Regional Mexican music didn’t just go global in the blink of an eye.
For starters, this legacy genre has been around for more than a century and a half. That endurance has allowed regional Mexican – an umbrella term comprising banda, corridos, norteño, sierreño, mariachi and more subgenres – to build a solid foundation and fervid fanbase on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Keeping in mind, the U.S. is home to the second-largest Mexican community in the world.
For many generations, regional Mexican artists have continued to build upon its foundations, solidifying its backbone in the Latin music industry. That’s why today, a new crop of regional hitmakers have been able to take the music to the next level. Fusing traditional corridos or banda with hip-hop, rap and reggaetón — in some cases — they’ve been able to appeal to a wider and younger, tech-savvy audience. Two years ago, Billboard was already reporting on regional Mexican music’s global reach ushered by artists such as Eslabon Armado, Natanael Cano and Grupo Firme. Which led to a discussion on why the genre needs a new name – one that reflected its international appeal.
Now, as a testament to the genre’s recent surge, Mexican and Mexican-American artists are leading the Billboard Global 200 — taking the three top spots on the tally dated May 6, an unprecedented chart achievement. Grupo Frontera and Bad Bunny’s “un X100to” is No. 1, with Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma’s “Ella Baila Sola” — which became the first regional Mexican song to enter the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 – coming in second, and Yng Lvcas and Peso’s “La Bebe” at No. 3. And at the same time, for the first time ever, two Mexican music songs (“Ella Baila Sola” and “un X100to”) are simultaneously in the Hot 100’s top five.
Mexican music is making history, and it wouldn’t be fair to reduce it to a moment. Below, Griselda Flores (Billboard’s senior staff writer, Latin) and Isabela Raygoza (associate editor, Billboard Español) discuss all things Mexican music; from their personal feelings on the global spotlight to what will be key to continue fueling the genre’s success.
There has been a lot of buzz around regional Mexican music lately, with songs like “Ella Baila Sola” by Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma going global and Bad Bunny recording a hit song with Grupo Frontera. What were some first thoughts when you read headlines about Mexican music “finally” going global?
Isabela Raygoza: It’s about perspective. If you ask a Mexican (or older fans of the genre), the regional style went global when Pedro Infante popularized mariachi via the golden age of Mexican cinema in the ’50s; or when Vicente Fernández became an international global ranchera star in the ’70s; or when Selena revamped the Tex-Mex sound in the ’90s, a genre influenced by branches of regional Mexican; or when Christian Nodal out-streamed some of the U.S.‘ biggest stars with the now 1.3 billion plays for his 2017 single “Adios Amor”; or when Los Tigres del Norte broke Cardi B’s all-time attendance record at Texas’ Houston Rodeo in 2019. Or even when Ariel Camacho’s music (and tragic death in 2015) inspired a cross-border movement of new sierreño musicians. I was raised in the border town of San Diego-Tijuana, so these styles have been near and dear to me since my infancy. So, when I see recent headlines about Mexican music “finally” going global, it isn’t wholly (annoyingly) accurate. Again, it depends on who you ask.
Griselda Flores: To be completely honest and transparent, for many years, I selfishly didn’t want regional Mexican music to go global. I guess my biggest fear was that to be accepted by a wider audience, the genre would have to sacrifice its core sound — powered by very distinctive instruments, like the tuba, trombones, clarinets, trumpets in banda, for example. (The instruments are key to that style’s unique sound, and which not many people find easy to digest). Going global meant allowing people into a very personal bubble. For many kids of Mexican immigrants who grew up in the U.S. — I grew up in Chicago — this music, with roots that date back more than 100 years, soundtracked your childhood. At least for me it did. My parents specifically played only Spanish music in our household — mostly regional Mexican music — and would blast Vicente Fernández, Antonio Aguilar, Lupillo Rivera, Banda Machos, Los Temerarios, which I want to believe just made them feel closer to home. I learned to love the music, the storytelling and the passionate delivery of the songs.
What I love about what we’re seeing today is that Mexican music has gone global without having to sacrifice anything. And, most importantly, it is Mexican and Mexican-American artists who are taking this genre, which already had a very solid foundation to begin with, to the next level.
What does “going global” really mean for this legacy genre and how can we truly measure the impact?
IR: To me, “going global” means going global in the larger picture! Going viral, topping the Billboard charts, headlining important and international festivals, winning Grammys and Latin Grammys, getting a platinum record, appearing on late night television, performing at the Super Bowl, and just making unprecedented moves. And beyond the U.S.! Just how Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma’s “Ella Baila Sola” and Grupo Frontera and Bad Bunny’s “Un x100to” became the first regional Mexican music songs to ever make the top 10 of the Hot 100 is one example of going global, and a great way to measure its impact.
GF: Some styles of Mexican music — mariachi is a prime example — were already popular outside of Mexico and the U.S. So, in some fashion, an international audience had already been exposed to one style under the umbrella term. But what is important in what we’re seeing today is that subgenres like sierreño, corridos and norteñas are getting that exposure on a global platform and so the diversity of this genre is really getting a spotlight. It also shows listeners how multi-layered and nuanced this genre can be. Another way I’d measure the impact is by seeing the fans who are consuming the music today. Just go on TikTok and see that it’s a lot of Gen Z-ers who are consuming it. This genre really is hitting multi-generational homes.
