Inside Latin Music’s Climb to Match Pop & Country for Most American Music Awards Categories


In the nominations announced Thursday (Oct. 28), the American Music Awards added a fifth Latin category: favorite Latin duo or group. As a result, there are now as many awards for Latin as there are for pop and country — two of the genres that legendary TV producer Dick Clark built the show around in 1973.

Before creating the AMAs, Clark studied the Grammy Awards, which then had 47 categories, including a whopping 10 for classical and three for jazz, plus individual categories for such specialized genres as best soul gospel performance and best ethnic or traditional recording (including traditional blues).

The Grammys’ admirable, but commercially challenging, commitment to covering all genres gave Clark an idea: Why don’t we do a show that focuses on the three towering genres that most TV viewers actually know about and listen to? And so, on Feb. 19, 1974, the American Music Awards were launched with a simple menu of 15 categories: three each in pop/rock, soul/R&B and country.

That formula remained intact for the show’s first five years, before the producers started adding categories for other genres as they emerged. Still, the AMAs didn’t have a Latin category until 1998 — the show’s 25th year — when Julio Iglesias took the first award for favorite Latin artist. And there was just that one solitary category for Latin until last year, when they hiked the number to four: favorite Latin male artist, female artist, album and song.

Now there’s a fifth — matching Latin with pop and country. This year, there are four awards each for hip-hop and R&B. (Since those are closely related genres, one could argue that “R&B/hip-hop” is the top overall genre at the AMAs with eight categories — though the show treats them as separate genres.)

The AMAs’ expansion of Latin categories reflects the fact that Americans are finally hearing Latin-edged music on mainstream pop radio stations — and they like what they hear. In the last five years, Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (featuring Justin Bieber); Camila Cabello’s “Havana” (featuring Young Thug); Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin’s “I Like It”; and Shawn Mendes & Cabello’s “Señorita” have reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It also reflects demographic changes in the U.S.. On Aug. 12, the United States Census Bureau revealed that “The Hispanic or Latino population, which includes people of any race, was 62.1 million in 2020. The Hispanic or Latino population grew 23% [since 2010], while the population that was not of Hispanic or Latino origin grew 4.3% since 2010.”

Bad Bunny has four nominations in the Latin categories at this year’s AMAs, more than any other artist. Maluma and Kali Uchis each have three nods. Rauw Alejandro, Karol G and Rosalía each have two.

So who won the most times for favorite Latin artist in the 22 years that award was presented at the AMAs? That would be Enrique Iglesias, who won eight times, starting in 1999, the year after his father was the inaugural winner. Shakira is in second place, with five wins between 2005 and 2017. Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony each won twice. Julio Iglesias, Aventura (the only group to win in the category), Daddy Yankee and J Balvin each won once.

Last year, the separate male and female Latin winners were Bad Bunny and Karol G (both of whom are nominated again in those categories this year).

Clark, who died in 2012, was a man attuned to the times. If he had started the AMAs in 1954 or 1964, he probably wouldn’t have given soul/R&B and country parity with pop. But by 1974, most Americans were knowledgeable about those genres. R&B and country were no longer seen as niche. Likewise, Latin music has earned its place at the table.

How does all this compare with the Grammys?

The Grammys will have five Latin categories at the 64th annual Grammy Awards in January. That’s a gain of one category, best música urbana album. That makes Latin one of the six most crowded fields in the Grammy awards structure.

American roots music and classical are tied for the lead, with eight categories each. American roots music includes Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk and regional roots music. (The tally of eight categories for classical doesn’t include two awards in the production – classical field.)

R&B, jazz, gospel/contemporary Christian music, and Latin are next with five categories each. Pop, rock, rap and country each have four categories.

The Grammys first added a Latin category for the 1975 awards (best Latin recording, which went to Eddie Palmieri’s Sun of Latin Music). The number of categories jumped to three at the 1983 awards, four in 1997, five in 1998, seven in 1999 and topped out at eight in 2007-08. There were seven categories in 2009-10, after which the entire awards structure was streamlined. There were four Latin categories from 2011-20, before this year’s addition brought the total to five.

The American Music Awards are produced by MRC Live & Alternative, which is owned by MRC. MRC and Penske Media are co-parent companies of Billboard.

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