Image Credit: Netflix
The end of the last decade brought Spanish-speaking music to the forefront of global charts and attention. The breakthrough of the Reggaeton genre with songs such as ‘Mi Gente’ and ‘Despacito’ – one of only ten songs sung in a foreign language to ever reach number one in the UK paved the way for more music of a Latin style. The most streamed song of summer 2019 was ‘Señorita’, which demonstrated the widespread appeal of Latin pop. The good news for Spanish speakers? It’s not just the music industry which has seen this trend: while maybe slightly more subtle, Spanish-speaking television series production has become a growing phenomenon.
Between 2015 and 2018 the number of Spanish TV series made in Spain had grown by a huge 52 per cent. Spain – and in particular Madrid – has become a major TV production hub, with Netflix opening its first European production hub there last year. Speaking on the topic, CEO Reed Hastings said “we’re following what our members around the world want to watch… they want to watch Spanish shows.” And while this article will mostly focus on Spanish series available on Netflix, this is a market which both HBO, Amazon and other video streaming platforms are racing to be a part of. The recent success of series such as Elite and *La Casa De Papel (Money Heist) *has demonstrated that to many people, subtitled TV is no longer a border they are unwilling to cross.
Perhaps the first trace of Spanish-speaking TV breaking into markets such as the UK is with two series which were shown on Netflix: Gran Hotel (Grand Hotel) and Velvet.
Gran Hotel, which first ran on Spain’s Antena 3 channel from 2011-13, proved to be a big hit, with an IMDb rating of 8.4/10. The plot, set in early 20th century Spain, tells the story of a young man called Julio (Yon González) who goes in search of his sister. She had been a maid working at the hotel, however when she suddenly stopped sending letters back home to her family Julio decided to find out why. Upon arrival Julio discovers that his sister has vanished, he’s told that she was fired, but in his mind the facts just don’t add up. The story covers his subsequent mission of finding out exactly what transpired and the whereabouts of his sister; a goal which will lead him into many a dangerous situation. He must navigate his way between members of the matriarchal family who own the hotel to try and uncover secrets which those more powerful than himself want to keep hidden. While slightly romantic, the series also highlights issues of class, prejudice and family loyalty. With clever plots, a storyline which takes you on the same journey as many characters and with no lack of extremely tense nail-biting scenes, it’s likely you’ll forget that you’re even reading English subtitles.
If you don’t like romance, then definitely give the next series a pass. Velvet, written by the same creators as Gran Hotel, largely follows the love story of the two main characters, Alberto (Miguel Silvestre) and Ana (Paula Echevarría) in 1950s Spain. Alberto, the future heir of the major Velvet fashion store and brand, returns to Spain after completing his British education. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that he was originally sent there by his father to try and break his emotional attachment to Ana, a simple seamstress at the store. The series focuses on Alberto and Ana’s reintroduction to one another and the love story that follows. This is one to watch if you enjoy fashion or music. When I watched this series, I continuously found myself noticing the soundtrack which accompanies the show. By the time I finished it I think I could even sing along to half the songs (watch it before you judge me)!
The fact that these series were streamed so heavily in non-Spanish speaking countries proved the business model being pursued was one which would work. This has led to a continued increase in the availability of Spanish-speaking shows in countries whose native language is not Spanish. The fact that Netflix has opened a TV production hub in Spain goes to show the popularity of these shows especially when you consider that Netflix has only been available in Spain for five years, and in South America for nine. I think this success has been made possible for two main reasons.
Firstly, we stream TV content in greater amounts than ever before. In 2019 47 per cent of UK households had a subscription to one of the biggest four streaming platforms operating in the country. The ease with which we can stream and the astonishing amount of TV that younger generations watch, mixed with algorithms that know us well, means we are more likely to give something new a chance. Netflix knows what genres you like, and so do you, because you’ve likely watched all of the English-speaking series available in that genre, (probably when you should have been doing uni work). That opens a market for non-English series which just would not have existed before streaming platforms, and on many platforms these series are actively pushed towards their non-native target audience.
Secondly, I think as a generation we are more exposed to a wider variety of cultures than ever before. We are the citizens of the world, the generation who sing along (cringe) to ‘Despacito’, who follow Korean pop groups, who go for Japanese Sushi, who are used to globalism and are overwhelmingly supportive of internationalism. In short – we don’t care that we have to read subtitles because the show’s in a different language.
Whatever the reason, Spanish-speaking TV is thriving, so much so that companies like Netflix are rapidly creating more and more Spanish original series. The two most famous for Netflix which continue to be huge hits are Elite and La Casa De Papel. I’ll briefly explain these two shows, before mentioning a few other very worthwhile Spanish speaking shows available on Netflix.
Elite, a series set in the present day, follows the journey of three working class teenagers who are awarded bursaries to an exclusive private school in Spain. The series explores the secrets of the rich and powerful studying at the school and the clashes with the new students’ experience. When a murder occurs, things get heated to the next level. This series is not one to start unless you have a week free that you don’t mind losing to a binge of Netflix watching.
I must admit that I have tried multiple times to watch La Casa De Papel and have just never found that I clicked with it. It is, however, incredibly popular. The basic plot of the story, set-in modern-day Spain, centres around a criminal mastermind who brings together eight people who have nothing to lose. His aim? Only to try and pull off the biggest heist in history. It was renewed for another series in 2018 and part two of that new series airs on April 2020 – so get catching up.
The fact that I’ve run out of room to talk in depth about any more of the now prevalent Spanish-speaking series goes to show how many successes there’s been. A final few I would really recommend watching are Ingobernable, Las Chicas Del Cable (Cable Girls), and Altar Mar (High Seas).