I don’t know what rock I was sleeping under for the first part of my life, but I had never heard of reggaeton until I came to Colombia in 2011.
The music is literally a phenomenon in much of Latin America, with countless clubs and discotecas putting it on to really get the party started. I’ve found it in all countries in South America, including Brazil (although it’s not played as much there).
Honestly, if you’re going to travel to Latin America, you might want to learn about reggaeton, especially if you’re into the nightlife scene. And especially if you’re a single man (more on that in a moment).
So here’s a brief breakdown. (Note: If you’re offended by sexy dancing and scantily clad women, you probably shouldn’t read this post.)
Now, I’m not much of a student of music history, but reggaeton itself has a rather short history, as the genre has become widely known only in the past 10-15 years.
It began to be produced in “underground” / anti-establishment / hip-hop circles in Puerto Rico. Artists would record in their garages in the early 1990s, composing songs with very explicit lyrics covering poverty, sex, violence, drugs, and inner city life. In these ways, it can be compared to the Americana gangster rap scene.
After a few years in the “underground,” where it had attracted the following of high school and middle school youth, the Puerto Rico government actually began a public campaign in the early 2000s against such music, asserting that it was a corrupting influence with its explicit and obscene lyrics, with its sub-culture of hip-hop clothing disrupting educational environments, and with its sexually charged music and accompanying perreo style of dancing.
Perreo, by the way, is what Americans would call “grinding” with greater intensity and heightened sexuality of the dance moves. (Am I the only one that chuckles when I hear perreo? )
Anyways, despite the objections against it, reggaeton continued to rise in popularity, and in the mid 2000s began to spread to the US and Europe. Among the artists coming into their own were Daddy Yankee and Baby Rasta & Gringo, who are still popular today. Other artists popular today include Don Omar, Winsin y Yandel, Calle 13, Farruko, Plan B and J Alvarez.
Here’s A Sample
I’m not gonna lie to you– reggaeton mostly appeals to younger folks. One of the things I like about reggaeton is it’s rather openly sexy dancing with the
rather hot ridiculously hot girls. This combined with its Latin, energetic rhythm and beat means I usually can’t help getting into the songs. Lively, passionate Puerto Rico remains the main seat of reggaeton and most stars have their origins there.
Having said that, the types of songs within reggaeton vary widely, both in their sound and lyrics. In my research, I’ve found that the earlier songs tended to be a little bit ‘harder’, i.e. they had more explicit lyrics, they had a harder yelling / rap tone, they were often over-the-top sex displays (again, similar to the American gangster rap scene).
But recently, the genre has spread to happier, upbeat, singable songs, but still very sexy.
Let me show you.
First, here’s one of Daddy Yankee’s older songs which became very popular a few years back. If you’re above age 40 you probably won’t like this song (note the sexiness and more ‘raw’ feel):
Now, contrast that one of Daddy Yankee’s recent songs. You might like this song, even if you’re older, because it’s catchy and upbeat. Note sexiness + happier feel:
Next: a very popular song by Don Omar, you may have heard. Note the sing-along quality (he sings in Spanish and Portuguese).
Next: a popular song by J Alvarez. This one is great to dance with a girl to.
Finally: a popular song by Plan B. It’s another good one to dance with a girl to. The lyrics talk about secretly locking eyes with another girl and feeling like an angel is whispering to you.
As you can observe, reggaeton is mix of Caribbean and Latin music, blending Jamaican beats, Latin hip hop, as well as soca from Trinidad and Tobago, and sometimes a bit of electronica or dancehall. It has really become it’s own genre nowadays with wide-ranging variety. Songs range from catchy love songs or a fun sing-along (like ‘Limbo’ above) to an explicit, angry exploitation of women.
Efforts To Ban it
As an aside, there have been a number of governments that have tried to outlaw reggaeton. Cuba, for example, just did it in December 2012, but most of these efforts have fallen flat. The reasoning is that the music is just too sexual and treats women like objects.
What’s behind this of course, is the same old collectivist-of-force argument that believes the government and not you as an individual should choose what kind of music you listen to, what you want to dance to, and where you want to go for a good time.
And if you like an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good Daddy Government who can be trusted to act in your best interest, I’m sure you’d love Cuba.
Over and above this, though, the reality is that there are loads of women that LOVE reggaeton. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear an entire place erupt in shouts of female delight when certain songs come on. They dance and sing along just as much or more than the guys do.
AND, not all songs contain such drastically explicit lyrics. These days there’s a lot to choose from as reggaeton is a wide genre; moreover, the popular songs don’t tend to be very angry or violent.
Now, it should be obvious– most of reggaeton is very sensual, and if you look at most of the music videos, you will see a ton of sexual dancing and scantily clad girls… But this is not ALWAYS the case.
Take this romantic song by Alkilados. A guy is talking to a girl and basically says through the whole song: “If you’re single and nobody calls you, and you need a man, call me. Tell me when and where, and I’ll be there.” No girl is scantily clad, and no one is dancing too sensually.
Doesn’t this song make you smile? How can you be against a song that is less explicit than some country music songs from the US… AND that is much more catchy AND that is made for guy-girl dancing??
Answer: you can’t. Might as well face the music.
How It Helps The Single Man
OK, so now I want to remind you of an aspect of reggaeton that greatly benefits you if you are, as they say, a ‘man on the prowl.’
Basically if you are in a dance scenario (in a club, party, or whatever) and a reggaeton song comes on, it’s like the prime opportunity to go for the girl you’ve been hitting on.
The music escalates the whole situation for you… You just take the girl and start dancing.
The dancing is grinding so it’s easy to do, and rather suggestive.
The rhythm is sexual, so it’s sets the frame for you.
And EVERYONE in the whole place pairs off, so things move forward automatically.
Basically you just have to move your hips a little bit, be suave, and you can usually tell within 30 seconds of dancing reggaeton with a girl whether or not she’s into you.
And if she’s into you, and she’s dancing reggaeton with you, it’s like you’re running forward on a forward-moving treadmill… Things can happen fast, you understand?
(Of course, in Medellin, a girl dancing reggaeton with you may or may not be something significant. Almost like a kiss in Brazil, it may just be a way she says hello.)
In summary, reggaeton has become a big part of the nightlife ambiance for a large part of the world. It’s good to know something about it, especially if you’re coming to Latin America.