A Look Into the Rise of Reggaeton in the Mainstream Music Scene [Hispanic Heritage Month]

Sundhya Alter

Whether you liked the song or not, there is something to be said for the cultural impact that "Despacito" had on the American public, both in what it proved and what it promised going forward. When the track was released in 2017, it quickly took hold of American culture and transformed into what will undoubtedly be upheld as a 2010s classic. The creative decision to combine genres of American pop and reggaeton, at the time, was a burgeoning trend that connected with the entirety of America attributing to the song's success. What came after the songs release, since termed the “the 'Despacito' effect,” has ultimately defined the track as a watershed moment ushering in the dominance of latin urban music for American listeners and charts. In an interview with Forbes, Luis Fonsi said, “I definitely think there was a before and after (‘Despacito’)….but I'm not ever going to take full credit for the Latin movement."

In the past decade, the latin music industry has experienced a movement towards an expanding market, with more cross genre collaborations between artists, such as Bad Bunny and Drake, the reggaeton and latin urban genre is perpetually blurring the previously stringent lines between the Latin and American music scenes. Although American consumers have only recently turned towards its sound, the Latin pop and reggaeton scene has been rapidly growing long before American music consumers commercialized it.

To understand the history of reggaeton we have to examine the genre through both culture and a sociological lens, which is exactly what Felix Contreras does In NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast. With guest Maria Elena Cepeda, host Felix Contreras distinguishes between reggeaton, Latin trap and Latin Urban, the root of all three being an avenue for commentary on ethno-racial identity in relation to both class and location. Due to this emphasis on location and identity, for a long time the genre settled into a niche, underground market, slow to be picked up by the globalizing music industry. However, with the rise of free streaming services, such as YouTube, came new forms of accessibility that fit within the evolving market of social media reaching American audiences.

The popularity of the contagious reggaeton beat didn’t take long to dominate American charts once it entered the scene — for good reason. The genre's sound has become ubiquitous, influencing producers and artists to incorporate the mid-tempo movement and evocative mobility of Latin beats and rhythms in non-Latin songs. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalia, and Omar Apollo are among the many that are experimenting with the versatility of sound that comes out of combining industries. The emergence of cross cultural collaborations between genres serves not only as a musical shift in an ever evolving industry, but also as a soft political tool for identity and political rhetoric between cultures.

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