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Latinx Files: What Shakira’s ‘Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran’ says about Latin music.

Shakia, Carin Leon and Peso Pluma
(Martina Ibá?ez-Baldor / De Los; Photos by Jaume De Laiguana / Univision, Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times and Mr BU)
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How big of a star is Shakira?

Big enough that Mother She Wolf got me to watch “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” something I haven’t bothered doing ever since its host tousled Donald Trump’s hair back in 2016.

The Colombian superstar went on the late-night program on Monday to plug “Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran,” her 12th studio album and first in seven years. In addition to performing her latest single “Punteria,” Shakira was featured in the cold open and did a sit-down interview with Fallon in which she took a shot at former soccer player Gerard Piqué, her ex.

Her appearance was rightfully treated as a big deal by the show. After all, here was one of the trailblazers of Latin music breaking her lengthy hiatus to drop an instant classic that has already been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA since its release last Friday.

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The release of the album and Shakira’s return couldn’t have come at a better moment.

“Since Shakira dropped pop-reggaetón gold in [2017’s] “El Dorado,” music from Latin America has scaled commercial heights once thought to be unfathomable in the United States,” wrote former De Los culture columnist Suzy Exposito in her excellent, context-heavy review of the album for Rolling Stone. During Shakira’s absence, Exposito notes, a slew of new artists from Latin America and the U.S. who have picked up the mantle and pushed the many iterations of Latin music further into the American mainstream.

Long gone are the days in which Latin music was considered niche. Heavyweights Karol G and Bad Bunny have sold out arenas and dominated the charts while artists like Bizarrap and Peso Pluma are being booked at major U.S. festivals — both will be at Coachella, and the latter was easily the biggest draw at South By Southwest this year. Such is the near ubiquity of Latin music that it’s spreading into other genres. Last month, Carin León made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, the historic country music venue in Nashville.

According to a report by Luminate Data, Latin music was streamed 57.9 billion times in the U.S. during the first 34 weeks of 2023, an increase of more than 22% over the same period the previous year. The catch-all genre, which includes reggaetón and musica Mexicana, now ranks 5th in the U.S. in streams, slightly trailing country.

None of this happened in a vacuum.

“It’s been a long, long time coming,” said Gustavo Menéndez, president of the U.S. Latin and Latin America division at Warner Chappell Music, the publishing subsidiary of Warner Music Group. “We are talking about population trends. It’s the first and second generation of U.S. Latinos who are conscious and attuned to their culture that are driving this growth.”

Since the turn of the millennium — which coincidentally saw the release of “Laundry Service,” Shakira’s 2001 crossover English-language album — the U.S. Latinx population has been defined by its youth. According to a recent Pew Research Center fact sheet, the median age in 2021 was 29.5, making Latinxs the youngest racial or ethnic group in the country. This figure drops even further for Latinxs born in the U.S.; the median age for this subset of the population was 21.

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“Latin music is not going away because this is now a movement,” Menéndez said, noting that the shifts in demographics have made it possible for Latin artists to find massive audiences without the need to cross over.

Menéndez said that this new wave of artists is embracing their culture’s music while also evolving it by fusing it with other genres. “Something we’ve been doing [at Warner Chappell] is that we’ve been taking Mexican regional artists to songwriting camps in Nashville,” he said. “It’s been a beautiful thing to see how they’ve been embraced by Nashville artists.”

That’s the landscape that Shakira is coming back to. “Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran” doubles as the triumphant return of a legendary icon and a coming of age album that celebrates the great strides Latin music has taken over the last two decades. It’s Shakira holding court with many of her disciples — Karol G, Cardi B, Rauw Alejandro, Bizarrap, Grupo Frontera and Fuerza Regida are all featured on the album. There’s plenty of space for everyone to shine. But make no mistake about it, la loba is still the leader of this pack.

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Latinx Files
(Jackie Rivera / For The Times; Martina Ibá?ez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)

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