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The unstoppable appeal of Peso Pluma and the Regional Mexican music scene

Peso Pluma performs with Becky G at the Coachella Stage during the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 14.
Frazer Harrison
Getty Images for Coachella
Peso Pluma performs with Becky G at the Coachella Stage during the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 14.

Peso Pluma has entered his own era.

He is the future that Regional Mexican music labels have been dreaming about for the past four or five years. As other artists in the genre have teetered on the edge of a breakthrough, he is the first of the would-be superstars that labels have been steadily banking on to thrust corridos tumbados, corrido trap and sierreños — modernized takes on historically marginalized genres of guitar and horn-driven music — into the mainstream.

Over the last couple of months, the 23-year-old singer from Jalisco, Mexico, whose raspy voice makes him sound more like a Boomer than a Zoomer with an Edgar mullet, has racked up music history milestone after milestone. And if he isn't on your radar yet, it's probably just a matter of time.

His duet with the group Eslabon Armado, Ella Baila Sola, became the first Mexican music song ever to enter the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, with over 24 million streams. It also peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200.

He's been a monster on Spotify, too. Peso Pluma, who also goes by Doble P, ranks as the No. 5 most-streamed artist in the world on the platform, with five of his collaborations hitting the Top 50 Global chart.

Coachella audiences went wild when he and his diamond encrusted Spider-Man necklace joined singer Becky G on the main stage a few weeks ago. The two crooned to one another, singing the break up song "Chanel." And last week, Mexican American fans tweeted about being on the verge of tears as he performed a solo rendition of Ella Baila Sola on The Tonight Show – the first Regional Mexican musical artist to perform on the show's stage.

In other words, the young star está en el fuego.

From construction worker to headliner

Technically, Peso Pluma is not really Peso Pluma. Rather, he's one of three members of the group who make up Peso Pluma, including his cousin. (The name translates to "feather weight," which he has said described them all when they first got together "as a bunch of skinny guys.") And while in earlier interviews and performances he'd make an effort to explain the difference, he now seems to have adopted the moniker for himself as his popularity explodes and more audiences mistakenly conflate the two.

"People call me that and I just respond," he told the podcast Abstractamente.

His real name is Hassan Emilio Kabande Laija, and just a few years ago, he was working as a waiter at an Italian restaurant in New York's Little Italy. Later, he made about $200 a day in Los Angeles as a construction worker.

"It's not the labor that's hard, it's working under the hot sun," he said.

Now, he's about to embark on a U.S. tour, hitting over 20 cities across the country.

The rags-to-riches aspect of it all isn't lost on him.

"A lot of my success has been based on sacrifice, discipline and keeping my foot on the gas pedal. That type of hustler mentality is ingrained in me and I think, coming from this genre, that discipline is our strength," he recently told Variety.

He added: "We love to work, we love to be in the studio, and we love to continue doing new things because we know that nowadays music is consumed fleetingly — that isn't lost on me."

A Gen Z spin on traditional Mexican music

Like a lot of kids who dream of being famous, Peso Pluma has said he first dreamed of being a soccer star. But when it became clear that wasn't going to pan out, he turned to music.

Raised on hip-hop and reggaeton, he wanted to become a rapper. But, he said, he quickly realized his voice — simultaneously gravelly and nasal — wasn't suited to those styles of music. So he joined the new wave of Mexican Gen Zers who have returned to the traditional country music of their parents and grandparents, putting their own spin on norteñas, corridos and cumbia.

"He was born in 1999! Of course, his music's going to have those influences. How can it not?" Anita Herrera, an artist, curator and cultural consultant who works in Los Angeles and Mexico City told NPR.

Herrera notes that the hip-hop influence doesn't end in the music. Unlike their predecessors, many of the new wave of Nuevo Corrido performers have given up the traditional botas and sombreros. Instead, they sport bucket hats, swap out the silky Versace button downs for Versace t-shirts, and wear Nike Air Force Ones or Jordans.

