A song by a controversial but hugely popular Mexican singer who once projected a giant image of “El Chapo” during one of his concerts has been chosen as the best song of 2023 by Rolling Stone.
“Ella Baila Sola” by Jalisco native Peso Pluma snagged the magazine’s top spot to cap a year that included the 24-year-old artist appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and former President Barack Obama putting a different Peso Pluma song, “La Bebe,” on his 2023 summer playlist.
Recorded in collaboration with Billboard Latin Music Award winners Eslabón Armado, a group based in California, “Ella Baila Sola” went viral on TikTok, rose to No. 1 on Spotify’s global playlist and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 — marking the first time a regional Mexican song made it into the top 10. (Regional Mexican music is a blanket term covering corridos, norteñas, mariachi and ranchera.)
The Rolling Stone accolade came last week, followed by the Los Angeles Times placing it No. 2 in its top 100.
Featuring silky rhythms and Peso Pluma’s gritty, raspy vocals, the song is about a man’s desire to get together with a sexy mystery girl who dances alone.
“The first strums of a prickly requinto [little guitar] clear the way for a burst of chugging charchetas [alto horns] and trombone that give the song a rich, rounded sound that hooks into the listener immediately,” Rolling Stone wrote.
“Ella Baila Sola” is an excellent example of a somewhat new wave of Mexican music called sad sierreños: traditional ballads that are tinged with sadness, often blending acoustic guitars with contemporary sounds, such as an electric bass. Spotify jumped on the trend by creating a “Sad Sierreño” playlist.
In general, however, Peso Pluma’s music falls into the category of corridos tumbados, songs that fuse the sharp, urban lyrics of reggaetón and hip-hop with the instrumentation and melodies of traditional Mexican music.
The songs often reference drugs and glorify cartels and criminal kingpins. Peso Pluma, who wears his hair in a mullet style, often dresses like a gang member and carries props such as guns and faux packs of cocaine. This new genre is related to narcocorridos, or “drug ballads.”
Music industry insider Camilo Lara told the New York Times that artists like Peso Pluma “are striking a nerve” in Mexico by tapping into “the relationship with violence, the relationship with the street, with politics, with what’s happening with fashion.”
Although many Mexicans aren’t comfortable with this style — as indicated in the recent New York Times article, “The World Loves Corridos Tumbados. In Mexico, It’s Complicated” — Lara said, “It’s the most exciting moment in Mexican music in 20 or 30 years.”
Rolling Stone added, “As música Mexicana scaled new heights [in 2023], the cultural phenomenon became impossible to ignore,” and Axios had a recent story headlined, “Behind Mexican regional music’s global explosion.”
Peso Pluma’s real name is Hassan Emilio Kabande Laija and he is the son of a Lebanese Mexican father from Guadalajara and a mother from the cartel-stronghold city of Culiacán, where he spent part of his childhood. He also went to middle school in San Antonio, Texas for two years, and lived in New York and Los Angeles in his teens.
His spontaneous personality, heartfelt comments in interviews and sick dance moves have helped make him a star.
He recorded his first studio album in 2020, but became widely known last year after his song “El Belicón” racked up 10 million YouTube views in three days. (Bélico means war-like, so a belicón is an aggressive, likely heavily-armed man.)
Several of his concerts in Mexico this year were canceled over death threats, including one in Tijuana, where officials went so far as to ban corridos tumbados in all public spaces. There, banners threatening Peso Pluma’s life used the signature “CJNG” in reference to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
By the way, Peso Pluma means “featherweight” in Spanish, an allusion to boxers who are less than 126 pounds.