As regional Mexican stars like Peso Pluma and Grupo Frontera continue to scale unprecedented heights in pop charts across the globe, one has to ask: what’s in the sauce?
Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Edgar Barrera has left his fingerprints all over this electrifying new era of Latin American sounds, drawing inspiration from both the tropics and his home state of Texas. After wrapping up a winning streak in 2023—highlighted by regional Mexican-inspired numbers he wrote with Shakira and Bad Bunny —Barrera is now the lone Hispanic nominee for Songwriter of the Year, Non-Classical at the 2024 Grammys.
“I’m not used to being the frontman,” says the dapper 33-year-old, beaming in via Zoom call from his immaculate Spanish-style home in Miami. “I’ve always stayed behind the curtain. But I’m very excited and grateful for the Grammy nomination, because it’s one of the few awards shows that focuses on the creators. In the music industry, everything starts with a song.”
Born in McAllen, Barrera was raised on both sides of the Rio Grande Valley. His family split time between the small Texan town of Roma and Ciudad Miguel Alemán in Tamaulipas, Mexico; his father, Luis Alberto Barrera, was a vocalist in the popular cumbia band Mister Chivo. It’s only in recent years that Edgar—a seasoned pop songwriter for acts like Maluma, Selena Gomez and Camila Cabello—has been able to channel his classic Tejano upbringing in the studio. In 2022 he founded BorderKid Records, a subsidiary label under Sony Music Latin, to help incubate the talents of fellow border kids and turn their tequila-drenched torch songs into worldwide hits.
“I come from a really small town, where being a writer is not a real profession,” says Barrera. “Not like being a teacher, an engineer or a police officer. I want to show people that you can dedicate your life to music. You just have to protect your work, your copyrights and royalties, because that is our income.”
Barrera won his last Grammy in 2015, when Más Corazón Profundo, the 2014 album by Colombian pop star Carlos Vives, received the honors for Best Tropical Album. He’s also the most nominated musician at the Latin Grammys, where he has collected 21 awards since 2012; in 2023, the Latin Recording Academy named him both Songwriter and Producer of the Year.
“If every artist wrote their own songs, I wouldn’t have a job,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s important for writers to be respected.”
Barrera details what it was like to work with Latin music’s biggest sensations—and explains exactly what went down with Madonna in the studio during the making of her Spanish-infused album, Madame X.
“Un x100to” – Grupo Frontera & Bad Bunny (2023)
The story of [Grupo] Frontera starts with my brother-in-law, who opened a tire shop. The inauguration was a carne asada—a small party of close friends and family. He hired a local band to perform, and told me: ‘You should support this band. They’re huge fans of your work.’ At first I was like, ‘What do you know about music?’ But I’d just opened a record label called Border Kid, and I wanted to support an act from my hometown.