Herrera was at Coachella where Peso Pluma and Becky G sang their song together.

"Everyone was just loving it," she said. "All of that is what speaks to us. To all of the first-gen [Mexican] kids who are part of the diaspora and grew up here in the U.S. or in the U.S. and in Mexico. To everyone who grew up listening to this music and were made fun of because it wasn't cool. Now, there's no denying it."

El momento Mexicano

The moment, and Peso Pluma's skyrocketing fame, encapsulate a significant cultural shift. The style of music, long considered to be paisa or chunty – both derogatory terms for rural Mexicans — has now been embraced as something cutting-edge, Herrera said.

While Puerto Rico and Colombia have benefited from worldwide embrace of reggaeton over the last two decades, the spotlight is finally moving to Mexico, she said.

"Este es el momento del Mexicano," Herrera declared.

And for proof of that, one need look no further than the No. 1 charting Spotify Global hit — un x100to, a cumbia-reggeaton hybrid by Bad Bunny and Regional Mexican group Grupo Frontera.

The genre has always been popular in Mexico and among the Mexican diaspora. Bands like Los Tigres Del Norte have been selling out stadiums in the U.S. for decades. And in states like California and Texas, as well as Mexican states along the border, there's been a constant crop of new artists who have had significant success. Still, the music and the scene that goes along with it have been relegated to the fringes by the music industry and companies trying to reach into the pockets of Latino customers.

In her job as a consultant with music labels, marketing agencies and clothing and alcohol brands, Herrera said she'd always get shut down when recommending the inclusion of Regional Mexican artists in campaigns or live events.

"It didn't fall under what they thought Latino was," she explained. "For them, it was too low brow ... even though this is where the culture is and this is where the spending power is."

Now, after the quantifiable success of artists like Peso Pluma, Natanael Cano and Fuerza Regida, the same companies are clamoring to work with the artists, she said.

Tik Tok is leading new audiences to Regional Mexican music

Felipe Garrido, a Peruvian economist working in the U.S., agrees that the genre's widespread success has been years in the making.

Garrido is a huge fan of Mexico's regional music and has been tracking the explosion of the corridos tumbados subgenre across streaming music platforms, including YouTube and TikTok. In an April analysis with Chartmetric, Garrido found that the combined total Spotify monthly listeners for Natanael Cano, Junio H and Fuerza Regida – three of the genre's most popular artists — has boomed. Together, their listens increased from 1.6 million at the beginning of 2019 to 54.1 million in 2023, at a compounded annual growth rate of 142%.

Part of their success, and that of Peso Pluma, stems from their presence on TikTok, Garrido said. According to his research, Garrido said "60% of TikTok users, who are primarily Gen Zers, discover new music on TikTok rather than somewhere else."

It's only after they find new music on the platform that they turn to Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube, he added.

Another important factor in the genre's exponential growth is the artists' willingness to collaborate with one another, even across music labels. Of the six hits that Peso Pluma has on Spotify's Global Top 50, only one is a solo song. The others, at Nos. 2, 3, 10,17 and 19, are all with other rising stars.

"That helps them out a lot. It pushes them to be included in most of the [music streaming] services playlists," which is another way new audiences are introduced to the music, Garrido said.

Going global with it

All the trappings of fame — the money, the girls, the cars — are all great, Peso Pluma told Abstractamente. But "getting to work with all of these guys who I've admired for so long is the coolest part of everything that's happening right now," he said.

And he is determined to bring others along for the ride.

"They call it Regional Mexican music but how is that possible?" he asked during a recent interview. "People are listening to corridos even in Japan!"

"I want to get rid of the label," he added, explaining that the genre has transcended the idea that it's regional. "Look how far we've come."

He resists the idea that there's only room for one Spanish language music genre — i.e., reggaeton — for fans to love.

In a mix of metaphors — one about the sun and another about cake — he added, "The sun shines for everyone and everyone can decide how much they want to eat."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.