Most Latino Americans would have never dreamed that our music would be all the hype in 2023. Growing up, Latin music was always extremely othered. Although I sometimes listened to reggaeton and Latin pop, I never really heard it on the radio, and it was something that made me feel “less” American. That all changed in recent years with the explosive rise of Bad Bunny and an increasing number of Latin music icons, who have given the American masses no choice but to listen to our music and take us seriously.
For many Latinos like me, watching the VMAs this week was an emotional experience: Not only were a lot of Latin artists given awards, but there were entire segments performed exclusively in Spanish. Here are the top five moments that pretty much proved the VMAs belong to Latinos now — and why each of those moments mattered.
Peso Pluma became the first Mexican star to perform at the VMAs.
If you haven’t heard of Peso Pluma, now is a good time to do some Spotify-ing. The artist from Jalisco, Mexico, incorporates regional Sinaloan sounds — or corridos, for anyone who knows — into his music and makes them modern.
For anyone who grew up with the sound of corridos at family gatherings, hearing the guitars strumming in his song “Lady Gaga” probably did a little something to you. I can’t think of many other artists since Selena Quintanilla-Pérez who have incorporated sounds from rural Mexico into mainstream pop music. The emotional gravity of Peso Pluma’s performance was compounded by the fact that at just 24 years old, he is now the first Mexican star to perform at the VMAs.
Karol G and Shakira won Best Collaboration and shouted out Colombia.
Karol G and Shakira won the prestigious Best Collaboration award for “TQG,” a song that’s completely in Spanish. We all know Shakira — who shouted out Colombia at the awards show — but if you’re not that familiar with Karol G, you definitely should be. The Medellín-born artist got her start doing covers on YouTube before moving to New York, where she signed with Universal Music Latino. “TQG” is a song on her fourth and latest album, “Mañana Será Bonito.”
The significance of two Colombian artists sharing one of the most important stages in music can’t be understated. “If collaborating with the legendary Shakira was impressive, winning an award with her is something from another planet,” Karol G said in Spanish during their acceptance speech for Best Collaboration, a category that also included Post Malone and Doja Cat as contenders.
Shakira crowd-surfed to a diss track about ex-partner Gerard Piqué.
Speaking of Shakira, she had another moment that deserves to be recognized on its own. In what was arguably the highlight of the show, Shakira sang a medley of some of her greatest hits and ended with “Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53.” The song is a diss track about Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué, an ex who allegedly cheated on her.
The single reached the top of the charts in several Latin American countries and quickly became the breakup anthem for an entire generation of Latinx baddies. Her VMA performance, in which Shakira also crowd-surfed, proved that she is the absolute queen of staying relevant, especially when you consider that her career started all the way back in 1990.
Anitta performed an unreleased song and showed that Brazilian funk is here to stay.
Few genres have swept the U.S. in 2023 as hard as Brazilian funk, and in the past couple of years, Anitta has been its main ambassador. At the VMAs, she performed “Funk Rave,” as well as a sample of an unreleased song, “Grip.”
But ultimately, what was most exciting about her performance at the VMAs was seeing an artist who blends English with Portuguese, and pop with genres like funk, to create something that feels fresh. She also brought out the K-pop group Tomorrow X Together for their VMAs debut, further proving that fusing Latin music with other global genres will be a continuing trend.
Selena Gomez and Rema won the Best Afrobeats award.
Selena Gomez and Rema won the VMAs’ first-ever award for Best Afrobeats with their collaboration on “Calm Down,” and although we all kind of saw it coming, it was still a very special moment.
“This means so much, seeing Afrobeat grow this big,” Rema said. “And being here on this stage representing Afrobeats tonight, I’m so happy.”
The Nigerian musician released “Calm Down” in February 2022, and Selena hopped on a remix that August, helping the song chart in the U.S. Knowing that Gomez, a Hispanic American artist, was a part of bringing more visibility to Afrobeats as a genre in America was a huge win for Latinos.