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How Xavi Went ‘From Zero’ to No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs With ‘La Diabla’ — Without a Collaboration

today01/05/2024

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The first No. 1 of 2024 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart belongs to 19-year-old Mexican-American artist Xavi, whose “La Diabla” (“The She-Devil”) is a romantic tumbado about a bad boy romancing a bad girl to the tune of a crunchy requinto guitar. Out on Interscope, the song, which rose from No. 4 to No. 1 post-Christmas, is Xavi’s first No. 1 on any Billboard chart. It also topped Spotify’s Global Top 50, a first for a solo regional Mexican act.

Xavi (short for Joshua Xavier Gutiérrez) also scored his fourth week atop Billboard’s Latin Songwriters chart on the strength of “La Diabla,” his previous single “La víctima” (which rose from No. 7 to No. 5 on Hot Latin Songs this week), “Poco a Poco” with Dareyes De La Sierra (at No. 18) and “Modo DND” with Tony Aguirre (at No. 21). 

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It’s quite a performance for the relatively unknown singer-songwriter from Arizona, who was signed to Interscope two years ago when he was still in the early TikTok stage, with no viral hit to his name. 

“We have great respect for the indie labels, but it’s not like he was going viral and we signed him,” says Manny Prado, vp of marketing and A&R for Interscope. “I think it’s a big success for a major label that we were able to get an artist from zero to the global charts, and hopefully next he’ll become a global superstar.” 

Prado, who spent two decades with Sony U.S. Latin, most recently as head of West Coast operations, moved to Interscope in August and took over a blooming regional Mexican roster that also includes Gabito Ballesteros and Iván Cornejo. While he works with all genres of Latin music in his new position, as a Mexican-American, the rise of regional Mexican music has been particularly gratifying, he says. Regional Mexican music — the broad umbrella term given to dozens of subgenres like banda, norteño, corridos and sierreño — has always been one of the foundations of Latin music’s success, both in the United States and Mexico. But it only entered the global consciousness — and the Hot 100 — in the past two years. 

Now, Xavi is part of a new generation of very young Regional Mexican artists whose music is currently the dominant Latin presence on the Hot 100 and the global Latin charts overall. But, unlike most rising stars, who first enter the upper echelons of the charts aided by collaborations and big-name partnerships, Xavi has done so alone. Both “La Diabla” and “La víctima,” his two big hits, are solo efforts by design. Since signing him, Interscope has focused on developing both his style and his songwriting. His more romantic approach — Xavi has yet to enter “bélico,” or drug-related songwriting terrain — coupled with a baby face and a vibrant, acoustic sound, has given him broad appeal. And Interscope’s focus on social amplification has taken his music even further. 

In recognition of Xavi’s Hot Latin Songs chart feat, Prado is Billboard’s Executive of the Week. Below, he talks about the rise of Regional Mexican with a younger generation, why they decided not to make “La Diabla” a duet, how they plan to broaden Xavi’s reach beyond the Latin audience and more.

You’re based in Los Angeles but report to Nir Seroussi, who runs Interscope’s Miami office, with a growing Latin roster. How important is Mexican music within that?

Here at Interscope, we don’t have an “Interscope rock” or an “Interscope country,” and we don’t have a division we call Latin or Mexican. What we do is we assemble a specific team depending on the artist, and I’m in charge of all the “Miami” roster, [including] Kali Uchis and Karol G. Regional Mexican has grown exponentially. We already had Xavi when I came in, as well as Iván Cornejo and Marca Registrada [among many others]. And the common theme is they’re all young. The majority are Mexican-American, which I love, born in the United States, just like me. My parents are Mexican immigrants, so for me, it’s an honor to work with these types of artists that I have so much in common with. It’s all about respecting each individual artist, having the deepest respect for their roots and giving them the service they want. Sometimes we work with our general-market company. We don’t have borders. 

Regional Mexican music has always been a backbone of Latin music but has never been this global. Why do you think it’s having such a moment right now? 

They’re Gen Z-ers, and I think that’s the difference. For example, I was at Amoeba Music, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d see Natanael Cano and Gabito Ballesteros t-shirts. That’s the beauty of today that has never happened: The younger generation is growing up with these artists. When I was growing up it was all traditional music, there was nothing really young. Now it’s cool to like Mexican; the way they dress, the way they talk, they’re very relatable. And you can be an artist from Mexico and have the same things. 

