The Rising Global Popularity and Influence of Spanish-Language Music, Films and TV Shows

Spanish-language cultural works are “dominating” the hot list of streaming platforms.
The four most-played songs on one day in April were upbeat, mostly trombone “She Dances Alone,” a mix of R & B and rap “Where Is She,” moderate, acoustic guitar and accordion “One Percent,” and slow-paced electronic reggae “Baby.” On the face of it, these songs don’t seem to have much in common, but these four songs, which have been played more than 20 million times worldwide in one day, have one thing in common: they are all sung in Spanish.
Last year, Puerto Rico rapper Bad Rabbit was named the hottest singer by SoundSky for the third year in a row. This was the first time in the history of Spotify that someone had occupied the number one spot for so long. Mexican singer Peso Prama, meanwhile, has even surpassed Bad Rabbit on YouTube-Prama has three of the top 20 songs. Notably, in mid-May, nine of the top 20 songs were in Spanish. Latin music generated $1 billion in recorded revenue in the United States last year, an annual growth rate of 24 percent and a record high of 7 percent of total U.S. music revenue, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Spanish-language music is taking the world by storm, and the trend isn’t confined to music. The Colombia organ-trafficking thriller “Brand of the Heart” had two seasons in the top 10 on Netflix’s non-English programming charts. Spanish drama Money House is the longest-watched show on Netflix’s non-English TV charts. A survey by Will Page, a visiting researcher at the London School of Economics, and musician Chris Dara found that Money House was the most-watched show in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, Italy and Portugal, as well as popular in North Africa and the Middle East. Three Spanish-language films made the top ten in the non-English film history rankings.
English-language culture isn’t going to lose its dominance anytime soon, but the inexorable rise of Spanish-language music and film shows a pattern. First, it reflects the growing importance of streaming media; second, it reflects the strong willingness of Latin Americans, especially young Latin Americans, to spend money on cultural goods; and it also shows that Latin Americans who have emigrated are spreading their own culture and in this way influencing tastes around the world.
Spanish culture is not new on the world cultural scene. Since the 1960s, the novels of García Marquez and Vargas Llosa have won the favor of many readers and prize committees. From Spain’s Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar to Mexico’s “Three Brothers”(Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Inarritu, and Alfonso Cuarón), cinema has been a dominant part of Spanish culture. The TV series “Going to Sea” has a long history and resonates with Egyptians and Ecuadorians alike.
Many factors contributed to the prosperity of Spanish culture. First, latin americans are good at using the internet. In Latin America, about 500 million people have mobile phones and are willing to spend time on social media. Argentines, Brazilians, Colombia and Mexicans are estimated to spend about three and a half hours a day on social media, an hour more than the global average.
The second factor is that many musicians cross national boundaries. Collaboration means that these big names appeal beyond the country, and fans seem to like it. In Spanish-speaking countries, the share of Spanish-language streaming increased from 74% in 2017 to 86% in 2021, while the share of English-language streaming declined from 25% to 14%.
These days, hit songs often invite guest stars. In 2017,”Slow Down,” a collaboration between Puerto Rico singer Luis Fonsi and rapper Yankee Pop, stayed at number one in 36 countries for 11 weeks and was played more than 13 million times online in the United States, in part because pop superstar Justin Bieber was involved in recording the remix. Until overtaken by children’s video Shark Baby in 2020, Slow Down was YouTube’s most-watched video, with more than 8 billion views to date. Similarly, Spanish superstar Rosalia will team up with Bad Rabbit and Puerto Rico singer Raul Alejandro. Her songs have garnered more than 8 billion views on Soundburst. Rosalia regularly tours internationally, attracting 160,000 fans in Mexico City in May.
Argentine producer Bisarap’s main theme is cooperation songs, and Latin American musicians have launched a number of popular songs. For example, he collaborated with Colombia singer Shakira on a song about her ex-husband, former Spanish footballer Gerard Pique. The song quickly broke records, becoming the most-played Latin song on Soundtrack in 24 hours. In just two days, the song reached 100 million views on YouTube, making it the fastest-selling Latin song on the platform.
Of course, Spanish-speaking people don’t always welcome cultural sharing. Genre and country barriers can also act as barriers, as when salsa musicians in Puerto Rico went on strike in the 1970s to protest against Dominican musicians bringing merengue.
But the biggest driver of Hispanic culture is America. Although Spanish-language music and movies are popular in other countries, their popularity in the United States plays a key role. In 2021, the Spanish-speaking population of the United States will reach 62.5 million, accounting for 19% of the total population. Since 2010, 52% of the new population in the United States speaks Spanish, which means that Spanish-language media has a large audience. In addition, Hispanic children in the United States seem to remain strongly connected to their homeland, with 72 percent of Hispanics speaking Spanish as their mother tongue or bilingual, and even by the third generation, about a quarter are bilingual.
Today, Spanish is spoken by about 500 million native speakers, making it the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin and Hindi. Just as the number of users wanting to learn Korean on multi-neighbor language learning platforms surged after the TV series Squid Games hit, cool-looking stars such as Bad Rabbit may also attract new Spanish learners. “Interest in Spanish is more persistent.” Spanish learners are the most active user group after english learners,”says cindy blanco, an executive at multineighbors. Similarly, between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023, the number of Spanish learners on Babel’s paid language learning platform increased by 42%, mostly from the United States.
This situation is also affecting other Spanish-speaking regions. Ramiro Villapadilna, director of the Spanish Office in Madrid, points out that Spaniards do not reject Latin accents and expressions in children’s speech, and the government even promotes Latin American films and music in Madrid to boost the Latin trend. By contrast, the Portugal media has generated a small panic about the “Brazilianization” of youth communication. A recent Portugal newspaper headline warned that “children are addicted to Portugal from Brazil.”
The growing prosperity of Spanish-speaking culture has also had a more subtle effect. Now, the iconic three-beat rhythm of reggae music can often be heard in English songs by singers such as Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa. Audiences may not know that they are hearing Latin rhythms.