The Privilege of Being a Reggaetonero

Reggaeton Privilege BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Jam Session 20.

Much is said in 2020 about the “privilege” of being white, being male, being heterosexual, and banners of moral battles are raised amid a global pandemic that has exacerbated socioeconomic differences in every corner of the planet.

What was a countercurrent in the early 2000s is now the cultural mainstream engine in almost every sphere.

Reggaeton is undoubtedly the best example of this.

When Daddy Yankee and DJ Playero coined the new genre back in 1994, the Puerto Rican underground scene was trying to break with the Catholic tradition and scandalize the puritans in an effort to demonstrate their boredom with hypocritical morality and political correctness.

It was something like the “dirty dancing” of the Caribbean.

However, beyond one genre and one beat, Reggaeton brought with it a heavy “lyrical” baggage of machismo, violence, drugs, love, and sex, framed in the “perreo” that is celebrated today on all digital platforms.

The movement’s undeniable achievement was to break the socio-economic boundaries in the Caribbean countries, popularizing the lifestyle of the marginalized and uneducated residential areas.

In a matter of a decade, there was no social stratum that did not celebrate birthdays and marriages to the sound of the Luny Tunes.

From the Crossover to the Multimillionaire Empire

What was once a naive project recorded rudimentarily on the marquees of Puerto Rico began to undermine other genres such as Bachata and gave rise to phenomena such as “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee, “Guasa Guasa” by Tego Calderon or “Pobre Diabla” by Don Omar.

Since 2006, the ease of producing songs that do not require significant talent outside the recording studio and that are easily consumed by the population transformed the artists into owners and masters of the musical mainstream, without the need to speak a word of English.

“When I was growing up in Medellin, the US mainstream used to present Latin culture in a tacky or limited way,” Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin told the Financial Times back in 2018. “The reality is we’re into all kinds of arts, lifestyles, fashion. Now we feel like the world is listening to us; as musicians, we start doing the beats and melodies, and we’re immediately thinking, ‘How are they gonna feel this in Russia, or across Asia, or in the US, as well as our own countries? The cool thing is that it’s in Spanish; I don’t have to sing in English.”

Unlike artists like Ricky Martin, Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, or Jennifer Lopez, the new artists conquered an anglo-centric industry through a beat and a few lyrics.

Today, being a songwriter is more a matter of being business savvy, having a good marketing team, and knowing how to manage social media.

The best example is Daddy Yankee himself, who, almost thirty years after his first single recorded on cassette, is valued at 30 million dollars. Similarly, Wisin is following in his footsteps with a fortune of $20 million, and even the now-in vogue Bad Bunny, less than 30 years old, has a net worth of $8 million, having had his best year ever during a pandemic that forced him to stay at home, from where he recorded a second album and made all the major covers in the print media.

Meanwhile, the cultural scene among conservatories, museums, independent showrooms, and musicians who have dedicated their lives to their training is falling apart behind an industry that cannot support them once the audience is confined at home.

According to American for The Arts, the nonprofit and for-profit arts is a $730 billion industry that directly employs 4.8 million arts workers. This represents 4.2% of the U.S. GDP.

In Latin America, the cradle of one of the richest musical traditions, folklore, national rock, and other experimental genres seem to lag behind, no matter how masterful or prodigious, because a beat worked with auto-tune is always more profitable.

However, artists who have known how to reap their successes from traditionalism, saving genres such as the bolero in Puerto Rico (as is the case of iLe) or Mexican song (as is the case of Natalia Lafourcade), survive.

For the rest, dedicating oneself to an art so fundamental in the history of the world as music is is an act of devotion, almost a priesthood, where one has to decide between studying and training but dying of hunger, or putting on jewelry, big glasses and flirting with feminism to get reproductions on the platforms.

Whose privilege is it then?