It’s that time of year again when MTV remembers it used to be a music channel and not the Ridiculousness network. At last night’s Video Music Awards, there were plenty of well-deserved wins, including Lil Nas X receiving the Video Of The Year award for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” Olivia Rodrigo nabbing Best New Artist, and BTS being crowned Group Of The Year. But we need to talk about the mess that was that Best Latin win. We’ve said it before, but it clearly needs to be said again: It’s time to recognize that “Latin” is a flawed classification in awards shows.
In a move that makes absolutely no sense, MTV awarded Best Latin to two non-Latin people in the category: Billie Eilish and Rosalía for their collaborative song, “Lo Vas A Olvidar.” Thankfully, MTV saved us the deep secondhand embarrassment of Eilish having to accept the award over major Latin stars like Bad Bunny and J Balvin, since the win wasn’t part of the televised ceremony. But it’s still shocking that the track was included in the category. If you’re struggling to find the issue with it, allow us to explain.
What’s the issue with the Best Latin VMA?
Rosalía is not a Latin artist. She’s Spanish. That means she’s Hispanic because she comes from a Castilian-speaking country, but she’s not Latina in any shape or form. Her music takes influences from trap and reggaetón, and she’s also constantly collaborating with Latin artists. By awarding both Eilish and Rosalía, the message is clear: the VMAs is still up to its bullshit of not properly recognizing people of color. It’s already a struggle for Latin artists to receive awards in non-Latin awards shows, with Bad Bunny receiving his first “gringo” Grammy this year for Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album with his 2020 record YHLQMDLG, so awarding non-Latinx artists in a “Latin” category shows how little importance is given to Latin mega-stars.
It’s evident that Rosalía keeps being included in the category because awards voters seemingly don’t know how to properly classify genre-bending Hispanic music. With pop songs that take on flamenco and trap influences, awards shows keep lumping Rosalía with the rest of the Latin trap stars because there isn’t a specific relegation for the genre. Rosalía was nominated for Top Latin Female Artist at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, Favorite Female Artist—Latin at the 2020 American Music Awards, and Best New Pop/Urban Latin Artist at the 2019 Latin American Music Awards. Her album El Mal Querer also won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album in 2020. She’s also routinely nominated at the Latin Grammys.
As Lucas Villa wrote in The A.V. Club, “Re-examination of the term ‘Latin’ to describe Spanish artists was reignited with the success of Rosalía, who won [the Grammy for] Album of the Year last year—only the second woman to win that award, after Colombian pop star Shakira in 2006. (That’s been another kind of representation battle.) ‘Latin’ is also a label the media bestowed upon Spanish superstar Enrique Iglesias in his rise to the top. Last year, Billboard doubled down in classifying music recorded in Spanish as ‘Latin music’ when it came to Rosalía.”
It’s frustrating for us Latinx to see this happen repeatedly, but it’s also because there’s not a better category for Hispanic artists who make music within the reggaetón and trap realm; “rap” and “pop” aren’t a proper fit for them, either. The VMAs introduced a K-Pop category in 2019, and though it’s questionable (to say the least) that these groups aren’t being recognized in pop categories, it’s at least a far more specific classification than “Latin.” It goes to show that when it comes to recognizing music that isn’t made by native English speakers, awards ceremonies still have a long way to go. Instead of continuously awarding a non-Latin artist for Latin awards, it’s time to rework categories to be more inclusive of Hispanic-based genres, and give Latin artists the proper accolades they deserve.
It’s shameful that it’s 2021 and awards ceremonies are still lumping together anyone who sings in Spanish as “Latin.” We need awards shows to recognize that Latin isn’t really a genre, just a categorization for music made by people who are Latinx—and an extremely outdated one at that.