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Some highlights of last night's Latin Grammys

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Latin music had a big night last night. The Latin Grammys took place in Las Vegas, and in a way, it felt like a reunion of sorts after all that has happened because of the pandemic. There were more artists, performances and audience members who attended in person this year, and there were more collaborations among musicians. To talk us through some of the highlights of the night, we're joined now by Julyssa Lopez. She's a staff writer at Rolling Stone.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JULYSSA LOPEZ: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So I want to start with the highlight of the night, the song "Patria Y Vida" or "Homeland And Life." It won best song of the year. It was a song that became kind of a rallying cry in the anti-government protests in Cuba in July, right? So I'm just curious, like, how much of a surprise was this win?

LOPEZ: This was a surprise, you know? "Patria Y Vida" was competing against more sort of commercial pop songs that were in this category. And it's a very politically charged song. You know, this is a song that was recorded by Yotuel Romero, Gente De Zona, Descemer Bueno, El Funky and the hip-hop artist Maykel Osorbo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

YOTUEL: (Singing in Spanish).

GENTE DE ZONA AND YOTUEL: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: All of them in this song openly rebuke the leadership in Cuba. And they take this phrase patria o muerte, which means homeland or death - and it was a popular slogan associated with the rise of Fidel Castro in the late '50s - and they turn it on its head. And rather than patria o muerte, they say they say patria y vida.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")

GENTE DE ZONA: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: And, you know, this was a really controversial song. The Cuban government even released a response song defending the original slogan. And Maykel Osorbo, one of the artists who lives in Cuba who appears on the song, has been in jail for months now.

CHANG: Wow.

LOPEZ: So this is a really charged song. It's an emotional song, and I think you saw that when several of the artists performed it on stage last night.

CHANG: I want to ask also about the women last night because I know that this was something that you've been paying attention to. And last night, there was this sort of theme of women just taking over. Like, you heard it on the red carpet. You heard it from some of the announcers. And then you had this performance where all of these women - like Christina Aguilera, Becky G, Nicki Nicole and Nathy Peluso - they all kind of gathered and...

LOPEZ: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Rocked the stage. How did this presence of women compare to the Latin Grammys in years past?

LOPEZ: Yeah. I mean, it was interesting. You know, I think, especially in terms of who won the big awards, there weren't very many women represented, which is unfortunate. But in terms of the performances, you had all of these big moments. Christina Aguilera made her return to the Latin Grammy stage for the first time in 21 years with this, you know, very big girl-power anthem with all of these younger emerging pop stars like Becky G and Nathy Peluso and Nicki Nicole. You had Mon Laferte, who is a Chilean artist. She started off in this long cape. And then in the middle of it, she took off her cape and revealed her pregnant belly.

CHANG: Wow.

LOPEZ: And you had Gloria Estefan kick everything off with this samba melody that included artists like Anitta and Farina. So it - there were a lot of women on stage, you know, even if that wasn't necessarily represented in the nominations or in the results

CHANG: Well, in the category of best new artist, women were pretty well-represented, right? Like, of the 11...

LOPEZ: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Nominees, six were women. What did you make of that?

LOPEZ: Yeah, I thought that was great. You know, I hope to see that - more of that in future years and other categories. The winner was a Colombian actress turned artist named Juliana Velasquez, who released a self-titled album, "Juliana," this year. And it's kind of full of ballads.

And I think what was interesting that about (ph) - she's incredibly talented. She sang, you know, when she accepted her award and had this emotional speech. She does kind of represent a more traditional sound that, you know, the Latin Grammys tend to go for. She had this album that had maybe a touch of R&B but in general is, you know, much more ballad-heavy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOAQUIN")

JULIANA VELASQUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

CHANG: Well, I do want to talk about something else that you were concerned with the last time you were on the show, last month. You were talking about the lack of representation for reggaeton in the Latin Grammys. How did that play out during the awards last night, you think?

LOPEZ: Not great (laughter).

CHANG: Yeah.

LOPEZ: Yeah. You know, reggaeton is a genre that started out among Black communities in countries like Panama and Puerto Rico. The pioneers of that genre have gotten little recognition over the years. And you've seen - this year what we saw was an artist like J Balvin, who does more of a pop version of reggaeton, you know, point out that reggaeton artists weren't being recognized enough. At the time, he called for a boycott, which was very publicly mocked by the rapper Residente.

But, you know, I think after looking at the results, he might have had a point, you know, that reggaeton really wasn't - you know, didn't win any of the big four awards. You know, artists like Bad Bunny and Karol G won in sort of their respective, quote, "urban" categories, which - some of those have been added in recent years to kind of make up for the fact that reggaeton hasn't always been represented. Maybe, you know, compared to the commercial performance of reggaeton and its popularity in the global stage, you didn't really see that represented in the actual results.

CHANG: And why do you think that is? Why does there seem to be - I don't know - this prejudice against reggaeton when it comes to the Latin Grammys?

LOPEZ: You know, I think it's interesting. I think that there are many critics who've pointed out, you know, the history of colorism in the Latin music industry. Reggaeton was often seen as something that wasn't really considered, quote, "art." It was something from the streets. And I think just historically, it's been sidelined. And I think there's an element of this that also has to do with the colorism and racism that you see in entertainment more broadly.

CHANG: Yeah.

LOPEZ: And, you know, writers like The New York Times' Isabelia Herrera also pointed out that a lot of the performers that you saw on stage at the Latin Grammys last night really were, you know, more, you know, what we think of light-skinned, white Latinos. There really weren't many...

CHANG: Interesting.

LOPEZ: ...Afro-Latinos or Black Latinos represented on stage, with the exception of, you know, maybe a few performances. So this is a problem that the industry is still grappling with. And I think really, you know, there's a lot of work left to be done.

CHANG: That is Julyssa Lopez, staff writer at Rolling Stone.

Thank you so much for joining us again.

LOPEZ: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARAMELO")

OZUNA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.