About Time 2 Major Latin Artists Headline Gov Ball

Rauw Alejandro and Peso Pluma are set to take the stage at the 2024 Governor’s Ball in NYC between June 7 and 9. While Becky G and J Balvin performed at the music festival in 2022 and 2021, respectively, this year marks the first time that two Latin music acts are headlining on separate days. And it’s about time.

Since the 1940s and ’50s, when cha cha and mambo took the US by storm, the mass appeal of Latin music has been undeniable. With its mix of West African and Spanish rhythms, the music is inherently danceable, which no doubt has helped genres like salsa and reggaetón break down the language barrier. You don’t need to know what Bad Bunny‘s saying to be able to move to the beat. And yet, for a long time, Latin and African artists could only be found at music festivals that catered to those demographics specifically. This is no longer the case, as major music festivals have recently started including more Latin acts in their lineups.

In 2023, Bad Bunny became the first Spanish-language artist to headline Coachella, where Eladio Carrión and Anuel AA also appeared. That same year, iLe, PJ Sin Suela, and Los Rivera Destino performed at the SXSW Music Festival. In 2024, Coachella doubled down on the Latin acts, inviting both Peso Pluma and J. Balvin. And the trend doesn’t seem to be stopping.

But why has it taken so long for major festivals to get the message that our music is so fire? Back in the 1970s, the Fania All-Stars proved that music sung entirely in Spanish can have global appeal. The reggaetón boom of the early 2000s became a cultural phenomenon that saw the genre play on both English and Spanish-language radio. So what gives? Well, I have a simple hypothesis: money.

It’s no secret that Latin music has grown exponentially over the past decade, outpacing the overall growth of the music industry by a wide margin. While made for our communities, our music is no longer limited to them. I remember when I was a kid, watching all the new reggaetón videos would drop on mun2. Now, I go on YouTube, and all the latest music videos have English subtitles. It goes to show how far we’ve come when it comes to making commercially viable music. But more than that, having Latin and African headliners at major festivals taps into the power of the communities behind them, introducing some much-needed sazón. Not only does it bring in a more diverse audience to the festival scene, but given the current state of live music, it also grows these artists’ audiences while pumping up lagging ticket sales.

Both Jennifer Lopez and Bad Bunny were trending recently due to lower-than-expected ticket sales. So, no, Latin artists aren’t immune to overall industry trends. Back in April, Coachella also made headlines for decreasing ticket sales. But I wonder if bringing Latin artists to music festivals might just solve the issue.

Touring is inherently expensive. For successful artists to tour, they must invest a lot of money in visual effects, travel logistics, crew, and more. It’s part of the reason bigger artists are limited to perform at arenas and stadiums that pack 30,000-plus fans and charge exorbitant prices for tickets. The way festivals are set up, however, while the initial ticket prices might be higher, music lovers get multiple nights and experience multiple acts for the cost. This immediately expands the target audience and offsets the cost of the show. Latin and African artists get to perform in front of a mixed crowd of both die-hard fans and newcomers who are more open than ever to receiving their music, increasing the value of their brand without having to incur all the costs of putting on the show themselves. It’s a win-win for everybody.

But apart from the monetary incentives, what Latin and African artists really bring to music festivals is unrivaled energy. Our cultures are predicated on all-night parties and dancing. Look at what Bad Bunny and Burna Boy did in their respective Grammy performances. Combining traditional cultural elements and instrumentation, catchy lyrics and melodies is a winning formula that our musical genres have perfected over decades. The result? A sound guaranteed to turn even the stuffiest festival atmosphere into a full-on vibe. I can only hope that the inclusion of these artists isn’t solely a fad, but a sign of greater diversity to come.

Miguel Machado is a journalist with expertise in the intersection of Latine identity and culture. He does everything from exclusive interviews with Latin music artists to opinion pieces on issues that are relevant to the community, personal essays tied to his Latinidad, and thought pieces and features relating to Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture.

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