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Alright, you crazy kids. Let’s talk about Juan Gabriel’s Creedence Clearwater Revival cover.

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Today I received a quite a few inbox messages and social media tags from my friends asking if I’d seen/heard Juan Gabriel’s new cover and video of “Have you ever seen the rain?,” a great song popularized by the even greater band Creedence Clearwater Revival. I figured this is a good opportunity to update Rictus, which neither José or myself have done in a while — and both of us have a good reason but we’ll talk about it some other time — and also to vent some of my anxiety with the recent Juan Gabriel’s Dúo records.

First, a bit about this cover, according to Billboard:

The 66-year-old leading Mexican singer-songwriter, who won the Top Latin Album honor for his Latin chart-topping duets set Los Dúo at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, penned his own Spanish version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” titled “Gracias al Sol.” The sunnier take on the John Fogerty song that foreshadowed the 1972 break up of CCR will be included on the bilingual album Quiero Creedence, a Latin tribute to the Bay Area hitmakers, set for release by Concord Picante on July 29.

In case you haven’t seen or heard the song, here ya go:

 

Okay, the bad: I hate the way Juan Gabriel hippie’d up the song. The original lyrics are melancholic and sad, and they go great with the song’s melody:

“I want to know: have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?”

But for some odd reason, Juan “the meteorologist” Gabriel robbed some poor weather girl of her cue cards and presented his loot as song lyrics:

“No, today is neither hot nor cold. The weather is good thanks to the sun.”

WTF?!

Unsurprisingly, Juaga’s sunny attitude seems to be in line with the unnerving optimism which has stunk up his Dúo records. Like a lonely, depressed aunt who doubles up on her antidepressants during family gatherings, he’s creeping people out by being overly cheery and motherly.

 

juanga outfit 2

The good? Lyrics not withstanding, the cover is actually decent, and Juanga’s outfit is fucking amazing. Also, this is the first time in a very long time that we actually get to see him in a more conventional frontman role. Unlike most of Juan Gabriel’s performances, where there’s always some 100 person band in the background, here Gabriel is actually part of the band, similar to the way Morrissey presents himself with his bandmates. Sure, Juanga and Morrissey are always gonna get top billing over anybody else, but in “Gracias al sol” the “Divo de Juarez” positions himself as part of the gang, as one of the boys.

But the real takeaway here is that Juan Gabriel doesn’t need to make shitty collaborations in order to hold our attention. Even if this is a questionably-translated cover, Juanga still dazzles, still fascinates. All he has to do now is get back to making music for himself and by himself.

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Why 6 of YouTube’s top 10 music videos of 2017 are in Spanish, explained

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YouTube released its annual list of the most popular music videos of 2017. 6 out of 10 of those videos are in Spanish, but more specifically, they’re from reggaetoneros. How did this happen? I’ll tell you.

First, let’s look at the list:

  1. Luis Fonsi – Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee
  2. Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
  3. J Balvin, Willy William – Mi Gente
  4. Maluma – Felices los 4
  5. Bruno Mars – That’s What I Like
  6. Chris Jeday – Ahora Dice ft. J. Balvin, Ozuna, Arcángel
  7. Nicky Jam – El Amante
  8. Jason Derulo – Swalla (feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign)
  9. DJ Khaled – I’m the One ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne
  10. Enrique Iglesias – Súbeme a la radio ft. Descemer Bueno, Zion & Lennox

1) So reggaeton is super popular now, huh?

Duh. It’s been mildly popular in Latin America since the late ’80s, but in the mid ’00s Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino LP essentially propelled the scandalous genre into the big leagues. I recently covered reggaeton’s mainstream success in this long-ass rant.

2) You knew “Despacito” was gonna be on the list, but how come it’s not the Justin Bieber remix?

“Despacito” was already popular in the Spanish-speaking world way before the Canadian got to it – in fact, I think the song had been out for almost 6 months when Justino Bieberto released his own “remix” (basically the same song sprinkled with some new phrases on top).

If 5 other Spanish-sung tracks made it to YouTube’s top 10 without Bieber’s help, it’s a curious indication that Justin probably helped himself out more than he helped Fonsi-Yankee.

3) How come Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Britney, or any of America’s most popular singers are not in the top 10, since they usually dominate it?

Well, not all of them have released new music. Taylor Swift did, and the fact that she didn’t crack this top 10 is quite interesting.

But also not interesting at all, because maybe, just maybe, audiences might finally be tired of listening to the same 4 Swedish producers over, and over, and over.

Reggaeton is old hat to most Latinos, but to an international audience, that shit is fresh.

4) But, but, but AMUUURICAAA, nationalism, the English language, Trump, white power!

Listen, ever since MTV became a thing, most white teenagers in America want to be anything but white, even if the Trump era appears to say otherwise. Those same teenagers may turn conservative country music lovers later in life – it happened to my skater friends from high school — but, as young bucks, that “urban” lifestyle really titillates white people. That’s why Eminem is, much to the horror of this writer, still a thing.

