In a post-Despacito world, many may think reggaetón is the only genre achieving international success. In reality, a diverse musical world has been thriving for decades. In our July 2019 deep dive on Latin American “trigger cities,” we examined the most recent “Latin explosion” in the English-speaking world. Now, at the start of 2021, Latin artists continue to rake in big numbers, even in non-Spanish speaking markets like the US, Italy, and France.
If we review metrics across different music streaming platforms, we can find a diverse set of the Top 50 regional Latin American music stars, including legacy acts like Juan Gabriel, Marco Antonio Solís, and Joan Sebastian; artists who have long and active careers like Mexico's Banda MS, Los Ángeles Azules, and Natalia Lafourcade and Colombia's Carlos Vives, Juanes, and Diómedes Díaz; as well as new shining stars like mariacheño Mexican star Christian Nodal or the Colombian Pop singer Jessi Uribe.
Francisco explains more on our podcast. Listen below.
The fact that this regional Latin music has gained such prominence reveals the demographic changes happening in many countries, where, due to a sense of nostalgia, the Latin American diaspora is voraciously consuming music from their home countries, instilling in their kids a part of their identity. For these music consumers, regional Latin music genres represent authenticity, and thanks to the music streaming companies who have made music readily available on a global scale, its consumption has increased beyond expectations.
While the regional Latin music landscape is enormous and rich, based on the most recent music industry trends we’ve seen gaining popularity, we will first focus on Mexico before moving on to Colombia in Part 2.
The Influence of Streaming Platforms on Mexican Music Genres
We should first recognize the portals driving so much of the growth for Mexican music genres. The editorial work done by Deezer, Spotify, and Apple Music, who have designed playlists catering to all the traditional and emerging Mexican music genres, has had a positive impact in its consumption. Today we can find many playlists catering to Mexican music genres, from Spotify’s Sad Sierreño, Corridos 2020, and La Troca to Apple Music’s La Clica and Deezer’s TrackxTrack — playlists designed to provide support to specific acts.
French streaming company Deezer has made its focus on regional Latin music one of its primary differentiators in the crowded streaming space, and it certainly shines on its interface. Six of its 27 Browse Menu Music Genre hubs point to Latin American genres, with Mexico-specific playlists such as Corridos Tumbados (23K fans), Norteño Hits (38K fans), and Corridos Power (74K fans) available.
“At Deezer, we create flagship playlists based on our data such as Éxitos Con Madre [81K fans], which consistently remains the #1 playlist in Mexico, beating out reggaetón and pop," according to Ernesto Sanchez, Editorial Manager for Mexico and Central America. "Some of our most popular regional Mexican music that our users turn to are catalogue and essentials including Clásicos pa’la banda [136K fans].” It should be noted that Fan/Follower counts is only one way to look at a playlist, as actual streams can easily multiply due to playlist loyalty and repeated visits.
In comparison, Swedish-based Spotify also has a Browse Menu, with a whopping 58 hubs to explore, two of which feature Latin music genres, including Regional Mexican. However, within that particular hub, several Mexican music genres come alive, including the accompanying playlists for each category, such as Norteño Mix (80.4K followers) and Corridos Perrones (1.4M followers).
Other music and social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, and Soundcloud, remain very important for Mexican audiences. When it comes to Mexican music genres, artists will blow up on these three platforms first before crossing over into the mainstream. YouTube, due to its freemium model, tends to be the streaming platform of choice for rural, lower income listeners, while Spotify and Apple Music skew toward urban, higher income crowds. Soundcloud, like in many other parts of the world, continues to be a platform geared toward up-and-coming regional acts.
Last, but certainly not least, Pandora remains an instrumental streaming platform for Mexican artists wishing to make inroads into the US Latin market. Since its 2005 launch, Pandora has created an engaged and loyal user base among Mexican American audiences. As such, it is not uncommon to find legacy Mexican acts, as well as new regional Mexican artists, with impressive streaming numbers. Artists like Banda MS, Calibre 50, Los Ángeles Azules, or Marco Antonio Solís have generated billions of streams on Pandora, rivaling Anglo/Western acts who have reached global stardom.
On Pandora, only one of 29 Browse Genre hubs have to do with Latin music, but upon entering the Mexico category (with 31 stations, the most of all Latin categories), listeners meet Pandora stations with numbers not to be sneezed at: Cumbia Sonidera (15M listeners), Regional Mexicano (7.2M listeners), or Ranchera (1.7M listeners). The evidence suggests Pandora's influence has been strong on lovers of Mexican music genres, even though Pandora currently only operates in the US. In other words, Mexican regional music has grown well beyond its own borders.
