Reggaeton’s “new-school era” is sending shockwaves throughout the American music industry for the second time. By remixing the genre’s original influences of dance hall Latin rhythms, and of course hip-hop, the reggaetoneros/as leading this second-coming have made room for all the explicit lyrics and perreo in the Anglo mainstream.
Compared to the success of the British Invasion of the 1960s, this reemergence follows the genre’s original breakthrough from the late ’90s and early ’00s — the previous takeover allowing early reggaeton pioneers like Tego Calderón, Calle 13, Wisin y Yandel and Daddy Yankee to pave the way for a new generation including artists like Bad Bunny, Ozuna, J Balvin and Anuel AA to dominate American radio.
Once U.S. DJs got a hold of the sensual beats and mezcla of rhythms unique to an English-dominated audience, it never left the club and party scene. Although reggaeton reached its fair share of musical zeniths back in the day, it’s noted this most-recent upsurge had a larger explosion and greater response from listeners.
But what exactly is different about reggaeton’s now compared to its first appearance in the U.S.? Looking back on 2017, “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee was the track that broke down the wall between Latinx and Anglo American music. Following Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” in 2004, it’s the second reggaeton song to earn international recognition for the genre.
Although a few critics wrote off the track as just 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.
It was the honorary introduction to a streamlining 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 planned to retake center stage in the music scene. And it wasn’t solely sticking to its original sonic fusion this time around either. It seemed as if artists and producers alike didn’t want to continue in the U.S. as, seemingly, one-hit wonders. Because other than “Gasolina,” only a handful of reggaeton songs have made the Billboard charts, including “Rakata” (2005) and “Sexy Movimiento” (2007).
Reggaeton as a culture wanted to create a more permanent attraction in the Anglo-music market. They wanted to increase its music’s reach. Daddy Yankee made that clear after releasing the remix of “Dura” in 2018 — another memorable combination of upbeat Latin sounds and a chorus simple enough to remember, even if Spanish isn’t part of your vernacular. The track delivered what the commercialized mainstream market was asking for again.
However, instead of producing a pop-reggaeton song with American pop artists, it was a pop-reggaeton song featuring reggaetonero y reggaetoneras Bad Bunny, Natti Natasha and Becky G. Even though it wasn’t outwardly declared a comeback, something was brewing.
Even if listeners didn’t understand all they were saying, the new school was presented to the market through a sound already made familiar and welcomed by their favorite pop artists. Whether or not their listeners understood everything they were saying didn’t matter because reggaeton created a vibe most wanted to 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, the culture decided to become more appealing to others who weren’t involved in its “in-group,” and ultimately decided to expand outside of its culture altogether. The cultural aspects from reggaeton are at times lost, but it was a seemingly unanimous decision to commercialize itself and enter the mainstream. One of the most prevalent tactics used was “splitting up” the genre.
Reggaeton turned into the umbrella covering a range of different sub-genres, making the music easier to market. Pair this tactic alongside American pop stars, who already have a die-hard fan base, and it’s nearly impossible not to triumphantly break into the U.S. pop culture scene.
Sub-labels like reggaeton pop and Latin trap, or Latin urban, are the two most popular at the moment. Nielson’s 2019 mid-year music report even highlights reggaeton pop as one of the leading music genres taking home chart-breaking numbers.
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, and you’ve also crossed over into the hip-hop community, which is dominating the industry over rock ‘n’ roll and pop for the first time in history.
Reggaeton’s evolved and officially earned a seat in the American music industry. It no longer receives only a nod or just a brief mention but is an active part of the conversation.
After surviving predominantly as an underground genre stateside, it was equally as popular in cities with heavy Latinx presence like New York City or Miami, as in South America and the Caribbean. Acting as a muse, it usually remained on the sidelines while carrying on as a primary source of inspiration for many artists. The well-calculated music business strategies finally moved it front-and-center.
This isn’t to say the music became better, either. It just became different. Once obvious impediments to success like the language barrier and cultural disconnect were analyzed, moving around the obstacles to connect with more people became easier.
This breakout has brought home a lot of wins for reggaeton and Latin music. Some might even believe the limited amount of time taken to accomplish this feat are the signs of a fad or wave. However, 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 anytime soon. If anything, it’s only one of many zeniths it can experience after 15 or so years in the making.