How New Latinx Artists Are Setting A Holistic Example of Chicanx Identity

Illustration by Ruben Diaz.

Pop music is ever-changing. As every year goes by, a new seminal sound dominates the mainstream. Throughout the continuous change of pop music, Latinx artists began to pave their way into the American music industry resulting in a major change in pop music culture.

Perhaps Latin music truly became a pop spectacle when Selena Quintanilla rose to stardom in the 90s and single-handedly began the Latin pop renaissance. With hits like Como La Flor, La Carcacha and Amor Prohibido, it was clear Quintanilla was a force to be reckoned with.

During the span of her career, Quintanilla achieved American radio airplay and chart performance with songs completely in Spanish and graced the industry as a Chicana icon who served as a crossover success between Latin America and the U.S.

Her American-girl like approach mixed with her deeply rooted Spanish sound and bilinguality was tactical in shaping her as a simultaneous dual pop princess with a binational identity. While her death happened at the cusp of a full English album targeted at mainstream U.S. markets, Quintanilla’s career path paved a way for the upcoming Latinx artists to succeed her.

Following Quintanilla’s death, artists like Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan and more helmed a spicy Latin-pop crossover in the music industry which brought Latin flare and utilized binational identities to appeal to two separate cultures. While these acts successfully trail-blazed with English and Spanish albums, they consequently resulted in a dangerous duality that could potentially be troubling to Chicanx audiences.

Latinx artists now began to find themselves either exaggeratedly living by their Latin roots to sell in Latin America, or replicating the American image, speaking English and losing touch with their heritage to appeal to enough U.S. music consumers. When focusing on the discographies of Latinx artists, it’s important to take notice that Mexican-American artists are unable to be a whole – but rather – are forced to be halves of both Mexican and American culture.

If we look at some of the most popular Latin artists from the Aguilera’s to the Iglesias’, we see a split album run phenomenon occurring. One year, it’s an English album with U.S. promotion, and the next, it is a Spanish album with Latin America promotion.

Commercially speaking, worldwide sales and branding are important – especially with upcoming artists. However, this could be damaging as it demonstrates a normalization of separating one’s identity. This becomes a taxing exercise of self-expression for the artist, and a problematic experience to witness for Chicanx audiences.

What becomes an even bigger issue is the rhetoric that stems from stripping Chicanx artists from their culture, Americanized Latinx artists are now forced to appeal to white audiences. It enforces a toxic way of navigating through the world as both a Mexican-American immigrant and citizen in the states. A message that promotes being less yourself in one aspect, to be accepted in the discourse of another.

Lately, this archaic model of the Latin-American career is being challenged by indie and rising stars like Kali Uchis, The Marías, Omar Apollo and Empress Of.

Together, these artists are revolutionizing what it means to be a “Latin-Pop” artist as they are breaking barriers of bilingualism and production stereotypes of latin music. These artists are freely expressing Spanish speaking and Latinx identities in genres you wouldn’t expect and in ways completely adverse to the typical Latin-Pop formula.

“Carino, eres un amor / Carino pintas en color / There’s something about you babe. . .” –“Carino” by The Marías

Whether it’s the sultry and soft alternative lo-fi coo of The Marías’ “Carino” or the Taylor Swift-esque bouncy synth of Empress Of’s “When I’m With Him,” Latin music is showing no signs of limits or division these days.

“Querias mas, de lo que podria ser / me alejo mas,  y tu no lo puedes ver / I feel possessed / I can’t help but repress / All of the signs, tellin’ me that I’m not fine” – When I’m With Him” by Empress Of

This liberational take on music that rids the concerns of language barrier and limiting soundscapes that make pop into “Latin-Pop” is refreshing and key in expressing a more wholesome Chicanx identity that is relatable, recognizable and respectable amongst Chicanx listeners.

The Latinx identity is very specific, one that is not the same as Mesoamerican identity or American identity. The way these current Latinx artists are tailoring their music is a rallying cry for all Chicanx artists to be able to do what they want without the pressures of being either/or and appealing to two separate audiences.

Leonel Loera (he/him/his)

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