from Billie Eilish to Beyoncé, Madonna to Justin Bieber, and Drake to Snoop Dogg and The Weeknd

SANTIAGO, CHILE - MARCH 18: Drake performs during day two of Lollapalooza Chile 2023 on March 18, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)
SANTIAGO, CHILE - MARCH 18: Drake performs during day two of Lollapalooza Chile 2023 on March 18, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)
Joaquín Badajoz

Hearing American mainstream artists singing in Spanish is hardly a novelty, if we take into account that in 1958, Nat “King” Cole released his all-Spanish hit studio album Cole Español intended for his ever-grown Hispanic fan base, with Latin American classic songs such as the traditional Mexican corrido “Adelita” or the cha-cha-cha “El bodeguero” by legendary Cuban flutist and composer Richard Egües, followed by A Mis Amigos (1959) and More Cole Español (1962).

US audiences’ interest in Latin rhythms was so on the rise that even Mr. Showman himself, celebrity entertainer Liberace, regularly performed classics from the Hispanic repertoire such as “Malagueña” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona; “El Cumbanchero,” by Puerto Rican Rafael Hernández Marín “El Jibarito”; Cumaná, a mambo tune by American pianist Barclay Allen (with Harold Spina and Rock Hillman), or the bolero “Bésame Mucho” by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez.

At the beginning of the 1980s, lured by an operation that seemed lucrative, Billboard reported a Capitol-EMI blueprint to push into the $1 billion Latin American music market. This same year, Kenny Rogers, a record label artist, recorded a Spanish version of his hit “Lady.”

Back then, Capitol-EMI executive Helmut Fest was betting on ballads. “Ballads are better than up-tempo tunes,” he explained to the magazine on November 22, 1980. Noting that “literal translations can sometimes turn out badly” and that “accents can pose problems, too.” In the same article, Fest refers to the albums in Spanish waxed by Capitol’s late Nat “King” Cole, pointing out his Cole Español continued as a strong seller in the Latin market. Other Capitol-EMI acts planned for the decade, in line with Fest’s vision, was Anne Murray’s “Broken-Hearted Me” and “You Needed Me,” Kim Carnes’ single “More Love,” and the “Bette David Eyes”' interpreter’ duet with Rogers, “Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer.” Even Blondie recorded a Spanish-language version of her hit “Call Me,” titled “Llámame,” later included in the compilation Blonde and Beyond (1993).

Fast forward to today, Spanish is cool, and it’s everywhere, even for the first time on the cover of Time magazine. On April 10-17, 2023, one month after the magazine, which has been a barometer of international culture and politics, turned 100 years old, the influential publication devoted its first all-Spanish cover in a century to the musical phenomenon of Bad Bunny—a fact that hints we are living in a change of era.

Although, as we said, the experimentation or flirtation of established American artists with other regional markets and languages is nothing new, it can hardly be overlooked that Spanglish duets are a growing trend in American mainstream music. Since 2017, we have seen unprecedented bilingual collaborations, with a noticeable peak during 2020. Here are some of the most successful partnerships, with the bonus curiosity that the English-speaking singers sing some bars in Spanish.

“Lo Vas a Olvidar” (2021)

Billie Eilish with Rosalía

In the highly anticipated track “Lo Vas an Olvidar,” in collaboration with Rosalia, Billie Eilish surprises us by singing in Spanish. The partnership highlights the vocal chemistry and harmony between such different performers. The song is a part of the soundtrack of the American teen drama series Euphoria. It was also the lead single from Interscope’s first season soundtrack, released on May 14, 2021.

“Del Mar” (2020)

Ozuna with Doja Cat and Sia

On Ozuna’s “Del Mar,” in collaboration with Doja Cat and Sia, “Sia flaunts her Spanish-speaking skills, singing the chorus completely in Spanish with Ozuna,” points out Latin Billboard Assistant Editor Jessica Roiz. While Doja Cat is limited to repeating some loose words, Sia’s Spanish sounds legit. It can be confirmed in the following clip.

“Tears of Gold” (2020)

David Bisbal and Carrie Underwood

Two powerful voices in full command of their vocal range and genres, performing an electrifying act. There is chemistry, energy, and passion. Even when they’re both singing in languages that aren’t their first languages. About the collaborations, Colombian Journalist Leila Cobo, currently Billboard’s Chief Content Officer for Latin Music and Español, wrote back then for the music magazine: “While bilingual collabs between Latin and mainstream artists are no longer novel, Latin pop paired with country voice is definitely not something you hear every day. Add to those two powerful voices (…), and that’s something very novel indeed. “Tears of Gold,” the new single that brings together the two superstars from different continents (Bisbal is from Spain), is a soaring, up-tempo pop ballad. It’s vintage Bisbal, who’s always had a flair for the dramatic.”

