Reggaeton Is Not The Problem, Misogyny Is

Last summer, a group of Colombian graphic designers organized a campaign against reggaeton, a genre that combines various elements of hip-hop with ...

Last summer, a group of Colombian graphic designers organized a campaign against reggaeton, a genre that combines various elements of hip-hop with Caribbean and Latin American music and rose to prominence over the last decade. Initially popular among the working class in Puerto Rico, it was soon adopted by Latinos in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the Americas, hijacking radio stations wherever it traveled. Its lyrics are often explicit, containing references to drugs, sex and violence. However, this did not prevent it from becoming the preferred genre of many youths from San Juan to Buenos Aires.
Such rise to popularity did not go unnoticed; criticism emerged from all fronts: “reggaeton is satanic” and “reggaeton will corrupt our children” were a few of the mantras I have heard over and over again. They changed nothing. To this day, Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Pitbull and many others continue to pack stadiums and concert halls wherever they go.
This summer’s campaign seemed to go beyond the all-too-usual criticism of reggaeton. Composed of four photographs, it was accompanied by the slogan, “Think for yourself: Don’t let music degrade your condition.” The pictures depicted literal interpretations of some famous lyrics, all of which showed women being harassed, beaten or otherwise objectified. One of them, for example, pictured a young woman against a wall with her hand nailed to it while a man licked her neck.
You could also read a verse from a song by Arcangel, “If you were a nail and I was a hammer, I would like to hammer you.” Unlike other campaigns, where reggaeton was denounced for not being in line with Catholic values or for inciting violence and drug use, this was the first campaign I saw that addressed reggaeton’s misogynistic depiction of women.
It did so through an extraordinary appeal to the listeners’ rationality. First, it exposed the crude brutality of its lyrics, suggesting that no individual in her or his right mind would actually think of approaching women in such a way. It made you feel guilty for letting yourself get carried away by reggaeton’s appealing beat and flow and encouraging misogynistic behavior. It also proposed a seemingly easy way out: thinking for yourself.
In the designers’ minds, a few seconds of autonomous, critical thinking — possible intoxication and the heat of the moment notwithstanding — would prevent you from falling to the ranks of the thoughtless masses. It was also unclear on whom the responsibility to think for oneself was placed — whether it was on the young women, whose condition was being degraded through objectification, or on the young men with sadistic and animalistic tendencies. Either way, it made a wide, personalized call for the listener not to engage in the misogynistic attitudes that reggaeton promotes.
My issue with the campaign is that it worked on the assumption that the majority of the reggaeton listeners cannot listen to and appreciate it strictly in aesthetic terms. It operates under the assumption that people have to be educated, or at least made aware, of how irrational it is to listen, let alone enjoy, such music. Moreover, the public it aims to educate is those among which the genre is more popular, namely poor or lower middle class youths. These can be thought of as potential at-risk populations, marginalized by rampant inequality, a saturated public education system and limited employment opportunities.
The campaign’s attack on reggaeton — it says, after all, “Do not let music degrade your condition,” as opposed to, “Choose some reggaeton songs that do not have misogynistic lyrics” — is an attack on how many people socialize and learn to relate to the world. It is an attack on a genre that has allowed them to embrace their identities and voice their frustration with the current status quo — ChoQuibTown and their urban Afro-Colombian music or Calle 13 are popular examples. Therefore, an attack on reggaeton is an attack on a broader discourse about society in general, not just a discourse about the genre.
Some reggaeton songs do have misogynistic lyrics, and misogyny is a social problem that warrants organized, widespread social action. I also think there are many problems with how some reggaeton artists portray themselves and the influence they have on the wider public. However, framing the consumption of a genre that has become a vehicle for many to express their discontent with the current state of affairs in terms of rational or irrational behavior is an attempt to silence concerns that need to be voiced and demand to be heard.
Sebastian Rojas Cabal is news editor. Email him at
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