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?
María Rubio was so good as Catalina Creel, an iconic telenovela villain, the role ruined her career
According to sources on Twitter, and also TvNotas, the holy bible of Mexican gossip, María Rubio, the legendary actress best known for her role as Catalina Creel de Larios in Cuna de lobos, has passed away. She was 83 years old.
Thanks to her role as Soraya Montenegro in María la del Barrio, Itati Cantoral has been dominating the internet with an insane amount of memes, gifs, and even a House of Cards promo special. Itati blew up in the mid ’90s, when older millennials were still teens, and she’s that generation’s go-to character when it comes to Mexican telenovela villains.
Yes, Cantoral was great as Soraya, but the top dog in the telenovela villain game was — and has always been — María Rubio. The Tijuana-born actress was so good in Cuna de lobos that, according to an interview she did with Cristina Saralegui, the role ruined her career:
“[Catalina Creel] was a difficult, beloved character. I enjoyed playing her, but she also hurt me a lot. People completely forgot about María Rubio and now it seems that, after 40 years of being an actress, I’ve only done Catalina Creel.”
Catalina, a murderous matriarch, was known for having some of the best one-liners in telenovela history. But in the same interview with Saralegui, which was filmed over 20 years ago, María proved to be just as cunning and smart as her infamous character, but also incredibly funny:
“[Although I played a villain], I’ve received nothing but compliments, love, and admiration. Never aggression. I think viewers do attack the bad ones — bad actresses, that is.”
If you understand Spanish, check out the hilarious interview below. Watch María viciously own everyone in a panel of full of young telenovela villains:
Traumatic advice from aunt Rosa: “Don’t torture your Care Bear, Mijo. Or else.”
I was 6 years old when I yelled at Tugs, my Care Bear. I put him in time-out for not agreeing to the rules of an imaginary game I had just created.
I built a little time-out fortress for him to stay in while I played with my other toys. Coincidentally my tía Rosa was visiting that day. I urged her to see all my toys when she came into the house. I also explained to her that Tugs was in time-out, to which she replied in shock, “Mijo, mira, You have to be nice to your toys.”
I replied, “Tía, I am nice to my toys, but I’m teaching him a lesson.”
She contested nervously, “No, Mijo, you have to be nice to your toys or they might not be nice to you.”
I wasn’t following her logic.
“Mijo, if you’re not nice to your toys, then at night time they might wake up and crawl into your bed to cut your toes with tiny razors,” she said slowly while staring at my imprisoned Care Bear.
“What?!” I whispered to her while looking at Tugs from the corner of my eye.
“Yes, your toys might do very bad things to you if you don’t treat them good.”
I stared at her in disbelief.
She stood up and walked towards the doorway.
“Mijo, I brought you some tortillas. Come in the kitchen and let’s warm them up,” Rosa said casually.
From then on, Tugs sat on a tufted pillow on my dresser while I slept in velcro shoes for the next year. Growing up in my Mexican-American family meant that everything was possibly alive and watching you.