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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
It’s a thankless job, but would you like to rant for Rictus?
Are you Latino, Latina, or Latinx? If you’re not, it doesn’t matter. Maybe you lived in Latin America, or know Latino culture well. More importantly, do you have a funny, witty, dumb, eye-opening, or virgen María-blessed insight about something? A personal story, a political view, groundbreaking analysis, or dissenting review about a movie, record, city, art show, or something nobody cares about?
Maybe nobody cares about whatever you’re interested in because you haven’t written about it. Share your thoughts with strangers! You may get even some virtual likes on social media, and that’s how people count happiness in 2018, right?
José and I have a lot of fun here at Rictus, but it’s fun to publish contrasting voices. We don’t make any money, so neither will you. This is really just about you loving the written word, as we do.
Some shit to consider:
- Can be as short as 300 words, or as long as you think you can hold people’s attention with your awesome wordsmithery.
- It’s a lot more important — to us, anyway — that you’re funny, insightful, or engaging about whateverthefuckyouwriteabout than a being a super professional writer, so don’t be shy.
- In English, please. We may add a Spanish section later, but, yeah, English werds, for now.
- You can use a pen name. Maybe you work at some conservative think tank and and don’t want to be found out. That’s fine. Use your superhero name.
- You should already have a good pitch. What do you know, or have strong opinions about, that others don’t? Are you mad about something you recently saw in the news? Does your aunt drive you crazy? Have you noticed an interesting pattern in penis owners? Are you a media geek? Do you love celebrities, but hate their dumb looks?
Broke, youthful & repressed: Things you’re too dumb to appreciate in your 20s
Are you trying to get through your 20s gracefully? Then you’ve come to the wrong place — and I don’t mean this website, I mean this planet. But this website too, maybe.
Listen, you will make horrible mistakes during your existence because #youth. But pay attention because, even if you don’t get past your 20s with some grace, you may be able to get by with some dignity.
1) You poor, endearing bastard
Ah, to be young, dumb, and full of cumulative social issues. As a broke twentysomething, you’re usually too self-conscious to realize that your youth, in a strange way, sanctions your destitution. You realize you’re poor — that’s obviously not the issue — but instead of making it your warcry, and finding strength in a nothing-to-lose attitude, you burden yourself attempting to portray the opposite.
Maybe you’re still trying to prove to society — and your parents, most of all — that you’re an independent, responsible, adult-ass person. You really want that vindication, especially if you spent tons of money on getting edumacated. Yet, you’re between a precious little window of time when society is still willing to forgive your poverty, access to influence, and lack of experience.
Ah, but once you reach your 30s? Let’s just say the Eye of Sauron has nothing on people’s judgemental gaze.
There are exceptions, of course, and if you come from money, none of what I just wrote will make sense to you. But in short, youngsters tend to misuse the grace period their youth affords them.
2) Foooreeever young. You’re gonna be, foooreeever dumb.
So you’re a young blood under the impression that your physical and mental machinations will go on forever because you can, like, totally wake up in the middle of the night with tons of ideas and inspiration, even if you got wasted at a party the day before.
And, whatever — you still have a baggie full of coke in your coat, even if it’s 60% baby formula. You can snort it at any point to get an extra kick, but why not save it for the next party? Because your work ethic is just unstoppable, and the thought of physical deterioration seems incredibly foreign.
Little do you know that nature is maniacally cackling behind a crystal ball in a deep lair within your body. It’s waiting to play a cruel joke on your dumbass, and when it’s time — in your 30s — it will begin by sabotaging your stamina.
That’s only the first part of nature’s cruel plan. The second phase is a lot more sinister because, although you’re left with a portion of the physical energy you used to have, a psychological hangup will turn all of your unfinished, half-realized ideas into regrets.
Suddenly, when you’re in the middle of a Netflix ‘n chill session, half-watching the 25th episode of some stupid show you don’t even like, nature will bitingly turn to your formally unstoppable will to say: “Where’s your messiah now?”
Its grim, I know. The point is, if you come to terms with the fact that age will physically slow you down, and you do so when you’re still young, it may push you focus on whatever you think is truly important.
3) Unlike complicated emotional bonds, sex stupid, but fun.
Sex is fun, but incredibly stupid. Stripped of all of the symbolism polite society instills on copulation, either through romcoms, music, books, or coming of age parties (see quinceañeras), the physical act of rubbing genitals with another person is messy and mundane. Conceptually, cooking chilaquiles is a lot more complicated than getting your gross body to secrete fluids.
I hate to go all Sex at Dawn on you, but modern culture has done a number on everybody. Current social taboos still conflate sex with all emotional sensations. A person can be sexually attracted to another while not being intellectually stimulated by them, and that’s fine. But most people still expect every sexual partner to be a perfectly-matched significant other, and that’s dumb.
Very few youngsters internalize a sexually-positive outlook. Their hormones are out of control, just like their clouded, repressed judgement, and too much emotional stock is placed on what could be a fun, pleasing, but ultimately near-meaningless experience — just like cooking chilaquiles.
Deep, rewarding, emotional, or enlightening bonds can be had with just about anyone — your aunt, a garbage man, or even a piece of clothing. You probably can’t have rewarding sex with any of those three — maybe the garbage man, if he’s hot — but you can have good sex with a dumb stranger.
Do it, and don’t feel guilty about it.
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