A Gringo’s Guide to Mexican Regional Music
Mexico, as the biggest and most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, has been a longstanding cultural force, not only in music, but also in movies, television, and Hispanic culture in general. As a result, winning relevance in the Mexican market as an artistic creator of any sort almost immediately translates into regional success.
Compared with other major genres, Mexican regional music (overall) leads in percentage growth through 2020.
Mexico has a very rich culture in every aspect imaginable. If we take into account the diversity of the approximately 68 different indigenous groups that exist throughout the whole territory, add Spanish colonialism to the mix, thrown in its central geographical location, and top it off with international commerce, it’s only natural that Mexico is truly a melting pot of cultures. Aside from Spaniards, Mexico also has received numerous immigrants from France, China, Germany, Eastern Europe, and several Middle Eastern countries, among other regions. This multiculturalism reflects in the sounds of the Mexican music genres that prevail today. For the purpose of this study, we will explore in more depth only five of those genres: Mariachi (aka Música Ranchera or Ranchero), Banda, Norteño, Corridos, and Grupero.
Mariachi, also known as Música Ranchera or Ranchero, is the best known regional Mexican music genre in the world, making it a global Mexican symbol. The topics that Mariachi music deals with are usually love-related: The genre is especially known for its lyrics involving heartbreak and drinking to forget. Other songs tend to exalt traditional Mexican values like courage, hard work, and honor while using country-related lifestyle imagery. The origins of this music are documented as far back as the 18th century in western Mexican states, most prominently in Jalisco.
The modern Mariachi group usually has up to two trumpets, eight violins, a bass guitar (guitarrón), and a couple of higher pitched guitars. Typically, there are several singers in a Mariachi group, all of whom take turns singing lead and acting as vocal ensemble. The vocal tradition of Mariachi is related to opera, so it is not surprising that Mariachi singers tend to have big and well-trained voices; as such, several singers have jumped to stardom while performing Mariachi music, some of them even having successfully crossed over to Latin Pop.
When we talk about Mariachi superstars, one of the first names that comes to mind is Vicente Fernández, a living legend of this genre. Fernández was born in 1940 in Jalisco and led an uninterrupted career from 1965 until 2016, when he stopped touring and performing, but he continues to record and release music today. With such a long and successful career, he has impressive stats on a number of different platforms: On Pandora, he has 1.9M monthly listeners and 3.1B streams. His YouTube channel has 3.6B views and 3.7M subscribers, 1M of which he acquired just in the last 12 months, which translates to 39.4 percent growth. His streaming growth on Deezer (2019 to 2020) was 96% in Mexico alone. On Spotify, Fernández has the second most followers of artists in this genre (4M), followed by his son, Alejandro Fernández, who also has built a shining career singing both Mariachi and also Pop music.
When we put Vicente’s numbers in context with other music superstars, his numbers are comparable to those of Kacey Musgraves' average Pandora monthly listeners, The Chainsmokers' lifetime Pandora streams; Clean Bandit's Spotify followers, and Lil Pump's 3.7B YouTube channel views.
In terms of new faces, Christian Nodal is a rising regional superstar who has made his Mariacheño genre his vehicle to success. Mariacheño is a fusion of Mariachi, Norteño, and Latin Pop Ballad, and the resulting sound has proven to be widely appealing to the younger generations in Mexico, Latin America, and the US Latin market.
Nodal officially started his career in 2017 when he launched his hit “Adiós Amor,” which became a success in both Mexico and the US and remains his most streamed song to date. In 2018, he released debut album Me Dejé Llevar, enjoying both critical acclaim and commercial success (3x Platinum in the US and both Platinum and Gold in Mexico). He followed up that album with Ahora in 2019 and AYAYAY! in 2020.
When it comes to his growth on different platforms, Nodal is arguably the hottest artist on the regional Mexican market right now. With 5.3M followers and 13.7M average monthly listeners, Nodal is the most followed and listened to regional Mexican artist on Spotify. His 36 percent increase in Spotify listenership year over year places him just below Tame Impala as the 287th most listened to artist on the platform.
Deezer also identified his appeal early — not only in Mexico but in other markets as well. As a result, the French streaming platform featured him in their NEXT promotional program, helping him grow in markets like Colombia and break into non-Spanish speaking markets like Brazil and France, where his streaming numbers grew 317 and 383 percent year over year, respectively. Currently, he is the second most followed regional Mexican artist on Deezer, placing him comfortably above DJ Khaled overall.
