The Evolution Of Reggaeton In The 2010s: From ‘Despacito’ To ‘Te Bote’, This Is How Latinx Music Turned Into A Global Phenomenon
Reggaeton has infected the whole world with dembow, signaling a whole era of Latinx representation in mainstream culture. The infectious Latin Caribbean’s particular take on dancehall reggae has become a global movement that artists from all over the world want a part in. During this decade reggaeton has galloped into the Anglo-world, its flow has been Americanized, Europeanized, watered-down, dressed-up and recomposed to fit a thousand new contexts. So let’s look back on the last ten years to see how the genre has changed and what has become of the rhythm we all love.
The decade started with a heavy EDM influence, case in point, Juan Magan’s 2011 album ‘Bailando Por Ahi’ or Don Omar’s hit, ‘Hasta que salga el Sol’.
The rhythm made inroads into the more frequently foursquare sound of EDM. The early 2010s were an EDM boom, a movement that established pulsating, treble-soaked electronic dance as not only the dominant form of crowd-pleasing live music, but the contemporary lingua franca for all of pop, and the default mode of the Top 40 back in the day. So it’s no surprise that reggaeton took in some of that influence to produce ‘Electrolatino’, music. The vivacious melodic reggaeton mixed with hard-hitting electronic beats saw its highest moment in 2015 with Bomba Estereo’s ‘Fiesta’ —the song even brought Will Smith out of a decade-long music hiatus when he reached out to the band to lend his voice for a remix.
Fast forward to 2017 and Daddy Yankee is featured on Luis Fonsi’s chart-busting hit, Despacito, making way for another reggaeton revolution.
By2018, the song’s unprecedented commercial success had even garnered Fonsi Guinness World Records recognition: it spent 16 weeks at No. 1 in the Billboard charts (a feat only topped by Old Town Road). It became the most-streamed song worldwide and was the first YouTube video to hit five billion views. And that was only the beginning.
Reggaeton’s latest commercial iterations rely heavily on trap and pop, harnessed by chart-topping artists like J Balvin, Ozuna and Arcangel.
It’s upped the dancehall quotient at times, and dialled it down, incorporated more or less of its fundamental rhythm, dembow, and even spawned surprise mutations, like when Bad Bunny’s Tenemos Que Hablar folded in touches of pop-punk.
Halfway through the 2010s, Latin Trap, began to gain notoriety.
The less dominant wing of Spanish-language hip hip began to surge as a response to developments in American rap, it embraced the slow-rolling rhythms and gooey vocal delivery of Southern hip-hop.
Now a variety of artists associated with the movement are riding high.
Five of the Top 30 music videos on YouTube’s chart of 2017 involved artists associated with Latin trap – Bad Bunny, Chris Jeday, Karol G. Bad Bunny, the sound’s best-known proponent, also appeared three times in the Top 25 of Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart on the same year. “It goes beyond trap: the music we call ‘Latin urban’ is now diversifying into many different forms,” Horacio Rodriguez, VP of Marketing for Universal Music Latino, said to Rolling Stone magazine. “It’s popping in the streets right now with zero radio airplay. It’s a counter-culture of young kids listening to this music.”
Older stars stampeded to endorse the latest style, boosting its mainstream exposure.
The Colombian superstar J Balvin’s Energia album contained songs like “35 Pa Las 12,” a booming, American-rap-radio-ready collaboration with the Dominican singer/rapper Fuego. Farruko’s record dropped around the same time was titled TrapXFicante. Maluma, a supple pop-reggaeton heartthrob, anchored the hook of the Trap Capos single “Cuatro Babys,” which skyrocketed him to fame.
Bad Bunny, the undisputed champion of Latin trap, sings and raps with an unhurried, conversational tone.
The video to San Benito’s hit “Soy Peor” now has 703 million views. He can do a song with Drake, he can do a song with Travis scott, he’s the guy who’s taken ‘Latin Trap’ mainstream. His music is a rich tapestry of trap, reggaeton and bachata. He can feature Ricky Martin on a self-love anthem, and with Solo de Mi, Bad Bunny fortified the song’s affecting lyrics with a message of solidarity with domestic abuse survivors in its music video. Most notably, though, his work is praised for its unabashed emotional vulnerability and, paired with Bad Bunny’s meticulous manicures and eccentric, neon-hued fashion sense, he’s presented male reggaetoneros in a different light altogether.
Reggaeton and Urbano are, in some corners, also running parallel to the #MeToo movement.
Artists like Natti Natasha, Karol G and Becky G are flipping the genre’s overt male-narrated sexuality to the female POV, reclaiming agency with each beat.
The various styles that encompass música urbana —hip-hop, reggaetón, dembow, and champeta, to name a few— have reached a critical mass in the Americas.
Música urbana is American music. The loosely defined term encapsulates Spanish-language “urban” music with roots in the culture of descendants of enslaved peoples across North, South, and Central America. Toward the end of the decade, the genre became a worldwide sound, an art recognized by some of pop’s biggest stars. From Drake, to Beyonce and Cardi B, all have acknowledged the power and the audience of ‘urbano’.
Language is no longer a barrier for its mainstream consumption.
Any discussion of música urbana in 2019 inevitably begins with it’s biggest stars, the holy trinity atop the YouTube charts: J Balvin, Bad Bunny, and Ozuna. They were the three most-streamed artists in the world on YouTube in 2018. Which goes to show that the myth that Spanish language as a barrier to mainstream consumption has also been obliterated —according to a report from the music consumption company BuzzAngle, last year “Latin” music (measured by physical and digital sales as well as on-demand streams) represented 9.4 percent of listening in the U.S., overtaking country music (8.7 percent).
Reggaeton is a fountain of joy for many, it offers close dancing and unrepentant sexuality as a form of catharsis. And as its prominence rose, spreading to other Latin American countries, the US, and ultimately the whole world, the genre became an unmatchable source of pride for Latinxs. This was the decade Latinxs demanded space and reggaeton became truly visible –and we invited the world the ride, one perreo intenso at a time.
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