When most listeners think of regional Mexican music in 2021, they think of uptempo banda tracks, hard-hitting corridos that tell of exploits and dramatic stories, and subgenres like weed and trap corridos, which have been defining a new generation of artists. But ballads have always been an integral part of regional Mexican, with artists such as Joan Sebastian and Juan Gabriel becoming leading icons of the genre.
Now, up and coming acts are espousing a new wave of ballads, tinged with sadness. The new style is often referred to as sad sierreño — with melodies powered by traditional acoustic guitars (a bajo sexto, requinto and bajo quinto) in addition to an electric bass, for a contemporary twist. The end result is an alluring downtempo musical canvas, for lyrics about love and heartbreak.
Inspired by the late Mexican singer Ariel Camacho, who popularized sierreño in 2014 with hit songs “El Karma” and “Te Metiste,” rising regional Mexican acts such as Junior H and teen trio Eslabon Armado are placing all bets on achingly personal and emotional ballads to collectively reflect their generation’s anxieties.
“The current state of the world has brought an amplified need for connection, and artists such as Eslabon Armado and Junior H are providing that connection,” says Krys DeLuna, Latin music programmer at Apple Music. “The difference between past generations and now is the world we live in. Vulnerabilities are subject to our culture, and these new artists are writing about the pains and reflections of their current world.”
After scoring two consecutive chart-topping albums in 2020 — all featuring deep and dark tracks penned by frontman Pedro Tovar — Eslabon Armado’s lyricism goes deeper and gets a bit darker on their latest album Corta Venas, which debuted at No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart in January. “It gives me a Fifty Shades of Grey vibe,” Tovar told his more than 300,000 followers on TikTok before its release.
“I believe in horoscopes, and I’m a cancer — so according to that we’re very emotional, and feeling emotional helps to write good songs,” Tovar tells Billboard. “I didn’t pay attention to lyrics when I was younger. Until one day I started listening to Ariel Camacho’s sad and romantic songs. They inspired me, and from then, I realized that those were the types of songs I wanted to hear and sing.”