In August, when Prince Royce performed “Stand by Me” at the Democratic National Convention and Bad Bunny’s “Pero Ya No” soundtracked a Joe Biden campaign ad, it wasn’t just more evidence of Latin artists hitting the mainstream.
It showed the urgency that many of them feel about politics during the run-up to an election that could be the most important in a generation — especially for a group that has often been on the receiving end of President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies. “It’s time that we have a president that treats us with the dignity we deserve and recognizes our valuable contribution to this country,” Luis Fonsi posted on social media after he and Ricky Martin met with Biden at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Orlando on Wednesday where the Democratic presidential candidate whipped out his phone and played Fonsi’s hit “Despacito.”
While in the past Voto Latino had to convince artists to participate in its nonpartisan voter-registration campaigns, performers and labels are now reaching out to ask how to get involved, according to the organization’s president/CEO, María Teresa Kumar.
“In the Latino community, the levels of anxiety are through the roof,” says Kumar. “It’s time to take charge.”
Artists in other genres feel the same way, and Voto Latino, as well as Spotify and the nonpartisan voter-registration organization HeadCount, have launched music-driven campaigns that target potential new voters with reward-based incentives, social media encouragement and playlists. “We can be angry on social media, we can trend things, and that’s awesome because we educate each other, but at the same time, where’s the real action?” says Becky G, who has participated in Voto Latino’s “En La Lucha” campaign with numerous social media posts. “We have to get out there and vote.”
Since the early 1990s, when Rock the Vote encouraged Generation X to go to the polls, musicians and other celebrities have been telling young people to register and vote. And while nonprofit voter-outreach programs like these must be nonpartisan by law, the people they target — young, interested in pop culture — tend to lean Democrat. (Voters ages 18-34 favor Biden over Trump by 19 points, according to a Monmouth University poll released Sept. 10.) This year, Latinos will be the nation’s largest ethnic minority among eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center, accounting for 13.6% of all eligible voters. And as Kumar points out, “Our voters are young.” Over half (50.8%) of Latino eligible voters are millennials or Gen Z. According to a Telemundo/BuzzFeed News survey released Sept. 10, 60% of Latino eligible voters ages 18-34 say they support Biden, while 19% support Trump.
Pop stars probably won’t change their fans’ political viewpoints — especially in today’s polarized political climate — but evidence shows they can encourage them to head for the polls. In 2019, Ariana Grande’s Sweetener world tour set a HeadCount record with 33,381 registrations. And this year, young people are registering in record numbers. Voto Latino is so far outpacing its 2016 registration numbers by roughly 166% and expects to pass a half-million new voter registrations by the election. HeadCount, which has traditionally partnered with rock tours for its outreach but shifted its focus online in the pandemic, is on pace to register over 200,000 voters by November.
“We would’ve been at about 2,500 events this year, and when COVID-19 hit, we were on tour with Billie Eilish,” says Andy Bernstein, executive director at HeadCount. “We’re going to have our best year ever, all through online and virtual activity.”
Pandemic-imposed limitations have inspired these organizations to innovate online. HeadCount partnered with Global Citizen to launch the “Just Vote” campaign, which aims to engage 1 million young Americans to check their voter registration status, register if necessary and vote, with incentives that include vinyl autographed by Eilish, access to a private virtual concert from Nicky Jam and virtual hangouts with Quavo and DJ Khaled. Taylor Swift is giving away a signed guitar.
“I want to make sure everyone has a chance to use their voice,” says Nicky Jam.
Spotify has committed to election-related editorial, with playlists by young artists like King Princess, Chloe x Halle and Conan Gray encouraging other potential first-time voters to get engaged. The company’s “Play Your Part” campaign includes a “Voter’s Booth Hub” that spotlights news podcasts spanning the political spectrum, from Ben Shapiro to Pod Save America, and breakdowns of the issues that “matter most,” such as social justice and climate change.
Major labels Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group have all launched campaigns to encourage both employees and artists to register and vote. Sony and UMG have given U.S. employees a paid day off on Election Day (Nov. 3). And venues across the country — like The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which are empty due to the pandemic shutdown — will serve as polling sites for early voting (starting Oct. 24) and on Election Day.
“The music industry has always been supportive of voter participation,” says Bernstein. “HeadCount wouldn’t have survived so long without the support of musicians, promoters and managers. So it’s not fair to say the music industry just woke up in 2020. What we have seen is a lot of the companies digging deeper. … Everyone has done something really meaningful.”