Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

This year saw an explosion in Latin music, from Peso Pluma’s rise to superstardom to the instant success of Grupo Frontera’s “un x100to,” featuring the Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny. Outside of the mainstream, artists are taking more risks and building an expansive soundscape beyond reggaeton and Latin rock. There are musical innovators that have taken the essence of popular subgenres and flipped them on their heads, like Mon LaFerte’s striking new album, Autopoiética, and Diego Raposo’s second project, Yo no era así pero de ahora en adelante, sí.

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Along with Raposo’s addicting new album, honorable mentions must be given to Peso Pluma’s career-defining album Genesis, Ozuna’s cosmic escapade, Cosmo, and the undeniable hit that was “Chulo pt. 2” by Bad Gyal featuring Tokischa and Young Miko.

Here are the best Latin songs and albums released in 2023.

Mañana Sera Bonito, KAROL G

Karol G hit global stardom with “Tusa,” which featured Nicki Minaj. With over 1.4 billion streams on Spotify alone, and with another 1.4 billion views on the official music video, it is her biggest hit to date. Following a messy breakup, the Colombian singer’s fourth album, Mañana Sera Bonito, is a treasure trove of honest declarations that double down on the album’s thesis: there’s always tomorrow, and there’s a chance it will be beautiful. The album was an artistic and commercial feat, helping Karol G make history as the first female artist to have an all-Spanish language album reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Karol bobs and weaves through an assortment of different emotions with assists from her famous friends over the album. The opening song “Mientras Me Curo del Cora” samples “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and it’s a promise that after sitting with your emotions and feeling down, you’ll get up and enjoy all that life has to offer. She explores themes of lust (“X Si Volvemos” with bachata legend Romeo Santos), self-love (with Shakira on “TQG”) and saying goodbye (the banda ballad “Gucci Los Paños”). 

And on the complementary second project Karol G put on on Aug. 11, Mañana Sera Bonito (Bichota Season), she continues to flex her musical prowess across genres on songs like “Mi Ex Tenía Razón,” “Gatita Gangster” featuring Dei V, and “Dispo,” on which Young Miko drops a verse.

“Ice Slippin,” Omar Apollo

Following the success of his debut studio album Ivory last year, Mexican American singer Omar Apollo is making waves once again with his EP, Live For Me. The first single, “Ice Slippin,” earned critical acclaim due to its sincerity as he details his emotions after coming out to his family. He received “cold judgment as opposed to the acceptance I felt I deserved,” he says, a sentiment that many queer children of immigrants can relate to. Outside of the earnest lyrics, the production of the song is captivating. He makes delightful use of woozy synthesizers, stacking his vocals and adlibs.

“Muñekita,” Kali Uchis feat. El Alfa and JT from The City Girls

The appearance of El Alfa—an artist out of the Dominican Republic who has been making music since 2012, but started to get popular in 2021—on Kali Uchis’s “Muñekita,” the lead single to her 2024 Spanish-language album Orquideas, proves dembow is here to stay. The bouncy track expertly fuses dembow and reggaeton, while perfectly playing on each of the artists’ strengths. Uchis seamlessly glides along the chorus with her signature sultry vocals as El Alfa delivers a verse filled with filthy wordplay, as expected. And City Girls’ JT rounds out the song with a great punchline: “Sana, sana, colita de rana, b-tch,” a play on a saying commonly used to comfort children who get hurt.

RR, Rosalía X Rauw Alejandro

Two of the biggest names in Latin music Rosalía and Rauw Alejandro released their first-ever joint EP on Mar. 11 and announced their engagement the same day. Although the couple didn’t stay together (they broke up in July), the world was still treated to a great three-song project that expertly blended elements of each artist’s sounds. “Vampiros” is the standout on the EP, beginning with haunting synthesizers and before transforming into a reggaeton beat. Rauw starts off the song before Rosalía comes in and the two trade line after line, where they detail the start of a new adventure together.

The final nail in the coffin of their relationship came at the 2023 Latin Grammys, which they both attended, singing covers of heartfelt ballads to give themselves and the world some closure. Rosalía sang a heartfelt rendition of Rocío Jurado’s “Se Nos Rompió El Amor,” which translates to “our love was broken.” And Rauw performed three songs, including “Se Fue” by Laura Pausini, which felt directed at his ex-fianceé.

