Latin music is not a monolith. It encompasses so many different types of music from so many different countries. This year saw the Latin music space become more and more expansive, with its most engaging artists hailing from all over: Bad Bunny and Rauw Alejandro representing Puerto Rico, Tokischa, Natti Natasha, and El Alfa from the Dominican Republic, J Balvin and KAROL G from Colombia, Becky G and Christian Nodal from Mexico. And while all of their music contains influences from their unique cultures, what makes it especially exciting is when they experiment and play with those influences, creating new genres by fusing the old with the new.
The Latin music industry is also one of the fastest-growing in the world. According to a research report published by the Recording Industry Association of America, Latin music’s revenue increased by 23% in the first half of 2022, and the genre’s revenue as a whole has reached $510 million. The success of Bad Bunny’s album, Un Verano Sin Ti, which became the most streamed album this year, played a major role in demonstrating the reach of Latin music. He’s also the most streamed artist in the world on Spotify for the third consecutive year, and his album became the first ever Spanish-language album to be nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys.
The more popular it gets, the more the Latin label has inspired debate and even consternation about who and what it encompasses. The Latin Recording Academy, which is responsible for handing out Latin Grammys, includes the requirement that the music have at least “51% of its content recorded in Spanish or Portuguese” and have been released in North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Spain, or Portugal. Some have argued that artists of European descent who sing in Spanish should not qualify.
For the purposes of this list, I will include both albums and songs which meet one or both of two criteria: The artist has to be Latine and/or the work must be sung in Spanish or Portuguese. Most importantly, of course, it needs to be an interesting and memorable piece of music. Before we get into the list, it bears mentioning a few honorable mentions that did not make the list: the sensual “Envolver” by Anitta, Wisin y Yandel’s sprawling final album La Úlitima Misión, and “En La De Ella” from Jhayco featuring Feid and Sech.
“La Reina,” Christina Aguilera
Ever since Christina Aguilera rose to popularity in the early 2000s, her voice has been her most recognizable asset. She has a signature growl, can do some otherworldly vocal acrobatics, and just generally sing most of her contemporaries out of the water. Aguilera hasn’t done a Spanish-language project since 2000’s Mi Reflejo, and 22 years later, she returned with AGUILERA, a project that shows just how well she understands the Latin music space. She collaborated with some of the biggest stars, including Becky G, Christian Nodal, Nicki Nicole, and Ozuna. “La Reina” is a clear standout on the album. It showcases her gorgeous, bombastic vocals, all while delivering a stunning ranchera song.
In the song, she croons about the relationship between a queen and a king. She explained to HOLA! that the song is a response to the legendary Vincente Fernández’s “El Rey.” Aguilera says, “I always pay tribute to the greatest, and [he] is one of them. His song ‘El Rey’ talks about being the king and how great it is. With ‘La Reina,’ I reply to this great classic emphasizing how a king wouldn’t be a king without his queen.”
Ivory (Marfil), Omar Apollo
Omar Apollo is a superstar in the making. He made his debut in 2017 and has since released some mixtapes and notable songs like “Unbothered” and “Frio,” and his debut mixtape Apolonio, which has one of his best songs, “Want U Around,” featuring Ruel. His music gets better with each release. The original version of Ivory helped him secure a Best New Artist nom for the 2023 Grammys, and the deluxe version of Ivory expands on an already great work of art. A large portion of the album is sung in English, but he mixes in some Spanish on the Neptunes-produced “Tamagotchi” and another song called “Highlight.”
On the deluxe version, he treats his fans with the full version of “Endlessly,” one of the album’s interludes, the sweetly sung “Archetype,” the wistful “Saving All My Love,” and “Pretty Boy.” The track “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me at All)” found an ever-expanding audience on TikTok thanks to the power of its lyrics, which reference Apollo being in love with a man who is in love with a woman; at his shows, the audience sings along to every single word with him. One of the most beautiful displays of his vocals is on “En El Olvido,” a traditional Mexican mariachi corrido. The lyrics sting with integrity, grit, and heart, a central reason why I and so many others fell in love with him and this album.
“MAMIII,” Becky G feat. Karol G
Becky G first came onto music scene as a young teen who made innocent songs about how much she liked to sing in the shower. Now that she’s older, she’s exploring her sexuality with more explicit songs like “Mayores” featuring Bad Bunny and “Sin Pijama” featuring Natti Natasha. Karol G recently got her first massive hit with “Tusa” featuring Nicki Minaj. With similar names, it was only a matter of time before the two of them collaborated on a song together—and a great one at that.
“MAMIII” is filled with quotable lyrics which are nearly impossible not to scream, (especially the chorus), whether or not you’ve had a toxic ex yourself. The two artists created the perfect anthem for anyone trying to rid a persistent, toxic ex from their life. Among the best lyrics: “No me llames, que mi número cambié/ Si quieres que te lo dé/ Llama, 1-800-jódete” (Don’t call me ‘cause I’ve changed my number/ If you want me to give to you/ Call 1-800-go f-ck yourself).”
“Delincuente,” Tokischa feat. Anuel AA & Ñengo Flow
Dominican dembow has started sneaking its way into the mainstream, thanks to artists like El Alfa—whose songs “La Mamá de la Mamá” and “Gogo Dance” blew up in the past two years—and Tokischa, an artist who is capturing the eyes and ears of major artists like Madonna and J Balvin. She’s yet to release an album, but she has brazenly paraded her sexual freedom through her lyrics, her performances, her fashion choices, and her OnlyFans.