Point is, reggaeton plays into all of the “urban” aesthetics, plus white America always has a Latin-curious thing going on (see “La bamba,” “Rico suave,” “Macarena,” “Suavemente,” or any other crossover hit).

5) Is reggaeton even reggaeton anymore? Or “urban”? Or whatever the fuck?

Nope. Besides a few exceptions, current reggaeton is basically just regular pop music with a different backup track (drum machine pattern, mostly). The original reggaeton, which was offensive, misogynist, political, highly sexualized and demonized, has been sanitized for mass consumption.

Again, I covered all of that here.

6) Are that many people in the US really, really listening to watered-down reggaeton? Let’s talk numbers.

Yes and no. This YouTube list is a global list, not just an American list. That indicates that a lot of people in the rest of the world also caught the reggaeton fever. But, speaking of numbers, there’s another possible reason as to why this genre suddenly blew the fuck up on YouTube.

There’s over 600 million people in Latin America. That’s double the amount of US Americans, but people Latin America may not be consuming their music the way many Americans do. I speak of iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, etc. Some of those are paid services, and I’m inclined to believe most people in Latin America are not paying for them. Americans probably are.

I hypothesize that people’s personal radio stations in Latin America consist entirely YouTube videos, and not Deezer/Pandora/Spotitidaltunes playlists. All of this means that Americans may be amassing more numbers on paid services instead of just YouTube.

7) How come there’s no women on this list?

Well, check out #3 again, but also know that there’s not that many reggaetoneras, which is a shame.

At some point, Ivy Queen managed to develop an audience, but, sadly, she’s a bit past her prime now, and I really can’t see her making a significant comeback. There’s a few new prospects, such as Tomasa del Real and Ms Nina, but I can’t see them being allowed into the Balvin/Maluma/Yankee/Jam club anytime soon.

There’s also Cardi B., and she sings reggaeton songs in her car, nail salons, and other places, apparently. But she’s not really a part of the reggaeton boom — not yet, anyway. (Give it time, though.)

8) Um, is Enrique Iglesias technically a reggaetonero? Wasn’t he, like, some dorky rich kid in loose sweaters?

Enrique was a dorky rich kid in loose sweaters, but that was back in the ’90s. Later he moved to Miami, started hanging out with Pitbull, Wisin & Yandel, Romeo Santos, and “reinvented” himself as a dorky rich kid with reggaetonero friends. Now he piggybacks off whatever trend is popular in the mainstream, just like most global stars, really.

It’s good for Quique’s career, I guess. But probably not for his lineage, since his dad appears to be ashamed of him. Isabel Preysler, his mom, is dating Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel laurete, so I can’t imagine her being super proud of her use-an-ass-as-a-pillow son:

So now you know.

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Hate reggaeton? You’re probably racist. It’s all you listen to? You may have terrible taste in music.

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Earlier this year, Nicky Jam, a popular reggaeton artist, picked up various awards at Premios Billboards, Telemundo’s take the Latin Grammy Awards. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” said Nicky while on stage, “we used to knock on many doors in an attempt to get our music played, but they’d tell us ‘no,’ and we even got banned.” By “they,” Nicky was probably referring to Telemundo, Univision, and other Latino networks.

Over a decade ago, reggaeton was treated like an embarrassing genre that had to be included in their awards shows because, much to the horror of all those conservative networks, a massive amount of people had started perreando hasta abajo. (That means “dancing” in 2017 Latino lingo, white people.)

All fingers pointed towards one culprit: Daddy Yankee. Specifically, his groundbreaking LP Barrio Fino.

Without going too deep into its roots, it’s safe to say that reggaeton has been around since the late ‘80s, when artists like El General and Vico C. made a name for themselves producing “urban” tunes sung in Spanish. Many underground artists kelp pumping out low-key hits ever since, but the modern reggaeton craze didn’t fully catch on in all of the Americas until the mid ‘00s. That’s when Daddy blew the disco doors wide open with tracks like “Gasolina” and “Lo que pasó, pasó.”

Many nerdy arguments can be had about who’s the most talented or original artist within el género, but Barrio Fino definitely marked a turning point for the historically-marginalized genre. Suddenly reggaeton was awarded a real seat at the table, and while that seat may have been a wobbly baby chair, its most prominent artists eventually made their to the front of the banquet.

John McCain & Daddy Yankee, for some reason.

During another speech at the Premios Billboard, Nicky Jam happily gloated about reggaeton’s success:

“We used to be shunned, but now el género is picking up all of the awards.”

Nicky was right. “Despacito” is currently the most popular song on YouTube, and Bad Bunny, a newcomer who’s been signed to a well-known reggaeton label for barely a year, is already massively popular (although he performs “trap,” not reggaeton, even if bigwig regguetonero’s are responsible for his grooming). 

Steve Aoki, Bad Bunny, Raul De Molina, French Montana, Lili Estefan, and J Balvin @ 2017 Latin Grammy Awards

Why would anybody hate reggaeton to begin with? Well, a lot of songs are vulgar and misogynist, so there’s that. 

