Views from the Valley: Drake’s International Rival

It seems like the entire music industry has been talking about Drake ever since he released his latest album, Scorpion. As you may have heard, Drake has broken all music streaming records with over 50 billion streams across all services.

What nobody is talking about is that Drake is actually in a fierce competition for the title of most-streamed artist. I’ll give you a hint: they aren’t American. Please lock in your final answers now.

The answer: J. Balvin. Did you guess that? Me neither.

Balvin is a Colombian reggaeton superstar. Born in 1985 in Medellin, José Álvaro Osorio Balvin rose to fame in 2009 with the release of his hit-single “Ella Me Cautivó.” Since then, Balvin has dominated the Latin and Tropical Billboard charts and boasts over 48 million Spotify listeners a month. That means he has as many monthly Spotify listeners as his home country of Colombia has citizens. Not only that, but in June he actually passed Drake for Spotify’s most-streamed artist of all time. He was recently caught by Drake again with the release of Scorpion in July, but that’s still an impressive accomplishment.

So why isn't J. Balvin a household name like Drake? Drake isn't American either, but he's beloved by the Hollywood hip-hop scene. Balvin tours in America and is in contention for most streamed artist in the world, but he makes waves on Spanish-speaking airwaves more than Top 40 stations.

You might think that it’s just because his music is in Spanish, but over 50 million Americans speak Spanish fluently. Not only that, but Latin music streaming rose by a whopping 73% in 2015 and continues to grow every year.

So then surely they play his songs on the radio or feature them on Spotify, right? You’re right, they do. In fact, his recent single “Mi Gente” was actually the first song in Spanish to reach #1 on Spotify’s global charts. I was surprised to discover I actually have heard “Mi Gente” before, but I didn’t know J. Balvin was the artist. I encourage you to give it a listen; you’ve probably heard it too (be careful though, it’s dangerously catchy).

Most recently, Balvin was featured on Cardi B’s Latin inspired hit “I Like It,” although even the Cardi B fans in my office weren’t aware of who J. Balvin was. So why haven’t you heard of Balvin before? A combination of a lack of mainstream coverage and his completely Spanish music means he often gets lost in translation. People will listen to his songs like “Mi Gente” or “I like it” and not remember who the artist is because it’s a Spanish Song or because mainstream media doesn’t mention him.

However, if you hadn’t read this article you probably would have found out who J. Balvin is soon enough. Many industry experts believe it’s just a matter of time until Latin influenced music takes over and artists like J. Balvin, Daddy Yankee, and Bad Bunny become household names.

According to the Guardian, 2017 was a breakthrough year for Latin music. Latin music hits like “Despacito” and Balvin’s “Mi Gente” topped the charts both internationally and in America, and latin music is only getting more popular. It looks like Drake will have to keep looking over his shoulder because J. Balvin and latin music is here to stay.

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