Nodal's YouTube stats are possibly the most impressive of all, where his average monthly views put him immediately below Country Pop superstar Taylor Swift! His channel views grew 1.5B during 2020 alone (a 65 percent increase), while his average monthly YouTube channel views amount to 337.9M.
Banda music, also known as Banda Sinaloense, is a regional Mexican music genre formally baptized as such at the end of the 19th century in the state of Sinaloa, which is in the northwest part of Mexico. This musical genre contains more European remnants in the instruments it uses, due to more Eastern European migration and a less dense Native American population in comparison with other parts of Mexico. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Banda Sinaloense music started to gain nationwide recognition in Mexico. Its growth is thanks, in large part, to a former record label executive from Sinaloa who started signing and supporting Banda artists, placing stars of the genre in movies and on the radio.
Banda has since gone international, and numerous acts have successfully built lucrative Banda careers, from Valentín Elizalde, aka The Golden Rooster (El Gallo de Oro), to Ariel Camacho and his band, Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho. But no act embodies the regional appetite for Banda music more than Banda MS de Sergio Lizárraga.
Banda MS formed in 2003, and since then, the 15-piece has successfully built an international career, recording eight albums along the way. They have even crossed over to other genres and dipped their toes in the Anglo market with Qué Maldición, an April 2020 collaboration with rap icon Snoop Dogg, which was recently remixed to feature Becky G.
As such, Banda MS' numbers are impressive, on par with global Pop superstars. They are currently averaging 177M monthly views on their official YouTube channel, which is comparable to Cardi B (183M) and Bruno Mars (185M). Banda MS have also grown their monthly average listeners to 8M on Spotify, which amounts to a 28 percent increase in 12 months. Consequently, they are the most followed artist of this genre on Deezer (1.6M followers) and Spotify (10M followers), which puts them in the same league as Charlie Puth (1.6M followers) and Zedd (1.7M followers) on Deezer and Justin Timberlake (10M followers) and P!nk (9.8M followers) on Spotify. On Pandora, Banda MS have accumulated 3.6B streams, which is just behind David Guetta's 3.8B.
As far as rising Banda stars are concerned, there are plenty of new artists to examine, but one stands out above the rest: Carin León. In only two years as a solo artist, this talented singer-songwriter has generated head-turning numbers. In the last 12 months, his YouTube channel has grown 311 percent, bringing him to 281.5M views, and his average Spotify monthly listeners have grown 101 precent, bringing him to 5.5M monthly listeners, which is the third biggest growth in listeners on this platform by all artists of all regional Mexican music genres. From 2019 to 2020, León's Deezer streams increased 576 percent globally. He’s also accumulated 239M streams on Pandora, where his song “Tú” has been in the Top 100 most popular songs chart on the platform in 2020 for 16 weeks in a row, regardless of genre.
Putting this in context, León has attained a career status comparable to that of artists that have been active for much longer: His Pandora performance is comparable to that of Jennifer Hudson (246M streams), his YouTube stats are similar to those of Paloma Faith (504K subscribers and 284M views), and his Spotify metrics neighbor A Great Big World (5.5M monthly listeners) and Lauren Daigle (5.5M monthly listeners).
The term Norteño in regional Mexican music includes many genres and subgenres, but all of them tend to share instruments like the accordion and the bajo sexto. Norteño music was born in the 19th century as an amalgamation of Mexican and Spanish oral traditions, military brass instrumentation, and Germanic music genres like polka and waltz; however, that has evolved over time. Many genres have sprung from Norteño throughout the years — Corrido being the most popular — while other subgenres appealing to younger generations have emerged as well, including Sierreño, which is a mix between Norteño and Banda Sinaloense.
One of the most popular acts in Norteño music, who have also dared to experiment with almost all subgenres within Norteño, is the band Los Tucanes de Tijuana. The band was formed in 1987 in the border city of Tijuana, and they have gone on to receive 12 Grammy nominations, becoming the only regional Mexican act to place six simultaneous songs on the Billboard Top Latin Albums Chart between 1996 and 1997. Among their many hits, “El Tucanazo” is possibly the best known, a song that came out when the Norteño subgenre known as Quebradita was at the height of its popularity.
Los Tucanes’ career might have slowed a bit in recent years; however, consumption of their music on platforms like YouTube has not, which is evidenced by the fact that their channel views have grown 49 percent in one year, surpassing 1B. Their Deezer Fans have increased over 50 percent to 401K in the past 12 months. They’ve also broken 1M followers on Spotify while their average monthly listeners are at 3.5M. On Pandora, Los Tucanes have some 1.9M average monthly listeners and 1.9B streams, which puts them in the ballpark of global icons like Jennifer Lopez and Eric Clapton. Their year-over-year growth from 2019 to 2020 increased 117 percent in their home market of Mexico.