But there’s more, such as elements of racism, classism, and Latin America’s own brand of conservatism. Author Petra Rivera-Rideau offered some interesting insight to the The Atlantic:

“The story of reggaeton’s emergence in Puerto Rico also exposes the persistence of anti-black racism there. In Puerto Rico, reggaeton was tied to public-housing developments that in the ’90s were part of an anti-crime initiative called Mano Dura Contra el Crimen, headed by the then-governor Pedro Rosselló. The discourse around the campaign was heavily racialized: Young, predominantly non-white men were seen as perpetrators of crime. At the same time that started happening, reggaeton was becoming more popular. Crime and drugs, which were the issues that provided the so-called justification of Mano Dura, became attributed to reggaeton singers and fans. It became a very maligned music.”

Ir short, reggaeton used to be considered ghetto music for ghetto people, just like hip hop or cumbia.

Besides racism and classism – because light-skinned men, such a Residente from Calle 13, were also despised – Latin America, largely Catholic and conservative, also has a huge problem with sexual repression. It’s another reason why reggaeton, an erotic and, again, often misogynistic genre, never sat well with pearl-clutching Latino parents.

Calle 13’s Residente & Shakira

Beyond any doubt, reggaeton is currently the new pop – at least in Latin America. But its triumphant success does come with a heavy price in the form of musical monoculture.

This grievance was recently vented by Aleks Syntek, a Mexican composer. Aleks, a long-time purveyor of radio-friendly pop, gave an interview where he expressed his frustration with the genre, calling it “music from apes”:

The singer’s comments where highly-criticized – and rightfully so – but Aleks did make an important point:

“I’ve begun seeing a lot of artists, who never record urban music, suddenly recording reggaeton. I don’t know if labels are forcing them to do that.”

Syntek’s suspicions are backed up by reggaeton’s biggest victory: “Despacito.” After being in the music business for many years, Luis Fonsi finally hit the big time with the chart-topping juggernaut.

Yet, most of Fonsi’s catalog still consists of cloying ballads and soft pop tunes, such as this boring collaboration with Syntek, incidentally.

Another recent – and perhaps more surprising – reggaeton convert is Chayanne, one of Latin America’s most beloved singers. A favorite Latin Papí here at Rictus, Chayanne released a new single earlier this month, and it features Ozuna, one of reggeaton’s rising stars.

“Choka, choka” is catchy, well-crafted pop. While most fans praised the collaboration, calling it “an update” for the 49-year-old music veteran, others cringed at the sight of Chayanne’s submission. (His awkward gang-banger gaits, seen around 1:33, probably didn’t help.)

Chayanne’s compliance is highly telling. He’s a big popstar with a long, solid career, and millions of adoring fans. He could easily maintain the rest of his career doing a “top hits” tour every year, and nobody would complain.

Chayanne & Vannesa Williams starred in the movie Dance With Me.

But the fact that a star of Chayanne’s caliber caved to the trend means that Syntek’s intuition may be, quite unfortunately, right: Major labels are hot and heavy for reggaeton, and they’re very, very anxious to make some coin.

Those same labels, along with established artists, usually don’t put too much thought into making highly original music, or developing serious artistic expression. They care about making money, and do so through catchy, repetitive singles, and big tours.

So if God-like Chayanne has been brought to his knees, it means labels are working extra hard to defang a rough, edgy, political, misogynist, and offensive product in order to make it accessible for the masses.

This process has been under way ever since records like Barrio Fino began to influence popular taste. Now, songs like “Despacito,” which bares little resemblance – or edge – to a classic reggaeton song, are offered as the final product.

Other subtle flavors are on the table, too, and pretty boy reggaeton is being served by Maluma, while J Balvin recently claimed his brand of reggaeton will now be familiar (family-friendly).

Ironically, now that reggaeton is openly embraced, reggaetoneros seem to have lost interest in their cherished género. During this month’s Latin Grammy Awards, Luis Fonsi performed a salsa-EDM take of “Despacito,” Maluma sang “Felices los 4” with an orchestra, and Nicky Jam opened up with an acoustic version of “El amante.”

Nicky Jam during a press conference.

While there’s more satisfaction in listening to Los Wálters, – personally, at least – there’s no shame in enjoying a formally esoteric genre, even if it’s been sanitized for profit and mass consumption (isn’t that what loving pop music is all about?). Yet, reggaetoneros seem to be getting over reggaeton.

Damn. All those doors you knocked on, Nicky, was all that for nothing?

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This is the craziest video you’ll probably see today: Grace Jones does Chile in 1980

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Here’s another tip from a Chilean friend. In 1980, two different things were at the height of their powers: the Pinochet dictatorship and disco music. And what do brutal dictatorships like to do to distract people from their atrocities? Well, maybe create a variety show set on a restaurant atop of a hill, fill it up with stiff guys in bad suits, broadcast it through the national TV network, and and spend a lot of money to bring a flashy, “exotic” Jamaican supermodel-turned-singer to act all loca while she does playback of some of her hits.

Fetishism of the exotic! Bad haircuts! Terrible dancers from the audience! Fake fainting from the diva! A Chilean Serpico double trying to seduce her! And the neverending question of who is exploiting who! It’s all in here!

 

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