The 26-year-old released the raunchy “Delincuente” in August, featuring Anuel AA and Ñengo Flow. Due to the song’s explicit nature, it’s probably best not to quote it here. But to paraphrase, Tokischa is talking about having a “delinquent” in her room and how they like to have sex. This track is yet another reason why her fans are excited to hear a full-length album from Tokischa.
SATURNO, Rauw Alejandro
Rauw Alejandro is relatively new to the music industry. His first big break came with “Todo De Ti,” a synth-heavy reggaeton banger in May 2021 that draws from the musical stylings of the ‘80s. The song amassed over 1 billion streams on Spotify, and ever since, he’s become one of the most in-demand collaborators working today. He’s been featured on songs with Randy (formerly of iconic reggaetoneros Jowell & Randy), Tainy, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and more.
This year saw the release of his third musical project, SATURNO. Pitchfork credits him with leading the charge to push the Latin music space into a “disco retrofuturism,” creating a dynamic soundscape that blends reggaeton, punk, and trap. “PUNTO 40,” his collaboration with the Puerto Rican duo Baby Rasta and the album’s opener, perfectly sets the tone with its distorted horns and vocals, eerie synthy-bassline, and darker reggaeton beat. Alejandro then takes his listeners on a nostalgic cosmic adventure.
Yes, we already included MOTOMAMI on our best albums list, but it also deserves a spot here, and it’s worth talking more about the deluxe version, which contains some of her most interesting tracks. While the song “SAOKO” alone is worthy of this list, because it’s indicative of the transformation Rosalía has undergone as an artist, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention songs like “DESPECHA,” the infectious, merengue-tinged hit that feels inspired by Omega (who was actually supposed to be featured but was replaced by Cardi B).
The punchy bass on “CHIRI” keeps drawing me back in, and I especially love the moments when the production fades into the background, allowing her voice to take center stage on the chorus. “AISLAMIENTO” builds atop the sentiment of “LA FAMA,” as she gloomily sings about the darker side of fame. If you haven’t given this version of the album a listen, I can’t suggest it enough.
“El Apagón” by Bad Bunny
At the start of Un Verano Sin Ti, listeners hear a flock of birds and the crashing of waves to signify that we will be hearing about the best parts of island life in Puerto Rico. The album includes references to Caribbean culture on songs like “Despues de la Playa,” “Titi Me Preguntó,” and “Me Porto Bonito,” arguably the biggest tracks on the album. But as the album reaches its back half, Benito shifts his tone somewhat in “El Apagón” to sing about one of Puerto Rico’s biggest plights, power outages that have occurred due to corruption. Then, the song morphs into a celebration of the country’s beauty.
He sings, “Ahora todos quieren ser Latinos/ No, ey, pero les falta sazón” (“Now everyone wants to be Latinos, but they lack the seasoning”). Then the “lights go out” and a house beat takes over as Benito sings, “I like the p-ssy of Puerto Rico” 20 times. Finally, he gathers a group of people who join him in screaming, “Puerto Rico está bien cabrón!” (Puerto Rico is f-cking great!). Bad Bunny’s girlfriend, Gabriella, closes out the song with a proclamation: “I don’t want to leave/ Let them go/ this is my beach, this is my sun/ this is my land, this is me.”
“Mayor Que Usted” by Natti Natasha feat. Daddy Yankee & Wisin y Yandel
Latin music, in large part, is about showing respect and honoring those pioneers who came before you. Newcomer Natti Natasha did just that with “Mayor Que Usted,” a song that mixes the Dominican Republic’s most popular genres, reggaeton and bachata. Since the song is a nod to the massively popular “Mayor Que Yo,” a collaboration between Daddy Yankee and Wisin y Yandel (who have all announced plans to retire—although Wisin y Yandel will continue as solo acts), Natti invited them to be on the track. The trio play off of each other, each one bringing their signature flare to the song. Natti’s fiery vocals, mixed with her attitude, balance out the men in the song. Daddy Yankee spits out his clever bars at a rapid-fire pace as Wisin y Yandel deliver solid lines of their own.
“X ÚLTIMA VEZ” by Daddy Yankee feat. Bad Bunny
There is not a shred of doubt that Daddy Yankee is one of the most influential artists of a generation—full stop. He single-handedly helped usher reggaeton into mainstream culture with his widely popular 2004 hit, “Gasolina.” He helped pave the way for the biggest artists of today, and his influence still reverberates in Latin music nearly two decades later. After announcing his plan to retire, he said he would release one more album and go on one last tour, set to end in his native Puerto Rico in January 2023. For that album, which was released in March, it was only right that Daddy Yankee collaborate with the biggest artist in the world, Bad Bunny, for the seventh and last time on “X ÚLTIMA VEZ.” The song is about a relationship ending and the other person finding a new man, which feels symbolic of Daddy Yankee saying goodbye to his time in the music industry and handing off his love—his music—to a new pioneer, Bad Bunny.
ya no somos los mismos by Elsa y Elmar
There is so much to love about this album, starting with the dreamy vocals from Colombian singer-songwriter Elsa Carvajal. While her stage name might throw people off, suggesting this is a duo, Elmar is a play on the Spanish word for the sea, “el mar.” Carvajal received the Grand Prize in the Latin category for the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2014, performed at festivals, and even opened for Coldplay in her home country. This year, she put out her third studio album, the gorgeously lush ya no somos los mismos. It highlights all of Caravajal’s strong suits as a songwriter and a singer—her fluttering yet never wavering vocals and her knack for vivid storytelling. The first song immediately hooked me.
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