Even if some people tend to group Corrido under the Norteño umbrella, Corrido deserves its own spot as a regional Mexican music genre, as it has a very distinct cultural significance. Corridos have been present in Mexican and Mexican American culture as far back as the Mexican war of independence in 1810, where they were used as a vehicle to document the triumphs of war heroes. For similar reasons, corridos became popular again during the Mexican civil war in 1910.
Corrido songs typically deal with social topics: They tell the story of a popular character of the community that the artist admires, recount the artist’s daily struggles as an immigrant, or portray honorable stories about common, hard-working people. The Narcocorrido subgenre often glorifies the lives of drug lords, and it's not uncommon for artists who perform Narcocorridos to be involved with drug traffickers.
We cannot speak about Corrido without highlighting one of the most iconic artists of the genre, Los Tigres del Norte, who introduced it to the mainstream. Born in Sinaloa, founder Jorge Hernández and his brothers, many of whom are also part of the group, emigrated to San Jose, California, in the 1960s, where they started their long and legendary career.
Many experts classify Los Tigres del Norte under the wider Norteño/Norteño-sax umbrella, but some of the group’s biggest hits are decidedly Corrido, like the international and intergenerational hits “El Jefe de Jefes" and "La Puerta Negra” and their breakthrough hit “Contrabando y Traición.” Los Tigres have won five Grammy Awards between 1988 and 2016, and their consumption stats — in spite of their 52-year tenure — are at the level of any young global superstar. Their YouTube channel boasts 2B+ views, 610M of which were gained in 2020 (44 percent growth), similar to that of Demi Lovato (81.2M average monthly views) and John Legend (81.5M average monthly views). Their Deezer Fans following gained over 300K over 2020, now near Stormzy (704K) and Simon & Garfunkel (698K). On Spotify, Los Tigres have 4.9M average monthly listeners, which is a 13 percent increase (just above contemporary acts such as Cash Cash), and they’ve accumulated 1.9B+ Pandora streams with 1.7M average listeners, close to Doja Cat's 1.8M average listeners. Los Tigres continue to release music, further cementing their legacy in the music industry.
If there were any doubts about the growth of Corrido, all we have to do is examine the genre's rising star: Marca MP. While Marca MP has also done Banda tracks and collaborations, their solo tracks tend to be a more modern and “poppy” version of Corrido, sometimes even crossing over to Trap Corrido. While this Southern Californian group has only been around since 2019, it's been long enough for them to generate impressive stats.
In just one year, Marca MP have multiplied their followers on Spotify by 8x, while their average monthly listener count has increased almost 5x (from 893K to 3.8M). On Deezer, Marca MP's follower numbers multiplied 40x during the same period, and their total YouTube views went from 3M to 64M+. It should be no surprise that, on Pandora, Marca MP have 1.3M average monthly listeners, just a couple of spots below BTS. While Marca MP’s future remains uncertain due to the nearly fatal accident that the group's lead vocalist suffered in August 2020, their potential is boundless.
Música grupera, aka Grupero, is a Mexican music genre born in the early '70s. As a blend of Rock, Latin Pop, Cumbia, and Mariachi, Grupero also implies that the vast majority of artists doing this kind of music are bands, or grupos, as opposed to solo artists. The resulting sound is composed of electric guitar, electric bass, heavy use of synthesizers, and electronic percussion. While there have been famous Grupero acts since the genre's inception, it really reached the height of its popularity in the late '80s and and '90s. Several artists sprung from this artistic current: Los Baby’s, Los Pasteles Verdes, Los Caminantes, and the hugely popular group Los Temerarios.
When talking about Grupero, we must speak about Los Bukis. Los Bukis are arguably the most famous group that música grupera gave to the world after becoming a household name in Mexico, the US Latin market, and many other countries throughout Latin America. They disbanded in 1995 after its lead vocalist, Marco Antonio Solis, went on to pursue a successful and prolific solo career. Today, Los Bukis play to 1.6M Pandora monthly listeners, putting them in the neighborhood of Lana del Rey, and they've garnered 4.3B lifetime streams, similar to Halsey's numbers. On Deezer, they've more than doubled their Fans following in 2020 and now sit at 315K. In spite of having dissolved 25 years ago, their music remains relevant, as their Spotify numbers show: 1.6M followers and 3.1M monthly listeners. Their relevance in the US Latin market is not to be underestimated, as Los Bukis' YouTube consumption data tells us that approximately 26.7 percent of their almost 55M monthly views are generated in the US, with Los Angeles coming in third and New York City coming in fifth place at the city level.
