THE RACIAL DYNAMICS OF LUIS FONSI

The first Spanish-language U.S. No. 1 hit since “Macarena” sees Justin Bieber jumping on a music style of fraught racial lineage in Latin America.

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Spencer KornhaberMay trăng tròn, 2017
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The last time a tuy nhiên sung primarily in Spanish hit No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts was in 1996, with Los Del Rio’s “Macarena.” Now, that dance-craze-causer has a successor in Luis Fonsi mê và Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito lớn,” whose rephối featuring Justin Bieber has claimed the top spot on the Hot 100.


Prior lớn Bieber’s involvement, the tuy vậy was already a sensation in the Spanish-speaking world, dominating charts after Puerto Rico’s Fonsi mê released it in January. In the tune, Fonsi’s romantic singing—“despacito” means “slowly,” referring here to lớn the pace of seduction—pairs with rapping from his fellow Puerto lớn Rican Daddy Yankee. Yankee’s name may be familiar to lớn English-speaking audiences from the 2004 smash “Gasolina,” which showcased the distinctive, danceable style known as reggaeton. The reggaeton beat now powers “Despacito lớn,” lớn which Bieber has contributed vocals in both Spanish & English.


Looking for some context about this history-making hit, I spoke with Petra Rivera-Rideau, author of Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerlớn Riteo. An assistant professor at Wellesley College, she described the complex lineage of the song—and the implications of Bieber popularizing it in the U.S.

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This conversation has been edited.

Spencer Kornhaber: What bởi you think of “Despacito” and its success?

Petra Rivera-Rideau: I really like “Despacito”; it’s super catchy. It does follow a trend: Luis Fonsi mê has been around for a long time, and there are a lot of pop singers in Latin music—Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Ricky Martin—who have sầu been around for a long time và have been integrating reggaeton into lớn their music lately. But there is something surprising in that Luis Fontê mê has a No. 1 hit in the U.S., as opposed to lớn, for example, Enrique Iglesias, whom American, English-speaking listeners might be more familiar with.


Kornhaber: Am I right lớn be calling it reggaeton? How does it showcase the genre or diverge from it?

Rivera-Rideau: In the truyền thông media, the song’s been presented as “reggaeton-pop fusion” or “urban-pop fusion,” which are phrases that have sầu been attached to Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglesias or other pop singers. I think that makes sense.

The main thing that people think about when they think about reggaeton is the beat—the boom-ch-boom-chick beat. “Despacito” definitely has that, but there are some differences. Most reggaeton is rapped and not sung; Luis Fonđê mê is singing not rapping. There’s that guitar riff in the tuy nhiên that you hear in a lot of Latin pop. And it’s pretty different in terms of its melody.


Now that reggaeton has broken into lớn the mainstream of Latin music, there has been a lot of discussion saying that it has shifted its orientation lyrically: that before it was hyper-sexualized & connected lớn the street and politics but now it’s not. I’m not sure that I totally buy such stark divisions between reggaeton before and pop-fusion now. But it certainly sounds different. It is true that reggaeton has a reputation of having misogynistic and explicitly sexual lyrics, & “Despacito” doesn’t have have sầu such explicit lyrics—but it’s obviously a very sexual tuy vậy.

Kornhaber: For a lot of Americans, the last the time they’ve sầu heard of Daddy Yankee was in 2004 with “Gasolimãng cầu.” What has he been doing since then?

Rivera-Rideau: One of the things that’s important about Daddy Yankee is that he had a successful career before “Gasolimãng cầu.” Reggaeton in Puerlớn Riteo in the ’90s circulated informally for a while và was called “underground.” There were several crews somewhat analogous with hip-hop, with different DJs that would have sầu artists rapping on them. Daddy Yankee was part of one of those groups & was quite popular. Since “Gasolimãng cầu,” he’s had many albums và several hits, including some success this year with two other songs, “Shaky Shaky” & “Hula Hoop.”


If you listen lớn Daddy Yankee’s catalog from when he was an underground artist khổng lồ now, there’s definitely a shift in his sound. He’s become more dance-pop in a lot of ways. But his two songs that are popular now, especially “Shaky Shaky,” sound a lot more like the mid-2000s reggaeton with a very comtháng dancehall loop in it.


Kornhaber: Your book is partly about the racial dynamics in reggaeton. Can you talk about that a little?

