Music

Inside Latin Music’s Year-End Charts: Can Karol G Help More Women Cut Through?

Karol G Cr Pablo Escudero 2023 Billboard 1548.jpg

Women ruled the recent 2023 Latin Grammy awards, with Karol G, Shakira and Natalia Lafourcade sweeping in the main categories (Album, Record and Song of the year, respectively) and a fourth woman, Joaquina, winning Best New Artist. It was the first time in Latin Grammy history that women won in all the general categories.

Despite that heady moment, Billboard’s year-end charts tell a different story. There, women are as scarce as ever, with only three of — Karol G (at No. 3), Shakira (at No. 14) and Rosalía (No. 17) — landing among the top 20 of the year-end Top Latin Artists Chart.

On the Hot Latin Songs year-end chart, the situation is better — though a bit misleading. Among the top 50 tracks, 11 are led by women. But of those, six are by Karol G and three by Shakira (including their collaboration “TQG”). The list also includes Becky G’s “Chanel” alongside Peso Pluma and Rosalía’s “Beso” alongside Rauw Alejandro.  

The narrative continues on the year-end Top Latin Albums chart, where only five albums by women are in the top 20. Three are by Karol G, one is Selena’s perennially popular Ones and the fifth is Rosalía with last year’s Motomami.

In other words, without Karol G, representation for women on the year-end Latin charts would be even more bleak. And it’s nothing new. Save for less than a handful of names like Selena, Shakira and now, Karol G, women have maintained a very limited presence on the Latin charts. Through the years, that absence has been attributed to a multitude of factors including: lack of women executives championing women acts; lack of label support; the rise of male-dominated reggaetón; and now, the rise of male-dominated regional Mexican.

The situation is even more maddening considering that the past few years have been rife with successful new Latin artists, yet most of whom are men, including the top five new artists of the year: Peso Pluma, Grupo Frontera, Yng Lvcas, Bizarrap and Chino Pacas.

So what more do these five newcomers all have in common? They collaborate incessantly and have all had initial, visible support from established artists. Peso Pluma, for example, got an early boost from Luis R. Conríquez, who invited him to collaborate on a couple of singles; Peso Pluma then returned the favor with Yng Lvcas on “La bebe.” Bad Bunny famously collaborated with Grupo Frontera on “Un X100to” when the Texan band was just starting; Chino Pacas is a protégé of Fuerza Regida and its frontman, JOP; and even Bizarrap got his start by collaborating with his peers in Argentina.

While all-women collaborations abound, it’s still unusual to see a major, established woman artist bring other rising women acts to the fray. The major exceptions include iconic pop star Thalia, who for years has been collaborating with rising artists of every stripe. And, more recently, Karol G, who has been steadily generous in inviting artists who are less established to collaborate.

This fall, for example, the Colombian star had Young Miko open up several of her stadium shows, and each of her past three albums has featured at least one up-and-coming woman: Young Miko guests on Bichota Season (2023), Bad Gyal on Mañana será bonito (2023) and Mariah Angelique on KG0516.

“I understand how hard it is [for women to break through] because of how hard it was for me,” Karol said in a recent Billboard interview. For her, the early support of more established stars at the time, like Nicky Jam, J Balvin and Ozuna was crucial. “Each day is a challenge,” she adds. “There’s so much music, so many artists and platforms, so, so much, that standing out is harder than before.”

In all fairness, women’s standing on other genre year-end charts is similar: There are four women in the top 20 of the year-end R&B/Hip-Hop chart and three on the year-end Country chart. On the all genre year-end tally, there are a total of five women, including Taylor Swift at No. 1.

But for women in Latin, numbers have remained stubbornly low for over a decade, and actually declined during that time. In the 2000s, 23 albums by women reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. In the 2010s, the number dipped to 19. So far this decade, only three women-led albums have reached No. 1 and two of them are by, you guessed it, Karol G.

On Hot Latin Songs, 39 women-led tracks topped the chart in the 2000s; in the 2010s, the number went down to 14; so far this decade, there have been eight.

There is indeed room for improvement over the remaining six years of the 2020s, both on the charts and beyond. Already, there is a concerted effort afoot within labels and music companies to increase the number of Latina executives in senior ranks.

At Sony Latin Iberia, COO María Fernández has articulated a plan to help prepare the next generation of executives, “especially women,” she says. “I’ve dedicated a lot of time to that and I feel very proud of the accomplishments in terms of getting them ready to be promoted, changing jobs, doing new things in the organization.”

Having another woman in the room, of course, is no guarantee of success, but having someone else in the room who can emphatize with certain situations — pregnancy, maternity leave, touring with children, body image and more — is important.

Another major point of contention has long been the lack of women producers and songwriters in the Latin world, though the latter is growing. And there’s a clear increase of women credits on major hits.

So the question is, when will this trickle down into concrete representation not just on paper, but on the charts?

It’s not just about what receives promotion, but also, what connects with fans. It’s heartening to see that many of the rising artists like Young Miko, Gale and Joaquina are eschewing the overplayed trope of the over-sexualized Latina artist in favor of honest songwriting and originality.

Which is exactly what the women artists currently on the charts have managed to do so well.

Leila Cobo is Billboard’s Chief Content Officer for Latin/español and the author of Decoding Despacito: An Oral History of Latin Music’s Greatest Hits.

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