Pop music had new envoys this year at the Coachella, with the music festival finally acknowledging the global talent that has been pop’s driving force in recent years. Latin artists, especially, showcased their ability to command a broad, American audience from the main stage.
Music critics and major media publications were all over Colombian pop-reggaeton sensation J Balvin after he took the stage on Weekend 1 of the festival, performing within a bold, pop art set designed by FriendsWithYou. Rolling Stone described the set as “an idyllic cartoon utopia and [a] demented, psychedelic toybox,” complete with bobblehead versions of Cardi B and Bad Bunny.
Beyond the epic aesthetics are the doors that have been opened for other Latin artists. The Los Angeles Times wrote of how momentous his high-profile performance was for the future of music. “Balvin’s ideas felt like an inevitable future, one where a diverse young crowd recognizes the music on its merits, and even mainstream Coachella-goers know it as the pop music it is. Plenty of Spanish-language acts have played here before, but none had the hits and self-assertion that Balvin did about his own place in pop.”
Variety actually went so far as to call Balvin’s set one of the “greatest Coachella has ever seen,” suggesting that it was an even more significant watershed moment than that of Beyoncé’s performance in 2018. “We’ve been waiting 15 years for this,” Balvin said on stage, referencing the way that Spanish-language artists have finally been given their due. On social media, he expanded upon how much the day meant to him, connecting the experience to all of the dreamers who were watching. “El año pasado estuve con Beyoncé, hoy nos toca a nosotros los latinos y soñadores, a los que como yo no les da miedo seguir sus sueños y a que los llamen diferentes, pues necesitamos que sigan llamándonos locos cuando somos soñadores.” By the way, Beyoncé’s documentary Homecoming is streaming on Netflix beginning this Wednesday and will feature her full Coachella set, including her remix with J Balvin’s “Mi Gente.”
At this point, Latin music has become so big that it has surpassed the popularity of country music, according to a report cited by E! Online. That shift itself is hugely symbolic. The “real” America doesn’t just listen to country anymore. Nowadays, real Americans also like Spanish-language music. The popularity of Latin pop and other global genres like K-Pop is a testament to the reality that music fans embrace a diversity of sound, language, and showmanship, much more enthusiastically than the music industry has given them credit for. The gatekeepers of music — producers, record labels, media conglomerates — should take note that if they play it, we will come.