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Year In Review: Latino Culture In The Arts In 2017


2017 was a great year for Latino popular culture and the arts. There was the hit song "Despacito" by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.


LUIS FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing) Para que te acuerdes si no estas conmigo - despacito.

KING: There was Disney-Pixar's "Coco" - a movie, yes, but also a love letter to Mexican culture, art and music.


ANTHONY GONZALEZ AND ANTONIO SOL: (Singing) For this music is my language, and the world es mi familia.

KING: We've got with us LA Times culture writer Carolina Miranda. She's in our studios at NPR West in Culver City, Calif.

Hi, Carolina.

CAROLINA MIRANDA: Hi, thank you for having me.

KING: All right, let's start out with this juggernaut of a song, "Despacito." It was everywhere. I didn't mind at all. I love it. What makes this song so good?

MIRANDA: Strangely addictive - you know, it's that new school of reggaeton that is much more pop-inflected and slowed down. Reggaeton really started off as a mix of reggae and dancehall kind of music with Latin beats, and I think "Despacito," which means slowly - it's a song you can kind of chill to. And, you know, to a record 4.5 billion views on YouTube...

KING: My gosh.

MIRANDA: It's managed to pull in a record of the year and song of the year Grammy nominations, which is a very big deal for a song that is all entirely in Spanish language. This is only the third time in U.S. history that Spanish-language songs have hit the No. 1 on Billboard's top 100. The last song was la "Macarena" by Los Del Rio in 1996. You remember that little ditty?

KING: I - oh, my gosh. It's still in the back of my mind. But I wonder - the version that a lot of English-language speakers heard was the version with Justin Bieber, right?



JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) Make me want to savor every moment slowly, slowly.

KING: Was that considered, like, a watering down of the original?

MIRANDA: I don't think so. You know, a lot of these songs, you know, feature teams of artists coming together. I think what you're starting to see is English-language singers are going, hey, there's this huge market in Latin America, and there's this huge cultural phenomenon, and I want to be a part of it. And that's why you see the other big reggaeton hit "Mi Gente," which is the J Balvin and Willy William song that featured a spot by Beyonce.

KING: Let's talk about "Coco," a movie that people don't just love, they adore. It took in $71 million over Thanksgiving weekend - 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What makes this movie so special?

MIRANDA: You know, it's a number of things. First of all, the animation is just brilliant. But I also think it's a film about Mexican Day of the Dead that doesn't try to overexplain the concept for the purposes of a U.S. audience. I think it assumes a certain level of cultural savviness from its audience, a certain level of smartness. You just have a heartwarming story about a boy who wants to sing and who finds a way to do that while becoming connected to his family's roots.

KING: 2017 was a year where there were some really ugly political realities for Latinos in this country. President Trump has said disparaging things about Latinos - about immigrants, in particular. He's threatened to build a wall to keep people out. What do you think it means that there's this overlap where the culture seems so ascendant, and at the same time, the political reality is really kind of ugly in a lot of ways?

MIRANDA: It's a couple of things. One - it's culture to - responding to the moment. And I also think it's just this reality of demographics. You know, there's more than 50 million Latinos in the United States. We represent the largest ethnic minority in the United States, so I feel like the culture is there. We are experiencing this ugly political moment, but I feel that the culture's kind of reacting to it and doing what culture also does, which is to show the points of connection that we have.

KING: Carolina Miranda covers arts and culture for The LA Times. Carolina, thank you so much.

MIRANDA: Thank you for having me.


J BALVIN: (Singing) Y donde esta mi gente?

WILLY WILLIAM: (Singing) Mais fais bouger la tete. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.