Back in April, Yahritza Martínez contributed to 60-plus years of Chicano history when she became the youngest Latin artist to appear on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart at age 15. The Mexican-American singer broke the record that was once held by “La Bamba” crooner Ritchie Valens. While Valens put a Latin twist on rock music, Yahritza also did it her way with her sentimental sierreño ballad that put a youthful spin on age-old regional Mexican music.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Yahritza tells Teen Vogue over the phone while on a break from her high school classes. “I feel very proud of myself and my brothers for making this happen.” Her band Yahritza y Su Esencia, with her older siblings Jairo and Mondo, is part of a new wave of teens on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border who are redefining regional Mexican music for a new generation.
Nearly a decade ago, sierreño music was first popularized by Mexican singer Ariel Camacho in 2014. The guitar-driven subgenre gave regional Mexican music a more youthful and electric feel. Though Camacho’s reign was short-lived when he died at age 22 in a car accident a year later, his lasting influence inspired a movement of kids like Natanael Cano to pick up their guitars. The Hermosillo, Sonora, native went even more against grain to forge his own path in the genre.
Natanael moved to L.A. in 2019 when he signed with Rancho Humilde. His swaggering songs reflected his reality in between both countries, a unique blend of Mexican corridos with a trap music flow. Natanael coined the new genre as “corridos tumbados.” The then 18-year-old amassed over 162 million views on YouTube with his breakthrough hit “El Drip.” His follow-up, the fiery “Soy El Diablo,” caught the attention of Bad Bunny, who jumped on the remix. “¡Viva México!” Bad Bunny shouted in the song.
“I believe no one had ever heard something like what we did,” Natanael reflects in Spanish over Zoom. “[Bad Bunny] liked the song so much. It was very important that artists like Bad Bunny have supported the movement since the beginning.”
With TikTok booming the following year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more teens followed Natanael’s lead and better connected with their peers on the platform. Among them was Bay Area-based group Eslabón Armado, who made a mark with their emo-infused sierreño ballads that reflected singer Pedro Tovar’s bicultural upbringing. “Everyone was on TikTok,” Pedro recalls over Zoom. “Our songs just blew up with people being in quarantine.” The music video for their dark love song “Con Tus Besos” surpassed 139 million views on YouTube. “My life changed a lot. I wasn’t playing backyard parties anymore. I wasn’t doing quinceañeras,” he adds.
Following in Eslabón Armado’s footsteps last year was Riverside, California, native Ivan Cornejo. His take on the Mexican corrido is captivating with an alternative rock influence. Over the phone, he cites Tame Impala and “old bands” like The Strokes, Nirvana, and Radiohead as inspirations. Ivan wrote his breakthrough hit “Está Dañada,” about a girl he was seeing at the time. Before he finished it, they had broken up. “It was going to be a love song, but I ended up making it into a sad love song,” he says. On Spotify, the track amassed over 132 million streams, and it later caught the attention of Bad Bunny collaborator Jhayco, who jumped on the remix. “I felt really blessed that I had one of my favorite artists on one of my favorite songs.”