If the Oscars can embrace non-English nominees, why can't the Recording Academy?

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Bad Bunny
Credit: Getty Images

Last week, I spent my pandemic Thanksgiving awaiting the release of El Último Tour Del Mundo, the latest surprise album from Bad Bunny. When the 16-track project dropped at 11 p.m. ET (midnight in Puerto Rico), I knew from the first few notes that Benito had gifted the world another masterpiece. But as I listened through each new song, I felt sadness creep in as I remembered the events of just two days before, when the Puerto Rican artist received only one general category nomination for the 2021 Grammys — and none for his record-breaking sophomore album, YHLQMDLG.

Despite critical acclaim and becoming the highest charting all-Spanish album in U.S. history, YHLQMDLG was overlooked in every non-Latin category, receiving just a single nomination for Best Latin Pop Album. Meanwhile, "Un Día (One Day)," Bad Bunny's bilingual collaboration with Dua Lipa, J Balvin, and Tainy, is the only song from Latinx artists to be nominated in a general category, though it charted way below many of this year's other Latin hits.

The lack of Latin American representation in the Grammys' heavy-hitting categories isn't unusual, but it's especially disappointing considering the groundbreaking global popularity of YHLQMDLG, even — and especially — among non-Spanish speakers.

The United States has no official language. After English, Spanish is the country's second-most spoken tongue by far, and the U.S. is home to the second-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, over 50 million people, falling only behind Mexico. Bad Bunny's music is not in "another" language for that population — it's in their language. And whether fans understand the lyrics or not, something has clicked. Just this week, Spotify announced that Bad Bunny is the most-streamed artist of the year, with more than 8.3 billion streams since January.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Bad Bunny is technically a U.S. citizen, which makes his erasure from America's biggest night in music even more glaring. Despite being a territory of the United States, the island and its talents have always been ostracized from the American music world. Musicians like Benito, Luis Fonsi, and Ozuna have recently found mainstream success in the States, but industry recognition has been devastatingly slow to follow.

Then there's the critical aspect of YHLQMDLG, which has received more acclaim than many of the English albums nominated for this year's major awards. The album was considered so pivotal that it earned Bad Bunny a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone, along with inclusion on countless year-end lists from Uproxx, Esquire, and others. Even Pitchfork, American music's notoriously choosy watchdog, deemed it worthy of an 8.5 out of 10 rating, ranking it above Taylor Swift's Folklore and Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia, two of the most-nominated albums at the upcoming Grammys. In the recent past, universally acclaimed albums like Beyoncé's Lemonade and Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. famously didn't win Album of the Year, but they were at least nominated for the top prize. So why did the Academy overlook YHLQMDLG?

Bad Bunny has fulfilled every prerequisite and checked every box on his path toward superstardom. YHLQMDLG flows from opening ballad "Si Veo a Tu Mamá" into vigorous club tracks with ease, sprinkling in nods to heavy metal with "Hablamos Mañana" and electropop influences on "Soliá." The 26-year-old even goes so far as to lecture listeners on the importance of consent in "Yo Perreo Sola." He closes out the 20-song album with a thank-you note to fans on "<3," toeing the line between singing and rapping as he reflects on the revolutionary career he's built with our help.

The album is a globally-minded triumph that spans genres, pays homage to reggaeton's OGs, and resonates even with those who don't understand its lyrics. But the problem isn't that some fans can't understand Bad Bunny; it's that the Recording Academy is overlooking a language plenty of people in this country do understand. If all the boundaries YHLQMDLG has broken still aren't enough for the Grammys, it's hard not to wonder whether Spanish-speaking artists, even those who reside in this country, will ever receive their due diligence in the United States.

After finishing my first full listen of El Último Tour Del Mundo last week, I came to a strange realization about my country's relationship with non-English arts. I recalled the historic decision made at the 2020 Oscars to award Korean film Parasite the title of Best Picture, and thought back further, still, to 2019, when the Spanish-language Roma received an unprecedented nine Oscar nominations, taking home a total of three. Both movies deserved all the recognition they received and more, but they forced me to reflect: With everyone from the film Academy to ordinary Americans embracing entertainment in other languages, what excuse could the Grammys possibly have for lagging behind?