Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2018

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20th anniversary Billboard Latin Music Awards show takes over Mandalay Bay

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Eric Jamison/AP

Daddy Yankee, left, and Luis Fonsi dominated the Billboard Latin Music Awards with “Despacito.”

In some ways the musical evolution of the Las Vegas Strip is a mirror for trends across the country and around the world—the nightclubs, arenas and concert halls on Las Vegas Boulevard are a musical melting pot concentrated from the rest of the world’s diverse and changing tastes.

Take Latin music, which is definitely having a moment right now. Like country music, it has long had solid footing in Las Vegas, with concerts built mostly around holidays and special events. Today, both enjoy year-round success on the Strip, and while country’s popularity is on the rise, Latin music is exploding everywhere thanks to an exciting crop of young artists creating connections with hip-hop, R&B and other pop and “urban” genres.

Those artists and their music were on display Thursday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center for the Billboard Latin Music Awards, broadcast live on Telemundo. It was the first time the event and its companion Latin Music Week programming visited Las Vegas—it’s been held in Miami in recent years—and it seemed to find an appropriately flashy fit. To return to the country comparison, the show was just as big as the recent Academy of Country Music Awards show at MGM Grand Garden Arena, and definitely louder.

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Jennifer Lopez performs new song "El Anillo" at the Billboard Latin Music Awards on April 26.

It came as no surprise that “Despacito,” the song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee that Justin Bieber hopped aboard on its way to becoming one of the biggest pop hits in recent memory, dominated by winning six awards. Reggaeton king Daddy Yankee won eight awards to lead the show and Puerto Rican singer and songwriter Fonsi won seven, while Colombian star Shakira took home five awards and rising reggaeton star Ozuna claimed the coveted Artist of the Year award.

Two Vegas headliners who have contributed considerably to the prominence of Latin music on the Strip offered two of the most electrifying performances of the show. Ricky Martin, a resident at the Park Theater, opened the show with a scorching performance of his new single “Fiebre,” complete with fiery special effects and the track’s featured artists Wisin and Yandel. And Jennifer Lopez, who had already wowed the red carpet crowd with hair extensions longer than her shimmering lilac dress, premiered her sultry Spanish single “El Anillo.” Lopez is wrapping up her run at Planet Hollywood in September.

Other standout performances in the live setting included Ozuna teaming with rap sensation and social media star Cardi B on “La Modelo”; a sizzling rendition of “El Prestamo” from Colombian singer Maluma, who performs his own show in this very arena on May 5; pop group CNCO eliciting screams with “Mamita”; and mariachi singer Christian Nodal, who won Regional Mexican Song of the Year and Regional Mexican Solo Artist of the Year, who displayed just some of the diversity contained within the label of Latin music.

After witnessing this show, it’s clear the current “Latin explosion” is going to be reverberating around the world for a long time. Hopefully, Vegas will have a front row seat if the Latin Billboards keep coming back to the Strip.