Rivera-Rideau: We wouldn’t have sầu reggaeton if we didn’t have complicated historical patterns of migration in the Caribbean basin. A very basic idea of what ingredients produced reggaeton would be hip-hop coming from the U.S., dancehall based out of Jamaica, và a type of music called reggae en español from Panama in particular. There’s debate about the origins: Did Puerto Ricans make reggaeton or did Panamanians make reggaeton? One of the things that brings all of these things together is that many of these musics come from urban, predominantly blaông chồng, working-class communities—whether they’re from Kingston or Panama City or New York or San Juan.


My book talks specifically about the Puerto lớn Rican context. In Puerlớn Riteo, there’s a sense that the island’s trinity of races—blaông chồng, Spanish, & indigenous—has produced a harmonious society with no racism. But when you look at things like who has access lớn education, or at housing segregation, it’s very clear Afro-Puerkhổng lồ Ricans are discriminated against. Reggaeton provided a space to talk about those issues. Tego Calderón, who was really the person who brought reggaeton khổng lồ the mainstream in Puerlớn Riteo before “Gasolimãng cầu,” has a tuy nhiên called “Loíza” in which he talks about institutional racism in Puerkhổng lồ Rico. Eddie Dee wrote songs about the discrimination he faced as a rapper & as someone of African descent.

At the same time, the story of reggaeton"s emergence in Puerlớn Rico also exposes the persistence of anti-blaông chồng racism there. In Puerlớn Riteo, reggaeton was tied khổng lồ public-housing developments that in the ’90s were part of an anti-crime initiative sầu called Mano Dura Contra el Crimen, headed by the then-governor Pedro Rosselló. The discourse around the chiến dịch was heavily racialized: Young, predominantly non-White men were seen as perpetrators of crime. At the same time that started happening, reggaeton was becoming more popular. Crime và drugs, which were the issues that provided the so-called justification of Mano Dura, became attributed to lớn reggaeton singers and fans. It became a very maligned music.


In the mid 1990s, Puerlớn Rican police went inlớn malls & took reggaeton recordings và tried to charge the store owners with peddling obscenities, & that got thrown out by the courts. At the same time, when the government targeted reggaeton, it got publicity: People who hadn’t heard of it started hearing about it, which taught artists that there might be a bigger market for them than they originally thought.

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In 2002, there was another censorship chiến dịch in Puerlớn Rico, this one called the Anti-Pornography Campaign, concerned with visual representations of sexuality on TV. They really targeted reggaeton music videos for their portrayals of women, & the ultimate result of that chiến dịch was the passing of laws similar khổng lồ what we have for parental warnings on TV in the U.S. Again, it gave sầu reggaeton artists publithành phố and expanded their market. If you read interviews with artists in the early 2000s, they realized that if they changed their presentations in a particular way they could become more popular.


It’s shortly after that that we see “Gasolina” come out in 2004. Then as it enters the pop world, reggaeton’s reputation shifts a little bit. Its reputation doesn"t ever totally go away, but it becomes less prominent.

Once “Gasolina” comes out in 2004, we see a lot of reggaeton artists who’ve been around for a long time in the underground scene get signed by major record labels and have sầu a much broader audience outside of places where they had been popular before. Then sales start going down around 2007, and you see some people talking about this reggaeton bubble that burst. What’s great about “Despacito” is that it shows reggaeton never really went away. It’s everywhere you look.

Kornhaber: So what happens when you have the ultimate White boy Justin Bieber jumping on this style?

Rivera-Rideau: I’ve been so interested in the Justin Bieber story. In interviews Luis Fonđắm say says Bieber heard “Despacito” while on tour in Colombia và the crowd was going crazy & he liked it. He contacted Fonham mê to lớn be on the tuy vậy & recorded the reset. I find that story khổng lồ be very interesting: Justin Bieber initiated this, as opposed khổng lồ, people might assume, Luis Fonđê mê initiating it.


One of the frustrating things about the truyền thông coverage of the reset is that there’s a lot of emphasis on Bieber. This is Fonsi’s ninth studio album—Bieber definitely did not discover hyên ổn, but a lot of the English-language media I’ve sầu seen presents it that way. For a long time, whenever Latin artists have crossed over into the U.S. they have sầu been presented as “new discoveries.” Like in the ‘90s, we had the so-called “Latin Boom” with Ricky Martin, Shakira, & Enrique Iglesias, who were incredibly popular in Latin pop music already.

