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The Fragile State Of Reggaeton In The Latin Grammys

By: Brittany Zendejas 

Photo Courtesy of: Latin GRAMMYs Facebook

The Latin Recording Academy announced the nominees for the 20th Annual Latin Grammy Awards on Sept. 24. However, controversy began stirring after a noticeable lack of reggaeton and urban artists from the main categories, such as Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Artists like J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, Natti Natasha and Maluma posted on their Instagram and Twitter with a singular message depicting a bright red X over the recognizable golden Grammy award that read,“Sin Reggaeton, NO hay Latin Grammy.” Although Daddy Yankee was nominated for Best Urban/Fusion Performance, he has been very vocal about the treatment of the genre and his colleagues. 

“Your platform is not responsible for creating this movement,” Daddy Yankee said in an Instagram post. “This goes beyond an award.”

The movement has spurred a conversation about inclusion and representation in the Latin Grammys’ nomination process, as well as the troubled history of reggaeton artists being acknowledged in Latin music. 

Since the beginning of reggaeton, inclusion has always been an issue. Reggaeton artists are labeled under the category “urban,” which seems to be a cop-out. The diversity of reggaeton artists range from trap reggaeton to pop reggaeton. The historical aspect of reggaeton, which comes from dancehall reggae music, is just as complicated when it comes to its representation in mainstream award shows. 

Dancehall reggae originated from Jamaica but was soon adapted into reggaeton from the Spanish culture in Panama. The genre of reggaeton is so far bridging that it can not be nailed down to just one word like “urbano.” Rather, it jumps from culture to culture and is as pan-Latinx as a music genre can be. The reggaeton experience is tied to urban, working class communities, which tend to be Black or Afro-Latin American. It is an all-encompassing beat, played in clubs across the world that have lyrics that range from political, sexual and social meanings. 

In Feb. 1995, cops raided six Puerto Rican record stores in search of reggaeton cassettes and CDs and handed out citations to employees. The narratives of underground reggaeton often featured explicit lyrics of life and crime in deprived neighborhoods. For those that weren’t accustomed to the traditional music of our ancestors, reggaeton sparked an interest in the true world that surrounds them; it was the people’s music. But the people’s music has barely been popularized in awards like the Latin Grammys, even though it has been around since the ‘80s. The explicit nature of reggaeton has been taken too literal at times and by doing so, the awards have pigeon-holed the genre of “urban” music. 

Artists like Daddy Yankee projected the genre into global fame with his release of “Gasolina” which became the first ever worldwide reggaeton hit. The success of “Gasolina” earned Daddy Yankee a nomination for Record of the Year in 2004, but without a win. Of the numerous times Daddy Yankee has been nominated, few have led to actual awards. The prevalence of reggaeton artists has more than doubled in mainstream Latin music. Ozuna, Bad Bunny and Natti Natasha (who won Best New Artist last year) have reached critical praise on charts and streaming services. Yet, their music isn’t even close to the “urban” genre that the Latin Recording Academy perceives it to be. 

The wild success of these artists has shown the precedent of reggaeton music worldwide. Ozuna’s “Aura,” Karol G’s “Ocean” and Bad Bunny’s “X 100PRE” have elevated the standard of music with bold ingenuity and an admiration for songs. Looking at the charts should be enough to convince someone that reggaeton is a serious contender in the Latin music world. Ozuna had the top selling Latin Album of the Year, “Callaita” was No. 5 and “Otro Trago” was No. 7 on the Most-Streamed Songs around the world, while “Te Boté (Remix)” was awarded Billboards Latin Music Award for Streaming Song of the Year. 

In response to the criticism, the Latin Recording Academy released a statement saying, “[w]e invite the leaders of the urban community to get involved with the Academy, to get involved with the process, and to get involved with discussions that improve the Academy.” However the sentiment was not well received by reggaeton artists and many chose not to reply to the Academy’s response. 

There is still hope for fans that their favorite artists like Bad Bunny, Ozuna and Farruko will be present at the award show. However, the lack of addressing the situation at hand will prove to be the biggest obstacle for reggaeton going forward.