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Column: They tried to Eurowash the Latin Grammys. Voters said otherwise

Latin Grammys in Sevilla spain.
(Photo illustration by Diana Ramirez / De Los; photographs by Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times, Getty Images)
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By the time Latin Recording Academy President Manuel Abud announced the Latin Grammys’ one-time move to Spain this year, Ibero-American cultural relations had reached new lows.

Upon receiving an Oscar nod for playing Cuban American bandleader Desi Arnaz in “Being the Ricardos,” the otherwise beloved Canarian actor Javier Bardem fired back at critics, arguing that Spaniards in Hollywood had more claim to a minority status than Latinos. (Groan.) And as Colombian pop icon Shakira split with the duplicitous father of her children, Barcelona soccer star Gerard Pique, the Spanish tax agency pursued our queen for a whopping 23.8 million euros in fines, alleging tax evasion from 2012 through 2014. Then, shortly after a brilliant showing together at Coachella, transatlantic pop power couple Rauwsalía shocked fans by announcing their dissolution.

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All jokes aside, the Latin Grammys in Sevilla this year were not exactly the romantic gesture they were purported to be — a cross-cultural dream bridge into the city that once served as the launchpad for the colonization of the Americas. It was a savvy play of commerce made by the Latin Recording Academy in conjunction with the Andalusian tourism board, which committed $19 million in funding to the U.S.-based organization for music programming over the next three years.

And they did it because, just like in 1492, they know we got the juice: Within the first half of 2023, Latin music generated $627 million in the U.S. alone. “Latin music is global,” said Manuel Abud, chief executive of the Latin Recording Academy, to The Times earlier this year. “Our music is so important and so relevant worldwide that we should represent and expand beyond our regions.”

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During Thursday night’s telecast from the FIBES Convention Center in Sevilla, Europeans enjoyed ample representation compared to previous years. The show boasted performances by previous Latin Grammy winners Rosalía and Alejandro Sanz, as well as by Pablo Alborán, Borja, dozens of flamenco dancers, and even French DJ David Guetta. Given that Sevilla is the birthplace of flamenco, for the first time ever, the category for best flamenco album was televised this year; Cádiz-born singer Ni?a Pastori took home the honors for her 2023 album “Camino.”

Karol G
Karol G was one of the big winners of the Latin Grammys 2023
(Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images for Latin Recording Academy)

The ceremony became so Latin, in fact, that Tuscan opera star (and Kardashian fave) Andrea Bocelli made an appearance — and the 2023 person of the year was none other than the multilingual Italian diva, LGBTQ+ advocate and philanthropist Laura Pausini. (After a rousing performance, she declared, way too sincerely: “I am the most Latina Italian!”)

Well throughout the ceremony, Europeans took care to be complimentary, even deferential, to their Latino peers and audiences. A day after two blond espa?olas tried to chide me into using “vosotros” — mind you, they were unsuccessful — it was a strange thing to behold this public reverence for the Latino community in a place where many of us have felt judged and looked down upon. Málaga-born actor and businessman Antonio Banderas showed an outburst of love for U.S. Latinos as he accepted the President’s Award, which honors one person each year for their contributions to arts and culture.

“The Latino community has meant everything to me in the United States,” said Banderas. “They were people who came there because their parents — due to political, social, economic problems — moved to the United States. They worked very hard, very hard, so that their children could move forward.

“And now they are in all positions of power,” he continued. “Now they are in banking, in medicine, in architecture and, of course, they arrived in Hollywood. It’s important that you have come here, to Andalusia, to our land. It is an immense gift that all Andalusians and all Spaniards appreciate.”

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Conexíon Divina is a rare, all-female band in regional Mexican music and the only regional Mexican act nominated for a new artist Latin Grammy this year.

Nov. 13, 2023

Banderas’ commentary might have been endearing, had he not — like the aforementioned Javier Bardem — taken on so many Latino roles in Hollywood over the years, including in “Evita,” “The Mambo Kings” and, most hilariously, “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself.” According to a 2023 study, only 4.4% of lead or co-lead roles went to actors from Latin America and its diaspora. (Fewer than 1% of those roles went to Black Latinos.)