Fortunately, not all Grupero artists that became famous in the '90s have retired. Some of them are enjoying a second surge in popularity, as is the case with female Grupero superstar Ana Bárbara, who officially started her career in 1994 and has had numerous hits that have become classics of the genre, including “La Trampa,” “Bandido” and “Me Asusta Pero Me Gusta.”
In 2020, aside from releasing new music, Bárbara was also a judge on the US-based music talent show, Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento. As a result, her YouTube channel views increased 42 percent in the last 12 months, accumulating almost 567M views for her channel, which is comparable to the 559.7M accumulated by Tori Kelly. On Spotify, her average monthly listeners have increased 33 percent, reaching 3.8M monthly listeners, which is comparable to the average monthly listeners of Western acts Zoe Wees and Adam Lambert. Her Deezer stream count in Mexico grew 84% from 2019 t0 2020. On social media, Bárbara has shown strong growth as well: 52.6 percent growth in Instagram followers year over year, bringing her to 2.3M, which is higher than Kid Cudi's 2.2M. Instagram, as a platform, plays well for legacy artists that evolve with the times, despite it not usually being important for artists working in regional Mexican music genres.
Grupero’s popularity overall has dwindled since the new millennium started. However, Luis Coronel, a rising Grupero star with a renewed approach, may help revive this movement. Pandora is his strongest platform up to date, where he has 264.6K monthly listeners and has accumulated 360.2M streams, similar to Charli XCX's 362M streams. Coronel's YouTube channel views have grown 17 percent annually to 314.6M views, and his 596.3K followers on Spotify, similar to The Flaming Lips' count, have grown almost 48K during the past 12 months. While he still has a long way to go, his growth is indeed promising.
The Fusion of Mexican Music Genres
Despite English being considered the lingua franca of the world, language is arguably becoming less and less important in music, as feeling and vibe seem to be resonating more. Consequently, descendants of first-generation immigrants, mainly in the US, tend to fuse music genres they used to listen to as kids with the music they listen to on mass media, with their friends, and on the street every day.
A fascinating example of this genre fusion is Trap Corrido, which is a blend of Trap and Mexican corridos. The Trap Corrido movement has gained tremendous momentum, with Bad Bunny doing collaborations with rising stars of the genre. Some know Trap Corrido as Corridos Tumbados, and among some of the most successful tracks that portray this mix of cultures include Natanel Cano’s “Amor Tumbado,” Esteban Gabriel’s “Tirando la H,” and Junior H’s “Mente Positiva.” These three rising stars have had particularly strong growth in the past 12 months on Deezer, with Gabriel growing from barely 100 to over 30K Deezer Fans, Junior H from under 3K to almost 100K Fans, and Cano from 23K to almost 400K Fans.
"We’ve seen Latinos embrace corridos tumbados particularly in the US, especially since many of the artists like Natanael Cano are US immigrants that sing about finding the American Dream- and it’s a theme that many Latinos can relate to.” - Ernesto Sanchez, Deezer's Editorial Manager for Mexico and Central America
Regional Mexican music genres have their roots in tradition. That pride in identity is one of the reasons for the renewed notoriety of these regional genres, explaining the remarkable commercial performance of Mexican artists that have been around for decades. In the midst of today's cultural movements celebrating diversity, millennial and Gen Z descendants of Mexican immigrants can now openly embrace their heritage, especially in natural anglophone markets such as the US, which explains Pandora’s strong influence on these genres.
As the Trap Corrido movement shows in the US and Mariacheño shows in Mexico, this new generation is putting their own imprint on the music they're releasing, reflecting their current reality while incorporating their heritage — and with great results so far. Only time will tell if these new genres and artists will become classic and iconic, just like Los Tigres del Norte, Vicente Fernández, and Banda MS have done.
Francisco explains more on our podcast. Listen below.
Coming soon: If your only exposure to Colombian music so far has been J Balvin or Shakira, we’ve got you covered. Francisco Toscano will return in February to illuminate another one of Latin America’s hottest markets: Colombia. Artists are not only topping the charts with Pop and Reggaetón, but also with Colombian regional music like Vallenato, Cumbia, and Música Popular, garnering significant attention on streaming platforms with un estilo propio.