Two words sum up the music trends leading up to this year's Grammys: “Shift happens.”
In the last couple of years, hip-hop and R&B edged out rock as the most popular music genre. At the same time, Latin artists known for their reggaeton beats broke global charts, especially J Balvin, from Colombia, with his critically acclaimed hit album "Vibras." YouTube's most watched artist last year was the Puerto Rican-Dominican artist Ozuna, unseating Justin Bieber.
A better year for women, Latino artists?
Last year, critics and fans questioned how the Grammys failed to award the most streamed song of all time, “Despacito,” by the Puerto Rican artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, though they previously won four Latin Grammys.
The president of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow — who is stepping down this year — also set off a firestorm last year when, after only one female solo artist took home a Grammy, he said women needed to “step up” artistically.
This year, there may be no reggaeton album nominated, but the big four categories — Best Album, Best Record, Best Song of the Year and Best New Artist — have expanded from five to eight nominees with women — including Latina artists Cardi B and Camila Cabello — making up the majority in each category.
Cardi B, a Dominican-Trinidadian-American, is a likely winner for Record of the Year for her smash hit “I Like It,” which, incidentally, features two major reggaeton artists, J Balvin and Bad Bunny.
Cardi B was also nominated for Album of the Year for her partial Latin album, "Invasion of Privacy."
Beyond the “big four,” Cardi B is up for Best Rap Album, Best Pop Duo/Pop Performance for the non-Latin “Girls Like You” and Best Rap Performance for her bilingual “Be Careful.”
The chart-topping Cuban-born Camila Cabello landed nominations for Best Pop Vocal Album for "Camila" and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Havana” (Live).
Other nominations with partial Latin flavor are "If You Really Want," by the Argentine-American Raúl Midón, with the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Vince Mendoza, up for Best Jazz Album; and the Puerto Rican-born Miguel Zenón for Best Improved Jazz Solo in “Cadenas” from "Yo Soy La Tradición."
Who will take Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative?
The Academy has been criticized for failing to update the broad Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category and not giving Urban music its own slot.
For now, here are our predictions in this very eclectic slot.
Our top pick: "Encanto Tropical" by Monsieur Periné
The Colombian group Monsieur Periné teamed up with Eduardo Cabra, also known as “Visitante” of the Puerto Rican hip-hop group Calle 13, to produce a hybrid electric-acoustic sound and stretch them beyond their comfort zone. They also wanted to develop “music without boundaries” yet steeped in tropical Afro-Colombian roots. The result, "Encanto Tropical," is pure, eclectic joy.
Every track is exquisite in its artistry, as they weave in and out of alternative pop, Brazilian samba, bossa nova, fusions and even a bolero. Lead singer Catalina Garcia’s soprano vocals bounce from delicate to airy and flirty, and are always engaging. This band shines brightly with a playful nature that lifts their budding musicality even higher.
Pick No. 2: "Gourmet" by Orishas
From its orchestration in Havana to its vocal mixing in Miami, "Gourmet" is rich in sound and style. The intense and vocally powerful trio Orishas cook up a feast with their distinct Afro-Cuban hip-hop rumba and bembé sounds tinged with pop, salsa-rap and much more. (Orishas means "deities" in Yoruba, an African language brought to the Caribbean by slaves.)
Frontman Yotuel Romero has written hits for Ricky Martin, and brings some of that flavor into the mix. Of note are the group’s gorgeous vocals and harmonies; they're as equally dynamic as their high-energy arrangements.
This is the trio's comeback album after taking a hiatus from 2010 to 2016, and they brought in high-profile collaborators, including Chucho Valdéz and Beatriz Luengo, Madcon, Lila Downs, Adonis & Osaín del Monte, Silvestre Dangond, Franco de Vita, Jacob Forever, Yomil y El Dany and Melendi. Between smoldering ballads and pulsing rhythms, the entire album has a lasting sizzle. You may want to grab a dancing partner for this one.
Truth is, everyone here is a winner and no one knows what surprises may happen. Here are the other nominees:
"Claroscura" by Aterciopelados
Hail to revivals: The once-reigning 1990s Colombian alt-rock duo Aterciopelados (meaning velvety) made a big splash with their comeback masterpiece "Claroscura" (a merging of light and dark) after a 10-year wait. Vocalist/guitarist Andrea Echeverri and bassist/producer Hector Buitago continue to flex their rebellious roots with their ever evolving artistry. The album is a creative blend of alt-rock infused with Andean folk, banda, and atmospheric textures. The socially conscious rockeros touch on themes of feminism and self love, our interconnectedness with the earth, antiwar and ancestry, even the duality of darkness and light — all while keeping it cool and uplifting.
"Aztlán" by Zoé
The album Aztlán by veteran Mexican rockers Zoé is a glowing testament to their enduring indie-rock craft and a nod to their beginnings that first delighted fans two decades ago across the Spanish-speaking world. The title track Aztlán is the name of the mythical place from where the Aztecs originated, reflecting on love and pain and even political disdain: (translated) “No wall is going to stop us / Because I survived this mission.” Written by frontman Leon Larregui, the exploratory album merges insightful lyrics to textured and psychedelic alt-rock soundscapes that dance with futuristic space themes. It will take you on a sonic trip through the universe of Zoé.
"Coastcity" by Coastcity
"Coastcity" is the chemistry that happens when two longtime music industry professionals share the same love for R&B, soul and pop and have similar bi-cultural experiences. Both are Puerto Rican born and moved stateside to Orlando, Florida. After singer-songwriter Jean Rodriguez hired Danny Flores to produce his third album, they organically grew into a duo. They describe their self-titled Spanglish album as “Caribbean soul.” Its seven songs display an adeptness at building atmospheric-urban underlays with alluringly subtle beats. It brings in the keyboards and guitar for some R&B, soul and funk. It's topped off with dreamy tenor vocals and by the way, Rodriguez is Luis Fonsi’s brother.
The 61st annual GRAMMY Awards will take place on Feb. 10.