Reggaeton’s “new-school era” is sending shockwaves throughout the American music industry for the second time. Through using the same influences of dance hall, Latin rhythms, and of course hip-hop, the reggaeton artists leading this second-coming have made room for all the explicit lyrics and perreo in the mainstream market.
Compared to the success of the British Invasion of the 1960s, this reemergence follows the genre’s original breakthrough that happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Early pioneers including reggaetoneros like Tego Calderón, Calle 13, Wisin y Yandel and Daddy Yankee. Each of them paved the way for a new generation including artists like Bad Bunny, Ozuna, J Balvin, and Anuel AA to dominate American radio.
The sensual beats and mezcla of rhythms fostered a unique new soundscape that the club and party scene continues to crave. But what’s different about this second round compared to the first? If we look back to 2017, “Despacito” was the track that broke down the wall between Latin and Anglo American music. It was the second biggest mainstream hit since “Gasolina” in 2004 and once again earned international recognition for reggaeton.
Although not everyone accepted the track because it was an Americanized version of reggaeton, it did exactly as intended. It had a fun melody, featured mega-popstar Justin Bieber, incorporated catchy lyrics and was commercial enough to break through the charts. It was No. 1 for 16 weeks straight and was the most streamed and purchased song of 2017. Its popularity was so tremendous it was nominated for song of the year at the 60th annual Grammys in 2018 and nearly won.
“Despacito” was the honorary and perfect introduction to a streamline of bilingual pop-infused reggaeton singles. Examples such as “Mi Gente” by J Balvin featuring Beyoncé, “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias featuring Sean Paul, “Modelo” by Ozuna featuring Cardi B and “Taki Taki” again by Ozuna with another Cardi B feature along with Selena Gomez and DJ Snake on the track.
After a hiatus, reggaeton was entering the music scene once again. Yet, it wasn’t sticking solely to its original sonic fusion and decided to show its versatility. It didn’t want to continue existing in the U.S. with only (seemingly) one-hit wonders. Besides “Gasolina,” only a handful of reggaeton songs have made Billboard charting status. Other artists and songs that have made it to that point include “Rakata” (2005) and “Sexy Movimiento” (2007) both by Wisin y Yandel.
This time reggaeton artists wanted to create a more permanent attraction in the Anglo market. They wanted to increase reggaeton’s audience reach and a comeback initiative was clearly in fruition. Daddy Yankee made that clear after releasing the remix of “Dura” in 2018 — another perfect combination of upbeat Latin pulses and memorable lyrics. It was a song that delivered what the highly commercialized mainstream market was asking for again. However, instead of creating a pop single with pop artists, it was now a pop song featuring reggaetonero y reggaetoneras Bad Bunny, Natti Natasha and Becky G. Whether or not their listeners understood all they were saying, the new school was presented to the market through a sound most would listen to, DJ and stream.
Reggaeton came back but changed to attract a different set of listeners. This is why the comeback is arguably more explosive than the original appearance. Like hip-hop, it expanded outside of its culture. Although the cultural elements and references from reggaeton are at times lost, it decided to commercialize itself to enter the mainstream. One of the most prevalent tactics used was “splitting up” the genre.
Instead of simply being reggaeton, it categorized itself into different sub-genres. This makes the music more dynamic and easier to market. Pair this tactic alongside American popstars who already have a die-hard fan base and it’s almost impossible not to successfully break into the U.S. pop culture scene.
Sub-labels like reggaeton pop and latin trap are the two most popular at the moment. Nielson’s 2019 mid-music report even highlights reggaeton pop as one of the leading music genres taking home chart-breaking numbers. It’s a perfect combination of the sultriness and folkloric-like nature that many a gringo will love and keeps many Latinos dancing.
Latin Trap continues communicating the more aggressive and darker sounds of reggaeton. A perfect example of a major hit that caught wildfire in the U.S. is the “Krippy Kush” remix. Originally by Farruko, it features Bad Bunny, Rvssian and eventually included Nicki Minaj and 21 Savage or Travis Scott. Earning 16 bars from one of the queens of rap herself? An instant mega-hit is produced. You’ve also crossed over into the hip-hop community, which is currently dominating the industry over rock ‘n’ roll and pop for the first time in history.
Reggaeton’s evolved itself and now officially earned a place in the American music industry. It no longer receives only a nod or just a brief mention. It’s an active part of the conversation and even leading the discussion on what the music industry should do next. This moment was anticipated for years and seems far overdue.
What started off as an underground genre stateside was originally popular throughout New York City, Miami and other cities with a heavy Latin presence. The new music business strategies that were put into play have moved it front and center and no longer quietly influence the greatest hits produced for the mainstream market.
In other words, reggaeton was always there. But factors like the language barrier and a cultural disconnect may have just kept it on the sidelines for longer than anticipated. Its first appearance was more of an experiment to see whether or not the music would translate itself solely through people’s love and admiration for it. However, partnering with other artists that may have just been inspired by your music was the approach that solidified its stance for studio time and collaborations.
This breakout has taken home a lot of wins for reggaeton and Latin music. Some might even believe the limited amount of time taken to accomplish this feat is the signs of a fad or wave. Yet, just because something seems to have instantaneously reached global fame does not necessarily mean it was an actual overnight success.
Reggaeton’s presence is just now being praised throughout the past couple of years. But that doesn’t mean it’s planning to head back to the Caribbean where it originated anytime soon. If anything, it’s only one of many zeniths it can experience after 15 or so years in the making.