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The Latin Grammys' reggaeton problem is a lot like Grammys' hip-hop problem—or why J Balvin was snubbed

The Latin Grammys' reggaeton problem is a lot like Grammys' hip-hop problem—or why J Balvin was snubbed
Reggaeton star J Balvin, accepting his sole Latin Grammy on Thursday night. He came into the 19th Latin Grammy Awards with the most nominations—eight—including record and album of the year, but won just one for urban music album. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

The global embrace of Latin urban beats is undeniable, but it was a pop balladeer, Jorge Drexler from Uruguay, who was crowned a triple winner at the 19th annual Latin Grammy Awards, taking record, song and singer-songwriter of the year, while Mexican crooner Luis Miguel, a no-show at the Las Vegas ceremony on Thursday, won two trophies for ranchero/mariachi album and album of the year.

And what about reggaeton? Colombian hitmaker J Balvin, best-known in the U.S. for his collaboration with Beyoncé on the song “Mi Gente,” led this year’s Latin Grammys with 8 nominations but took home only one trophy — in the urban album category for “Vibras.”

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Just as the Recording Academy served up multiple nominations but no wins in the top-tier categories for hip-hop’s biggest stars at the 60th Grammy Awards earlier this year, reggaeton star Balvin was given nominations but no wins for record of the year for and album of the year.

Still, rising Colombian reggaeton star Karol G took the new artist honors. When her name was called, she took a deep breath and held onto her father all the way up the steps as they made their way to the stage.

"I want to dedicate this to women who have done big things in music and this man who has been there 99 percent of my career," Karol G said as her father, who helped manage the earlier part of her career, took in his daughter's victory. "This is the first one.”

Backstage, Drexler spoke to the press about his winning album "Salvavidas de Hielo" and track “Telefonía,” as well as his musical inspirations, from cumbias to reggaeton. A journalist in the room wondered why the singer known for his tender ballads would highlight urban music.

"Reggaeton is not mine, it's not Balvin's or Maluma's ... it's a rhythm of Africa from the north. Let's enjoy, let’s write the best songs and not blame the genre or the composers. And let’s have open arms."

Uruguay's Jorge Drexler accepts the record of the year award for 'Telefonia' during the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas.
Uruguay's Jorge Drexler accepts the record of the year award for 'Telefonia' during the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

That open-arms spirit was evident on stage when Balvin gave a captivating performance with Mexican singer-songwriter Carla Morrison at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Morrison appeared first in the middle of a darkened stage as laser-like images behind the songstress expanded into a bigger light show. Then, the Medellín-born Balvin rose to the stage and hovered above it as a wide metallic blanket expanded below him. Later, the entertainer, known for his ability to collaborate and encourage new and upcoming artists, did not appear in the press room, where journalists were eager to ask him about his perceived snubs.

J Balvin rises above the stage during his performance at the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas.
J Balvin rises above the stage during his performance at the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas. (Robyn Beck / AFP/ Getty Images)

Spain's Rosalia, who won for fusion/performance and alternative song, did address the media backstage and thanked all the women in music who have blazed a trail, from Lauryn Hill to Björk.

“A woman can have many different roles," said the flamenco-trap singer, songwriter and actress. "Many women are in suits, producing, building and I think it's important to say this: I'm going to have to keep fighting until I find the same number of women in the studio as there are men."

Rosalia performs at the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Rosalia performs at the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on Thursday. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

Maluma, the Colombian rapper embraced by Madonna earlier this year, took home the contemporary pop vocal album prize for “F.A.M.E.” Backstage in the press room the shaggy-haired entertainer who has had a thriving year in music, touring and performing showcase sets, said his complicated concert schedule nearly kept him away from the awards.

"But I had a feeling," Maluma said about his instinct to travel to Las Vegas. "I took a plane here at the last minute. I have a show tomorrow in Argentina, but sometimes one just has to believe and take a chance, so we came."

Maluma accepts the contemporary pop vocal album award at the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas.
Maluma accepts the contemporary pop vocal album award at the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

The night began with a performance by Marc Anthony, who crooned the single "Está Rico," with Will Smith rapping his way down the aisle. Nearby, Bad Bunny, who also collaborated on the song, jumped off a plush, circular pink-and-red sofa as dancers sporting bunny ears grooved to the music.

Regional Mexican singer Ángela Aguilar, who recently celebrated her 15th birthday, performed "La Llorona" to a standing ovation. Backstage she spoke about the excitement of the night, even if she did not win anything. Then her father, legendary singer Pepe Aguilar, jumped on stage.

Angela Aguilar wows the crowd during the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards.
Angela Aguilar wows the crowd during the 19th Annual Latin Grammy Awards. (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

The elder Aguilar, who has a combined total of nine Latin Grammy and Grammy trophies in a career that has spanned several decades, said that he was proud of his daughter for achieving more in the genre as a teenager than he ever did when he was her age.

"A Grammy doesn't make anyone a better singer, just like a Grammy loss doesn't make anybody worse," he said, adding that he advised his daughter to stay focused on giving a solid performance as more than 80 countries around the world watched the Latin Grammys. "Tonight we are celebrating with the family, then we fly to Houston for a sold-out show."

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Colombian singer Carlos Vives performed "Hoy Tengo Tiempo" with Monsieur Perine in a highly spirited set that spilled into the audience. He also took home the contemporary tropical album.

Linda Briceno holds the Latin Grammy for Producer of the Year during the 19th Latin Grammy Awards.
Linda Briceno holds the Latin Grammy for Producer of the Year during the 19th Latin Grammy Awards. (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuelan native Linda Briceño took home the producer of the year prize and thanked all the women who were nominated in her category previously but never won.

"I'm the first to win this award," Briceño said. "I hope this is the start of winning women in this category."

Nodal took the regional Mexican song award for “Probablemente.”

"I wrote that when I was 16," Nodal said. "I want to thank God, my fans, and when we get back home to Mexico we are going to have a big party with my dad."

Mexican rock-pop band Maná, who won the trophy for Latin Grammy Person of the Year, performed a medley during the telecast and spent an extended amount of time backstage with journalists. Known for their easy-going and spirited conversations, even offering the press corp beers, the group spoke at length the power of women, immigration and their upcoming 2019 world tour.

"We've always been very respectful in our music when it comes to women because we love women," Fher Olvera said. Of the immigrants who live in the United States, he added, "There are millions of Latinos in the U.S. and they have such a power to make things happen, so I hope they vote and make their voices heard. We've been to the White House before and we've even been in the kitchen, but I doubt we'll get invited anytime soon."

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5:49 p.m.: This story was updated with additional context and more information on the winners at Thursday’s Latin Grammy Awards. The article was originally published Nov. 15 at 11:15 p.m.

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