“Qué Maldición” Remix, 2020

Banda MS feat. Snoop Dogg & Becky G

Although the song was released on May 1, a few months into the Great Lockdown, when the pandemic was putting the world on the verge of global collapse, it had an excellent reception. It all goes back to October 2016, when through his Instagram account, the American rapper uploaded a video singing the song “Tengo que colgar” (I Have to Hang Up) by the Sinaloa band, dedicated to Dodgers fans from Los Angeles after the team was eliminated from the playoffs. Snoop Dogg has worked with several other Latin artists in bilingual tracks, as is the case of “Grandes Ligas” (2021) along with Lupillo Rivera, Alemán, Santa Fe Klan, and B-Real; in rapper Alemán’s “Mi Tío Snoop” (2021) and with Natanael Cano, Ovi & Snow Tha Product in “Feeling Good” (2020), the lead single from Las Tres Torres (2020).

“Tusa” (2019)

Karol G with Nicki Minaj

The collaboration between Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G and Trinidadian-born American rapper Nicki Minaj was released on November 7, 2019, as the lead single from Karol G’s third studio album, KG0516 (2021). “Tusa” earned two Latin Grammy nominations.

“Hawái” (2020), Remix

Maluma with The Weeknd

After releasing “Hawái” in August 2020, Maluma recorded a bilingual remix with Canadian star The Weeknd. In the second single of his fifth studio album, Papi Juancho, Maluma secured his second #1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Song chart and remained on the top of the chart for nine weeks. It also scored him his highest-ranking Billboard Hot 100 hit, where it peaked at No. 12. The video surpassed the milestone of 1 billion views on YouTube this summer. “I have always admired the Weeknd, so it feels nothing short of a dream come true to have him collab on the “Hawái” remix—He brought another flow to it and sang in both Spanish and English, which is impressive,” the Colombian singer said, in a statement.

“Mía” (2018)

Bad Bunny & Drake

While Sia (“Del Mar”) and Justin Bieber (“Despacito”) do remarkable performances, our favorite so far is Drizzy singing in Spanish in “Mía,” the second single of Puerto Rican megastar Bad Bunny’s debut studio album X100pre released on December 24, 2018. The Canadian-born rapper leads the long-awaited collaboration track with Bad Bunny in the all-Spanish song. The official video starts with Drake playing dominos in a Puerto Rico night-time barrio party while singing a long intro with a credible Boricua accent as Benito follows up with his part. The track instantly set some records, becoming the first full Spanish-language song at #1 on Apple Music’s Top Song chart in the US. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Drake singing in Spanish; in 2014, he showed some polyglot abilities in Romeo Santos’s bachata “Odio.”

“Échame la culpa” (2017)

Luis Fonsi and Demi Lovato

In over 25 years of artistic career, Fonsi has been one of the most proactive Latin artists collaborating and composing for other singers. Since the very beginning, Fonsi recorded the song “Si no te hubiera conocido” (If I Hadn’t Know You), which received mixed reviews, in a duet with Christina Aguilera for her Spanish-language album, Mi Reflejo (2000). The list of his collaborations has only grown over the years. Just during 2017, he also recorded his most famous song yet, “Despacito,” further down this list. Fonsi and Lovato won one Latin AMA for “Échame la culpa.”

“Mi Gente” (2017), Remix

J Balvin and Willy William, ft. Beyoncé

“Mi Gente,” a remake of Willy William’s original moombahton song “Voodoo Song,” was recorded by Colombia singer J Balvin and William and released on June 30, 2017. A remix with American singer Beyoncé was released on September 28, 2017. As a fun fact, Balvin revealed to BuzzFeed News years ago that “Bey’s 5-year-old daughter Blue Ivy spearheaded the collaboration.” One day, he was in the studio in New York, and one girl who works with Beyoncé told him that “Blue loved the song. She really loved the song.” When the reggaetonero singer tapped Beyoncé to remix his hit single, he never thought she would accept; to his surprise, she signed on two days later. “I almost passed out,” the “Prince of Reggaeton” confessed.

“Despacito” (2017), Remix

Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, feat. Justin Bieber

Despacito was a viral global revolution within the age of virality, and this thanks in part to the remix with Justin Bieber four months after the original release that gave the song a new boost in the charts. The contagious reggaeton Latin pop mix broke all the records and became the first song primarily in Spanish to top the Billboard Hot 100 since Los Del Río’s “Macarena” in 1996; it stayed 16 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and became the longest-running number-one on the Hot Latin Songs chart with 56 weeks. Six years later, it’s still the second-most-viewed YouTube video ever. Justin Bieber starts singing in English, but then he switches over and sings a few lines of the chorus in Spanish. It’s a song so contagious that even if you’re not into that kind of music, you can’t avoid being raptured by its beats. Check it out below.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Archived In