“Daddy,” Tokischa featuring Sexyy Red

Tokischa, who rose to popularity in 2021, has captured ears with exciting dembow sounds and fiery flows, as well as unapologetically obscene lyrics. She’s never afraid to get into the dirty details as she carefully constructs her raps. Ever since Tokischa became popular in 2021, she has made a name for herself by releasing one-off singles or appearing as a featured artist. The same trend seems to be continuing into the new year, but it’s a welcome one after the release of her most recent single, “Daddy” featuring Sexyy Red, released in early December, is a bounce/house track that sees Tokischa asserts, “Yo soy tu daddy.”

MOR, No Le Temas a La Oscuridad, Feid

Feid, one of the most exciting voices out of Colombia, released his sixth studio album MOR, No Le Temas a La Oscuridad, which loosely translates to “dear, don’t be afraid of the darkness.” Across the album, Feid builds on the Latin music space’s push into retrofuturism with artists like Rauw Alejandro while also expanding outside of perreo. He worked with afrobeats artist Rema on “Bubalu,” dancehall legend Sean Paul on “Niña Bonita,” and the Puerto Rican rapper Ñnego Flow on “Gangsters y Pistolas.” Feid injected some reggaeton beats with house music on songs like “Ferxxo 151” and “Románticos de lunes,” one of the most heartfelt tracks on the albums where he sings about wanting to settle down with a woman and “leave the scene.”

“NADIE SABE,” Bad Bunny

In Bad Bunny’s 2023 album nadie sabe lo que va a pasa mañana, the superstar reflects on his rise to worldwide fame (spoiler alert: he doesn’t like it) and a year of highs and lows, including a rumored relationship and breakup with Kendall Jenner and a controversial phone-throwing incident with a fan. And the first track, “nadie sabe,” lays the foundation for the rest of the album, opening with, “They say the world is going to end, I hope it’s soon.” He goes on to talk about how he never asked to be a role model, how he feels like he’s alone even when he’s in front of huge crowds, and reiterated that he’s living his life for himself and nobody else—if anyone has a problem with that, they don’t have to listen to his music.

Autopoiética, Mon LaFerte

On Autopoiética, you never know what Mon LaFerte is going to throw at you next. The first track starts out as a trip-hop ballad but by the second verse, LaFerte’s voice begins to distort and immediately snaps back to her regular voice. As the album continues, the track “NO+SAD” barrels in with its bass-heavy reggaeton stylings as she sings in hushed tones. Mon Laferte has made a name for herself as a new-age bolero singer. Her striking sound, filled with references to familiar genres like cumbia, reggaeton, bossa nova, trip hop, and salsa, is something she has made all her own.

“Lisa,” Young Miko

Young Miko’s solo hit “Lisa” is a testament to the Puerto Rican rapper’s unmistakable swagger and technique. Her raps never fail to make the listener swoon, with her laid-back yet incredibly agile style. On “Lisa,” Young Miko raps about being an equal opportunity lover to women of all shapes and sizes. It’s a bouncy track with a few jokes like the opening line, “Hablando claro, tengo un problema/es que rápido me enchulo de las nena’/si me hablan lindo, yo me caso sin dilema”(“I have a problem, I fall in love with women easily, if they talk to me nicely, I’ll marry them without a problem”).

El Comienzo, Grupo Frontera

Grupo Frontera had a hand in boosting the regional Mexican boom this year following the success of their song, “Un x100to” featuring Bad Bunny. The song climbed all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it an early-career success for the new album. The achievements set the foundation for the band to release their debut album, El Comienzo, in August. Grupo Frontera gained notoriety with their songs that heavily featured norteño cumbias, but they showed the world there was more to them on this album. The group explores ranchera on the songs, “En Altavoz” with Junior H and “Me Gustas. They also sing a grupo bolero on “Las Flores” with Yahritza y su Esencia. El Comienzo is a great introduction to a group that is helping to expand the Latin music genre outside of its usual suspects.

“BZRP MUSIC SESSIONS, VOL. 53,” Bizarrap feat. Shakira

On “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53,” Shakira takes down her ex-husband Gerard Piqué, who cheated on the star last year. In the track, Shakira speaks to the drama surrounding the her marriage, diving headfirst into the media firestorm. The song is filled with clever callbacks and quips, including her telling Piqué that he can’t handle a “She Wolf” like her (a reference to her hit 2009 album) and the cunning use of her ex-husband and his new partner’s names.

If anyone took lemons and made lemonade in 2023, it was without a doubt Shakira.

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