As regional Mexican music continues to gain prominence and influence within the broader music industry, how have regional Mexican artists adapted to incorporate non-regional Mexican artists into their music?
IR: When corridos tumbados trailblazer Natanael Cano, who makes corridos with a hip-hop flavor, invited Bad Bunny to share verses on “Soy El Diablo,” Natanael did not sacrifice anything about his style to accommodate the Bunny. If anything, Bad Bunny matched Natanael’s lyrical delivery.
In the case of Banda MS — who come from the more traditional banda Sinaloense — they have demonstrated their ability to update and transform classic banda for newer and unfamiliar audiences of the genre. When bandleader Sergio Lizárraga explained their Snoop Dogg team-up on their 2020 “Qué Maldición,” he said that composition was key. The musicians paid close attention to the rapper’s repertoire so they could embrace Snoop’s usual laidback delivery. They realized that their banda romántica tempo matched hip-hop’s usual pace, around 89 BPMs. Then they used the tuba for its bassline, where in hip-hop it’s usually sampled or played with the keys.
In essence, the Mexican musicians brilliantly found a sweet spot between banda and rap, without sacrificing the integrity of the traditional Mexican style, while being unafraid to think outside the box.
GF: They haven’t, and I think that’s the beauty of it. I think it’s non-regional Mexican artists who’ve had to adapt to score a collaboration with a Mexican music artist. In the last four years, we’ve seen Bad Bunny come to this side twice now, Farruko with T3r Elemento, Camilo with Los Dos Carnales, Maluma with Grupo Firme, Snoop Dogg with Banda MS, Jhayco with Eslabon Armado, to name just a few. Regional Mexican artists have had to adapt in other ways — for example, collaborating with each other to make the genre even stronger. I think that was a lesson they learned from urban acts, who proved that collaborating with each other was key to creating a movement in the early 2000s.
Have regional Mexican music collaborations with artists from other genres (such as hip-hop, urbano and Latin pop) had any sort of effect on the evolution and cultural significance of this genre? What can we expect from these cross-genre collaborations in the future?
IR: I don’t think collaborations influence the evolution of regional Mexican music, but I think it will become stronger with these kinds of collaborations. Think: Vicente Fernández’s fanbase was quite different from Tego Calderón’s, and they were pretty separated. But as both scenes begin to experience more success (via Latin festivals highlighting both styles like Chicago’s Sueños; more Latin acts entering YouTube’s Billions Club), the styles also begin to cross over to different audiences. It’s safe to expect more non-regional Mexican acts to embrace banda, norteñas, sierreño, etc. Becky G and Tekashi69, who come from urbano and rap, are now heading towards the regional Mexican route. The genres might even coalesce due to different production techniques and the artist’s connection with the genres.
For regional purists, a kind of fusion might not be a positive thing — but that’s history. Remember how irked the folk community got when Bob Dylan plugged in his electric guitar in the ’60s? Or when the flamenco community criticized Rosalía for experimenting with the Andalusía style beyond its traditional confines? Or just how dozens of Latin pop artists continue to experiment with Dominican bachata? I think cross-genre collaborations are very important, because it can give regional Mexican music more prominence beyond its foundation.
GF: I don’t think the collaborations have had any impact on evolution, but I do think that hip-hop and urban music in general have inspired the evolution of the genre. Just take Peso Pluma and Natanael Cano, with corridos tumbados or bélicos — that style evolved from the fusion of hip-hop, reggaetón and Mexican music. But even then, the core of the music is still very traditional to me given the instruments used in these songs. More than anything, it’s corridos with a twist.
And when it comes to cross-genre collaborations, they have a huge cultural significance. When you have the world’s biggest star, Bad Bunny, wanting to record a norteña, cumbia with a new act like Grupo Frontera, you know there’s something up. Of course, that’s not to say that Bad Bunny singing with Grupo Frontera is the only way to measure the impact, but it is very telling of the wider appeal. I think artists — or just people in the music industry in general — are now finally seeing the value and the strength of regional Mexican music and, of course, now want to be part of this global movement.
What would you say will be key to fueling Mexican music’s success?
IR: Regional Mexican music has been alive and well for over a century. But we now have new forms of technology and support to give the style wider visibility. Proliferation and quality releases are key on the mainstream level. I also think it’s great that mainstream pop, urbano and rap artists are interested in embracing the storied Mexican art form, one that’s rooted in Mexican culture and tradition. Cross-genre collaborations will continue to expand the genre to more audiences. However, it is important to differentiate between those trying to capitalize on a new trend, versus those who genuinely appreciate the style and want to participate in it from a point of respect.
GF: I think it’s clear that Mexican music is not having a moment. This isn’t something that will just go away one day. The new generation of Mexican music artists have understood that the power of the genre lies within each other. Joining forces does make it stronger. The first regional Mexican song to top the Billboard Global 200 was a team-up between Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma. This week, Grupo Frontera and Bad Bunny’s “un X100to” is No. 1, “Ella Baila Sola” is No. 2 and in third place is Yng Lvcas and Peso’s “La Bebé.” I think collaborations will continue to be key. I also think indie Mexican music labels will continue to play a pivotal role in expanding the genre. Their ability to identify and connect with the new generation of Mexican fans is unmatched.