Ever since I set foot on South American soil in February 2018 and discovered the genre of reggaeton, it’s been a new love in my music world. It’s like it was the genre elephant in the room I never realised was there.
As I made my way north to Colombia over 5 months, it was obvious that this region’s obsession with reggaeton was wilder than I had ever seen in music before. People really lived for a handful of reggaeton songs which were played on repeat from February to July. As I had never heard of this genre in the UK I was intrigued to learn a little more on it when I got back. So here is ‘Your Guide to Reggaeton Music for the Gringo and Gringas of the UK‘.
The UK and the US have taken influence from Latin music for many years, from salsa to cumbia, rumba, samba and tango. However, the newer of the Latin genres, reggaeton, has skyrocketed in popularity in the US in recent years, taking the Latin American music from a cultural niche to mainstream.
In 2004, “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee and “La Tortura” by Shakira hit the international charts and the rise in reggaeton outside of Latin America began. Fast forward 15 years and the most viewed video ever on YouTube, is “Despacito” Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee at 6.2 billion views.
Now if you can’t sing along to the chorus of this one, you really have been living under a rock. Not long after Despacito was released, “Mi Gente” by J Balvin and Willy William smashed into the charts making it the first time in the Billboard Hot 100’s 59-year history that two non-English language tracks had simultaneously been present in the top 10.
What is Reggaeton?
In the 1970s many Jamaicans came to Panama to help build the Panama Canal. Along with them, they brought their reggae and dancehall style of music which became a hit in all areas of the Caribbean. It was especially popular in Puerto Rico, where it was shaped into the reggaeton which we hear today. After this the sound continued to evolve in New York thanks to Puerto Rican-American immigrants.
The sound is reggae blended with both hip hop and Latin American sounds. Most reggaeton songs combine rapping and singing, with hooks which are repeated throughout the song. The common ‘dem bow drum’ beat (a Google search, will provide an ‘aha’ moment if you are confused by this) is produced using the drums which lays the foundation for a reggaeton song.
Similarly to hip hop, reggaeton lyrics help bring to light race and societal issues, and what life is like on the streets.
One of the most popular subgenres to come out of the scene is Latin Trap, a style of trap music infused and influenced by Latin hip hop and reggaeton. Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny is one of the biggest artists in this genre, even hitting the mainstream charts with tracks “I Like It” featuring Cardi B and “MIA” with Drake.
How Popular is Reggaeton?
According to reports by both BuzzAngle and Statistica, Latin Music has become the 5th most consumed genre of music in the US, even surpassing country music and EDM.
It’s not just Hispanic Americans that are listening either. Although 85% of Hispanic Americans listen to Spanish-language music in the US, it was found that 43% of white adults in the US listen to Spanish-language music too. This shows the level of popularity of reggaeton and other Latin genres which is engrossing the US.
Probably the most impressive figure is that of the top 10 most viewed music videos from YouTube in 2018, 8 were from Latin music artists.
As reggaeton music is now travelling faster and wider, it is giving an opening for many female artists to come up and find success. Dominican Natti Natasha, US/Mexican Becky G, Colombian Karol G and Brazilian Anitta are a few of the Latinas currently thriving in the male-dominated reggaeton charts. Becky G and Natti Natasha’s collaboration on “Sin Pajamas” was ranked the sixth most watched YouTube music video of 2018.
The girls are becoming protagonists to a genre where men have made sexual references about the female body and sexually objectified women in their music videos for many years. The women are taking back the power, by making sexual references on the male body and including lyrics focusing on their pleasure before a man’s. This is refreshing for fans of reggaeton to see women transforming the genre to be equal in sexual liberation.
Will this craze hit the UK?
Latin artists have the opportunity more than ever to be discovered and consumed internationally. Before the popularity in streaming and download services, people would often use mainstream radio as a source of music discovery, in which Latin artists hardly ever entered the equation.
Although today it can be argued that British consumers are more open than ever to exploring non-English speaking music. In 2017, Spotify found that reggaeton streams more than quadrupled from the prior year. Other genres such as K-Pop also experienced a similar surge.
X Factor 2018 winners Rak-Su created a reggaeton-inspired song “Dimelo”, one of the first UK bands to gain success in an original Latin-style track. Incidentally, it became the highest charted song from an X Factor winner in three years.
It can be predicted that the take-over of Latin music is only just beginning in the UK and with Latin-inspired successes from artists independently or in collaborations, it would only seem obvious that more UK artists will soon follow in their footsteps.
Words by Tabby Sherring