The Latin Grammys and its parent entity, the Latin Recording Academy, was a concept born from the marginalization of Latino and Hispanic artists by the U.S.-based Recording Academy. At the time of its inception in 2000, the U.S. Hispanic population had reached 12.5% of the general population; by 2020, that number shot up to 19%. Yet Latinos continue to be poorly represented in the general Grammys, especially this year, where not a single Spanish- or Portuguese-language artist is nominated in a non-ethnic category. One must question the function of the Latin Recording Academy, which 23 years later, has perhaps made the anglophone Recording Academy too comfortable with keeping us on the sidelines.

In Andalusia, however, our influence seems quite outsized in comparison to the States. Its beautiful capital, Sevilla, had been conquered several times over by Visigoths, Muslims and Christians, before it became an economic hub for the Spanish Empire over 500 years ago. Today, on the cobblestone streets of Sevilla, young people can be seen lounging in the city’s lush tropical parks, blasting not flamenco from their phones, but reggaetón and Latin trap.

Eslabón Armado has been leading a new wave of Mexican regional artists who have taken the genre to new heights. Will their song ‘Ella Baila Sola’ win big at this year’s Latin Grammys?

Nov. 14, 2023

“Latino music is youth culture in Spain,” says Nuria Net, a Puerto Rican writer who runs the independent podcast company La Coctelera from her adopted home in Madrid. “Young people are super open, as opposed to the older generations that had prejudices [against Latinos]. For young people here, Bad Bunny is someone they can relate to. They’re interested in us, they love us, but they just need a lot more context with regard to the Latino experience.”

Despite the violent legacy of colonization, avenues of positive connection have proved possible between Latinos and Spaniards — consider how Spanish pop singer Rocio Durcál became ranchera royalty overnight with her reverent performance of Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno.” At an Amazon Music show in Las Setas de Sevilla, performances by norte?o champ Carín Leon and María José Llergo — a flamenco singer of Romani descent, and former classmate of Rosalía — drew parallels in the rootsy inflections of their vocals, as well as in the bold spirit of their respective genres, which were born from class struggles in Mexico and Spain.

Some in the industry expressed concerns that this year’s ceremony, however, would render the Latin Grammys too inclusive, and therefore permissive to outsiders seeking to occupy space that would ideally remain dedicated to Latino and Hispanic communities. So long as the Latin Recording Academy relaxes its standards — which at the moment, remain open to anyone who records music in at least 51% Spanish or Portuguese — it could push out the less represented among us, especially Black and Indigenous artists who need the support.

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It’s why one young artist in the industry, who asked not to be identified, felt troubled by the implications of honoring Laura Pausini as person of the year. Pausini was the third woman ever to earn the prize, after Gloria Estefan and Shakira.

“We all grew up with Laura, but how many other women from our community deserved that prize?” asked my source. Names we floated were that of Mexican songstress Natalia Lafourcade, who as expected cleaned up at this year’s Latin Grammys, or Omara Portuondo, the 93-year-old Afro-Cuban diva from the legendary group Buena Vista Social Club, who took home the Latin Grammy for best traditional tropical album on Thursday.

Inside the press room at FIBES, journalists from the States were starved, jet-lagged and anxious as all hell while awaiting the big four categories. After all the fanfare surrounding this year’s most European Latin Grammys ever, the unthinkable finally happened, for the first time in Latin Grammys history: four women, all from Latin America, claimed each of the night’s coveted prizes.

Joaquina claimed the title of best new artist; Natalia Lafourcade nabbed record of the year, and Karol G album of the year. Shakira not only scored song of the year on Thursday night; but by Monday morning, she made an 11th-hour settlement with the Hacienda for 7 million euros, and was free to return to her new home in Miami.

They may have tried to Eurowash the Latin Grammys, but the voters said otherwise.

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