Pop in Spanish
Hits by Decade
Think of Latin pop as existing in two even playing fields: music that’s as good as, and almost indistinguishable from, anything you’d hear on the Top 40 radio (except for the Spanish lyrics), and music with the power to transport you to another place. When it comes to the former, start in the late ’60s with Julio Iglesias. The ultimate crooner, Madrid-born Iglesias came equipped with a sultry vibrato, movie-star looks and multilingual skills, which he'd later put to good use. During the same era, groundbreaking Spanish bands like Los Sirex, Los Mustang and Fórmula V also first hit the airwaves, putting a Spanish twist on upbeat American rock ’n’ roll. During the late '70s, the Puerto Rican Menudo ignited the boy band craze, characterized by cotton-candy hooks and tightly synched moves. The group provided the perfect launching pad for Ricky Martin, who would later seduce audiences as a fully bilingual, bon bon–shaking adult. Menudo’s success inspired other Latin American countries—most notably, Mexico—to churn out teen pop idols in the ‘80s. As Madonna’s brand of provocative dance-pop took over the charts, Spanish-language singers like Thalía and Paulina Rubio took notes, making fashion a critical part of the package. These days, whether relying more on visuals or powerhouse vocals (or both, à la Spain’s Natalia Jiménez), the female-empowerment aspect remains in Latin pop.
By the early ’80s, the cultural movement known as La Movida Madrileña was transforming the music, art and fashion of Spain, and a new wave of edgy punk and synth-pop bands like Radio Futura, Mecano, and Los Secretos shook up the scene. Stateside, something big was brewing in 1985 that would forever change the course of Latin pop. Using barrel-shaped drums of African origin from their native Cuba, The Miami Sound Machine created a sound that wasn't straight-up pop, nor was it in Spanish—but it was the closest thing to a carnival as mainstream American radio had ever experienced. “Conga” cemented Gloria Estefan’s status as the world’s first Latin crossover queen, opening the gates for other global superstars (male and female) to emerge during the second Latin pop explosion at the turn of the 21st century. It’s a period we can affectionately call A.C. (After “Conga”), and it proved that you could remain true to your Latin roots while still reaching the masses—regardless of language. To this day, artists like Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and Juanes keep worldwide audiences dancing to the rhythm of success, while Spanish indie artists like Los Planetas, Family and Juniper Moon bring new energy and innovation audiences around the globe.