"Though increasing in popularity, Reggaetoneras are much less widely known and listened to than male reggaeton artists"YouTube / Red Bull Music

In our recent attempts to recognise whitewashing, and the suppression of racial histories, we should consider the reggaeton music genre. Though it has reached a position of massive global popularity, many people are unaware of its roots. Reggaeton originated in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, and is influenced by a fusion of Latin American hip hop, Jamaican dancehall, and reggae en español from Panama. These music types sprung from urban, mostly black, communities across South America: the roots of reggaeton are black. Recognising reggaeton’s history is crucial in our attempts to understand its rise in global popularity, and the misogyny that has come hand in hand with this.

‘Despacito’ (2017), by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, which the busker by Mainsbury’s plays almost exclusively on his violin, raised the profile of reggaeton in the English-speaking world. Indeed Daddy Yankee is a frontrunner in popularising reggaeton beyond South and Central America: he is currently 21st in the world on Spotify. However, many of his lyrics have attracted criticism for glorifying the objectification of women. In ‘En La Cama’ (2001), featuring Nicky Jam, he sings "She likes it that they hit her hard and eat her", and reduces women to purely sexual objects through the song. With Daddy Yankee’s popularising of reggaeton, then, comes his popularisation of the trend of objectifying women through lyrics, and the notion of ‘machismo’, or hyper-masculinity.

"appropriated versions of the music have become centralised"

As reggaeton began to concretely assert its place in the mainstream music scene in the early 2000s, many other Puerto Rican reggaeton artists began to emulate lyrics with misogynistic sentiments. Male reggaeton artists such as Arcángel and Wisin adopted similar female-objectifying language. In ‘Noche De Sexo’ (2005), by Wisin and Yandel, they sing "Today is sex night, I’m going to devour you pretty lady". This lyrical change is evident even now, with Arcángel’s ‘Sigues Con Él’ (2019) in which he sings to a woman "Let him know that he doesn’t cause you an orgasm in the room". With the growing commercialisation of the genre across Latin and North America, the objectification of women in lyrics noticeably increased. Women are also presented as decorative and submissive in many mainstream reggaeton music videos and choreography, with male artists at the centre, and scantily clad women dancing in the background.

It is important to note that the women in these videos are mostly white; for instance in the video for Maluma’s song ‘Mala Mía’, which features dozens of non-black women. This is indicative of the whitewashing, or ‘blanqueamiento’, of reggaeton as it becomes increasingly accepted into mainstream, or English-speaking, popular culture. This too can be seen through the release of ‘Despacito’. Daddy Yankee, a pale-skinned Puerto-Rican man, has become the global face of reggaeton. In contrast, Tego Calderón, an Afro-Puerto Rican hip-hop and reggaeton artist, has only 5 million monthly listeners on Spotify to Daddy Yankee’s 40 million, and most people have not heard of him. His less well-known music discusses the struggles facing black neighbourhoods, and the discrimination that he faced in Puerto Rico – reggaeton gave him a space to discuss these issues. In his song ‘Loíza’ (2002), he discusses institutional racism in Puerto Rico: “We are not all equal in legal terms/ And this is proven in the courts”. His lack of renown is emblematic of the oversight of issues around race and class that are traditionally raised by reggaeton; and the white-washing is such that appropriated versions of the music have become centralised. It is these versions, that make no mention of political issues, that we now regard as reggaeton.

Black Reggaetoneras (female Reggaeton artists) such as La Sista and Ivy Queen have attempted to push against this whitewashing of the genre, but also against the foregrounding of the male artist in the genre, and the use of only white women as background dancers. Though increasing in popularity, Reggaetoneras are much less widely known and listened to than male reggaeton artists, and there are far fewer of them. It seems that the mainstream only wants to hear white men singing about the sexualisation of women, not black women singing about their own experiences and sexual identities.

"For Latina women, in the countries that created reggaeton, the music is generally associated with them reclaiming their bodies and sexuality"

Many Reggaetoneras choose not to identify as feminists because of the association with white feminism. White feminism embodies a failure to promote the experiences of Latina women, who do not enjoy the same privileges as white women. They also typically shun the white feminist view of the ‘misogyny’ of reggaeton lyrics and culture. Spanish philosopher Marina Hervas Munoz notes that “sexual emancipation through Reggaeton […] does not have the same meaning for white European women as it does for women of colour from Latin America, especially those raised with the hypersexualised Latina stereotype”. For Latina women, in the countries that created reggaeton, the music is generally associated with them reclaiming their bodies and sexuality, and not with their objectification. It is also about the freedom to dance in the face of oppression in South America; but these narratives of Latina women are erased as part of the white-washing. And a Western standard of what we view as vulgarity and misogyny is projected onto South American music.


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Chikki, an Afro-Puerto Rican Reggaetonera, describes her experiences of reggaeton’s white-washing: “when I was in high school, if you listened to reggaeton you were ‘ghetto’, but if you were white it was like ‘oh wow, how sensual, how different’ ”. This epitomises a failure to credit the communities that started reggaeton, and the wider popularisation of a form of reggaeton amongst the white mainstream. It also illuminates the intersectionality of how issues of race and gender work together to side-line black female reggaeton artists and listeners.

A crucial part of the white-washing is that reggaeton songs with lyrics that appeal to the mainstream have been prioritised over those that discuss issues of race, class and politics in South America – issues that are of little interest to the West. And so popular reggaeton has adapted to focus solely on depicting women and sex in order to cement its global popularity. The genre is then in turn demonised for its misogynistic sentiments, despite this misogyny being reflective of the culture of the mainstream music industry that popularised it. This creates a vicious cycle in which the finger of blame is always pointed somewhere. But this cycle detracts from the main issue, which is that reggaeton, in order to reach global renown beyond South America, had to be white-washed and ultimately transformed to suit the demands of Western consumption. What we view as reggaeton is worlds away from its origins.

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