If you turn on any Spanish-speaking radio station right now, you won’t be able to escape the catchy hooks, irresistible beats, and tropical rhythm of reggaeton music. The genre unites Latinxs and Spanish speakers all over the world. First gaining popularity in Puerto Rico, it spread like wildfire across every Latin American country and the rest of the world. Though the songs are irresistible, what is the role of women in this male-dominated and male-centric industry? It is our responsibility to be aware and critical of the media we consume, especially media as popular as reggaeton.
With Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Bad Bunny, and Ozuna rounding up the top 20 on the Spotify Global Top 200 Chart, it’s clear that reggaeton has managed to infiltrate into mainstream American media. But it is also a deeply male narrative. According to a report made by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, “In 2017, 83.2% of artists were men and only 16.8% were women. 2017 marked a six-year low for female artists in popular content. Of 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.” The report then goes on to show that out of all music producers, female producers make up only 2%, a staggeringly low percentage. Female representation in more mainstream music suffers, but it is only worse in reggaeton music, a genre that has always had disproportionately more male than female artists.
Despite the overwhelming majority of high-profile male reggaeton artists, there is one woman who was instrumental in paving the way for mainstream reggaeton music: Ivy Queen.
Ivy Queen, or as she was commonly called, the Queen of Reggaeton, is the definition of a strong-willed, fearless, and sexually empowered woman. Her career reached its peak in the early 2000s, but despite this, her impact has stood the test of time. She has been nominated for 48 music awards, including Latin Grammy Awards, and won 22 awards including a Billboard Latin Music award. Every song in her repertoire focuses on not tolerating disrespect from anyone, and her music videos consistently portray her as a boss, a powerful woman. All you need is to watch her “La vida es así” music video to know she’s not someone you’d want to mess with. She’s also a key inspiration to the newer generation of female reggaeton artists that are on the rise: Becky G, Natti Natasha, Sofia Reyes, and Karol G.
What happens when the tables turn and women like Ivy Queen sing freely about sex over the same catchy hooks and irrestisble beats? It seems that when the tables turn, so do the heads of concerned men and women alike, who suddenly decide that these women cannot sing about sex and be respectable the way men can. Men like Maluma can sing songs about cheating on women and make music videos in which women are only desirable sexual objects, but if a female singer even mentions having sex in her songs, listeners claim that it’s wrong, and that she’s a whore. They question how she can ever expect a man to respect her if she doesn’t respect herself.
The strangest thing of all is that every female reggaeton song I’ve ever listened to has always been about two consenting adults having sex. The same cannot be said for many reggaeton songs written and sung by men.
One song by Maluma sticks in my head, “Borro Cassette,” which says, unapologetically:
Que no se acuerda de esa noche
porque ella borró cassette
Dice que no me conoce
y quiero volverla a ver
Te dije mami, tómate un trago
y cuando estés borracha pa’ mi casa nos vamos
Me sorprendió cuando sacaste ese cigarro
tomaste tanto que lo has olvidado
To sum it up simply: he boasts of having sex with a woman who drank so much the night before that she doesn’t even know who he is. It’s seen as fine and acceptable because of the “boys will be boys” rhetoric that is so rampant in the latinx community. Growing up, I’d see the way men in my family were treated like children, being fed and served like kings, while young girls like me learned how to cook and clean at the ripe age of nine.
There is nothing inherently wrong with singing about sex, but when your songs reflect a total disregard for women and relinquish their importance to that of mere sexual objects, there is a deeper issue. It is why so many latina women, like myself, have grown up feeling “small,” and why, as we grow older, we must become outspoken, strong, and fierce.
Supporting more female artists like Becky G, Natti Natasha, and Karol G is not hard: they have fun, they sing about sex, and all you really need to do is stream their music as fervently as you stream that of Maluma, Ozuna, and J Balvin. If we showered these female artists with support, they’d have the ability to make more music and be the representation that is so direly needed for young latinx girls in mainstream media. Also, they’d be able to exert more creative control in producing and writing more of their music. They may even be able to do so for others, completely changing the dynamic within the reggaeton industry. Reggaeton doesn’t have to be another male-dominated narrative, it can just be a Latinx narrative.
Daisy Murguia is a third year Literary Journalism and Spanish double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org