K-pop Stars Are Betting on Spanish Tracks

By: Valentina Reni
Thumbnail courtesy of Rebeca Gomes

Billboard reports that Latin music revenues hit $1.1 billion in 2022, surpassing one billion dollars for the first time. The growing audience for Latin music is a promising development for musical artists, and South Korean entertainment companies know it. For a long time, K-pop artists have cultivated an ever-increasing presence among Latin audiences. However, in the past few years, K-pop stars have made strategic moves to tap into the Latin market by leaning into multilingual lyrics and locally renowned artists. Now, they are betting on full-Spanish tracks.

The Latin Music Market

Latin music and musicians have shaped North American mainstream music for years. In the past two decades alone, the astronomical rise of Latin artists in pop culture has yielded globally popular singles and cross-cultural collaborations. The market has seen another stellar year (so far) in 2023, showing no signs of slowing its booming growth.

Musicians like Bad Bunny, Karol G, and J Balvin have consistently been present on mainstream American radio. Dominating the charts are songs like “I Like It,” “Dákiti,” and “Mamii,” which bring Latin musicians to the forefront of this decade’s pop culture. In 2019, J Balvin became the first Latin act to headline Chicago’s iconic Lollapalooza music festival — Karol G followed up in 2023 as the first female Latin singer to headline the festival. This came on the heels of her album Mañana Será Bonito becoming the first Spanish-language album by a female artist to top the Billboard 200 chart. Equally noteworthy was Bad Bunny’s “Me porto bonito” becoming the first all-Spanish single to take the top spot on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart.   

K-pop and Latin America 

K-pop artists regularly experiment with different genres, so dabbling in Latin music is by no means a novelty. Notably, in the course of their almost twenty-year career, SUPER JUNIOR has collaborated with popular Latin artists Leslie Grace and Reik to release songs boasting Latin instrumentals and Spanish lyrics. In 2018, the group released “Lo Siento” with Leslie Grace to great acclaim of their Latin fandom. The music video amassed over 100 million views and SUPER JUNIOR the first South Korean act to enter the Latin Billboard charts.

Soloist Chungha released “DEMENTE” featuring Puerto Rican rapper Guaynaa ahead of her 2021 album QUERENCIA. Chungha’s venture into the realm of Latin music was more than a shot in the dark. The singer, who spent part of her childhood living in Texas, studied Spanish in preparation for the release, ultimately delivering a seamless performance in a non-native language. The success of this release, which received coverage by notable publications like RollingStone, mitú, and Excélsior is a testament to K-pop’s versatility.

Most recently, K-pop boy group TOMORROW X TOGETHER (TXT) collaborated with Anitta for the release of “Back for More,” which premiered at the VMAs in New York City. The song features a groovy rhythm that combines upbeat K-pop percussion with Western disco pop, as well as tones of funk during Anitta’s verse. It’s an effortless fusion of Korean pop and Latin pop that somehow shines as a Western mainstream release. 

In addition to singing in Spanish and collaborating with locally known Latin American artists, K-pop idols have begun to acknowledge the power of their Latin American fanbases. In 2019, SM Entertainment brought their annual SMTOWN joint artist concert to South America for the first time with a performance in Chile. Further, groups with massive mainstream popularity, like BTS and BLACKPINK, have included South American stops on their world tours, catering to a large audience of loyal fans. 

A Latin Remix

K-pop groups are beginning to tap into the power of the Latin music market with Spanish versions of their singles. Rather than simply collaborating with a Latin artist and combining Spanish and Korean on one track, groups like Lapillus and TFN are taking a chance on all-Spanish lyrics that connect with their audience in a new way.

With their 2022 hit “When The Sun Goes Down,” TFN was the first K-pop boy group to release a full Spanish single. The group returned this year with their sophomore Spanish track, “Ice Cream.” TFN continues to break down language barriers by pushing the limits of K-pop’s global influence. Similarly, fellow MLD Entertainment girl group Lapillus surprised fans with a Spanish version of their Korean single, “ULALA,” on August 18. The sextet went on to perform their single on the Mexican TV show Venga la Alegría

The Future of K-pop

Genre-hopping and genre-fusion across releases are commonplace for K-pop artists. Since the industry’s inception, South Korea’s pop music acts have drawn elements from diverse sounds to create uniquely catchy tracks. The past decade has seen K-pop idols’ explosion into global superstardom, expanding the genre’s reach and exposing the musicians to even more sources of inspiration. As K-pop artists continue to explore ways to connect with their growing and passionate international audience, delving further into the world of Latin music seems like a good bet for South Korea’s pop musicians.

Want to read more about K-pop songs and the sounds they’re tapping into? Check out EnVi’s breakdown of the rise of reggaeton-inspired hits in K-pop here!