English-language media has also been emphasizing that Luis Fonđắm say has a lot khổng lồ gain by Justin Bieber being on the track. It’s true that suddenly this tuy nhiên is No. 1 on the Hot 100, và it’s going khổng lồ be part of the conversation with “Macarena” và “La Bamba” when we think about the crossover of Latin artists. But Justin Bieber also has something khổng lồ gain by being on this remix: There’s a huge market for Latin music, và there’s a general kind of Caribbean turn in American pop music lately. So this adds an element khổng lồ his repertoire, though it isn’t his first time dealing with this style and connecting with Spanish-language artists. My introduction to Justin Bieber was his tuy nhiên “Sorry,” which I heard from afar and thought, “Oh somebody’s playing a reggaeton tuy vậy.” He also had a Latin reset khổng lồ that tuy nhiên featuring J Balvin, who’s a popular reggaeton singer from Colombia.


What’s different about “Despacito” is that it’s a Spanish-language tuy vậy and not an English tuy vậy, which is significant because many people assume that Latin crossover artists move from Spanish to English. One person this brings to mind is Romeo Santos, the frontman for the bachata group Aventura who now has a tremendously successful solo career. He has songs with Usher, Drake, & Nicki Minaj, and frequently he talks about how he’s a bilingual artist, he grew up in the U.S., and he chooses khổng lồ sing in Spanish. If these artists want to lớn be on his tracks, he’s not going to sing in English to accommodate them. One question I have sầu about the Justin Bieber tuy nhiên is, was it his idea to sing in Spanish? That I’m not so sure.


Kornhaber: How vì chưng you think about Latin pop’s relationship with American pop historically? Have there been discrete waves of interaction, is it a sporadic thing, or is there always an ongoing crossover?

Rivera-Rideau: This is a really complicated question because of how we define Latin music. There are a lot of Latin-music aesthetics that have sầu made it inlớn pop music that we may not recognize as Latin: certain chord progressions, rhythms, instrumentation. As well there are artists who aren’t necessarily marketed as Latin music artists, but are of Latino descent. But it’s the language, or a certain kind of guitar sound lượt thích the one that opens up “Despacito lớn,” that are really associated with a lot of stereotypical notions of Latino culture.


We do have these moments when Latin music does cross over. Certainly the ’90s was a big moment. “Macarena” was in 1996, then you have Ricky Martin & Jennifer Lopez in the later ’90s và early 2000s. You could also think way bachồng khổng lồ the 1940s to mambo music, of Afro-Cuban origin, as another term that encompasses a pretty diverse style of music. At that time, certain artists with a very specific style crossed over. Pérez Prado was a mambo orchestra leader had top-10 hits; Desay đắm Arnaz, who was a musician in addition lớn being an actor, was influenced by mambo.

Kornhaber: How is Justin’s Spanish?

Rivera-Rideau: It was a lot better than I thought it was gonmãng cầu be. I’ve read mixed đánh giá, though. Some people think his Spanish is pretty good, & a lot of people are making fun of it. One of the threads that goes across the discussions is how interesting và surprising it is that he did it in Spanish at all. Especially because he did have this Latin rephối of “Sorry” in which he still sings in English, và that follows the bilingual rephối format that we’re seeing in a lot of pop songs.


Kornhaber: What should people kiểm tra out next if they’re intrigued by the sound of “Despacito”?

Rivera-Rideau: People always talk about reggaeton as if it’s monolithic because of the ubiquitous beat. But it’s a really diverse genre of music. One might want to look at some of Daddy Yankee’s older stuff: “Gasolina” was on a larger album, Barrio Fino, which was groundbreaking in terms of integrating reggaeton into lớn the Latin mainstream. I really lượt thích Tego Calderón, who integrates salsa và other Puerto lớn Rican traditions. Also Ivy Queen: Reggaeton is a genre in which most artists are men, but Ivy Queen has had a long career beginning in underground.

Then there are these new groups of artists coming out, lượt thích Maluma and J Balvin, from Colombia, who have this sort of thắm thiết reggaeton going on. I’m partial lớn the older stuff, but I’m sure that’s generational.

The success of “Despacito” makes me really excited khổng lồ see what’s going to happen next. When I was writing my dissertation, a lot of people were telling me to hurry up because nobody’s going lớn be listening lớn this music by the time the book comes out. But people are still listening to lớn it. There are some who are really upphối because reggaeton has become very commercialized. But on the other h& it’s an interesting moment khổng lồ think about how this genre has moved from being so maligned, marginalized, và censored to now being the No. 1 tuy vậy on the English-language pop charts.