Within this big crop of acts, what makes Xavi stand out?

When Nir and the team first met Xavi, they immediately recognized a genuine artist in the traditional sense: a phenomenal songwriter who can sing and is also relatable. In a sea of artists lacking these qualities, Xavi stood out. People are growing weary of the superficial, and they crave authenticity — the real deal. And Xavi is the real deal. We have a daily sentiment report that we’re very much obsessed with. 

A sentiment report? Can you explain?

We go into social media and look at every little comment. For example, if there’s a post on TikTok, we’ll see what the general sentiment is. This team is amazing. What sets Xavi apart by just looking at that report and talking to people is his mannerisms, his style, he’s being compared to the biggest artists on the planet. People like him. Tiene angel.

You said that social media has played a huge role in Xavi’s rise. Can you point to some examples in which Interscope mined that? 

Our digital marketing team prioritized reaching out to genre-specific music reviewers to encourage them to discuss Xavi. We presented them with the project, and they consistently came back with extremely positive comments. Additionally, we organically documented special moments in the studio, video shoots and interviews, keeping Xavi’s audience captivated and well-informed. It wasn’t easy. A lot of people said, “Who is that kid?” The music also changed and he found his direction. 

How did the music change? 

He just found his style. It became like tumbadito romántico. Before it was a lot more romantic, a little poppier. Now he has more of a Mexican edge in the music. Another thing is, “La Diabla” talks about women in a very positive light. We’re seeing the female population really embrace it. In the genre, it’s not a thing to write about women in a positive light. 

I’m also struck by the fact that his two biggest hits are solo tracks instead of collabs. Was this a deliberate decision? 

Yes, and we’re very proud of it. He actually made history as the only solo Mexican artist to hit No. 1 on the Spotify chart. We wanted to be different and we felt that Xavi really had the talent, that distinctive voice to accomplish that goal. When we saw “La víctima” take off like it did, and then we had “La Diabla,” we said, “Let’s keep going.” We did think about making it a duet and we’ve had various artists approach [us], but ultimately the decision was, we’re going alone. We felt we had so much momentum that we thought we shouldn’t wait, even though the holidays were coming.

How did you promote the track? 

We had a Posada at Interscope studios before the holidays, around December 14. It’s for sure the first regional Mexican event done at the historic Interscope studios in L.A., and we invited DSPs, influencers, traditional media, and that’s how we kicked off the single. And we amplified everything through that event. The goal was to surpass “La víctima.” Honestly, the goal was not a global No. 1.

I know Xavi was signed two years ago, and shortly after, he was in a big car accident that required hospitalization, extensive plastic surgery and which sidelined him for a bit. How did that affect his development? Was there a tipping point? 

I don’t think this happened overnight. And we’ve always been working on music since he got signed, and that’s what it’s all about: A&R and creating awareness. He really wasn’t doing media because he was going through a moment there with the accident. But he came out of it and he wanted to give it his all. Everything clicked all at once, even though it was two years in the making. But I want to stress: It wasn’t overnight. We have four songs now on the global charts. And that’s rare nowadays. We have great respect for the indie labels but it’s not like he was going viral and we signed him. Interscope came across a video, they shared it with Nir, Nir decided to sign him. I think it’s a big success for a major label that we were able to get an artist from zero to getting on the global charts, and hopefully, next he’ll become a global superstar. Really rare nowadays.  

Are there any specific examples of how the Latin team collaborated with Interscope’s general-market departments on “La Diabla”?

Once the record gained traction, we collaborated with Gary Kelly‘s team (Interscope’s GM/chief revenue officer) to expand its reach beyond Latin playlisting, successfully securing a spot on Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits. All the DSPs have been very supportive, but it hasn’t been automatic. We are also closely working with Cara Donatto (executive vp/head of media) and Xavier Ramos (executive vp of pop & rock marketing) and their respective teams on general-market media outreach and marketing initiatives.

What’s next for Xavi?

He recently signed with WME and we’re working hand in hand with them and working on a tour. He recently signed a publishing deal with Universal Latin. We don’t have plans for an album yet, so we will keep releasing singles. And we’re releasing the video for “Sin Pagar la Renta,” which never had a video when it was originally released last year. That’s also unusual. 

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