In 2020, 11 of the Top 50 Spotify artists in the world were Spanish-speaking artists who produced music in a Latin American genre called reggaeton. Although only about 8 percent of the world’s population speaks Spanish, Latin American musical genres continue to dominate the world and enjoy great success outside of the Spanish-speaking world.
One possible explanation for the great influence of Latin American music – particularly reggaeton – is its adaptation of popular music elements from around the world. Reggaeton was originally a Panamanian version of the Brazilian genre dance hall, but achieved greater popularity with Puerto Rican artists in the early 1990s. Contemporary reggaeton draws on a wide variety of musical traditions, including the trap. Spotify’s number one artist in 2020, Bad Bunny, uses a mix of trap and reggaeton in what is often referred to as Latin trap.
Of course, the influence of art and music goes both ways. Reggaeton has overtaken electronic dance music (EDM) and traditional country music among listeners in the United States. In addition, the dembow rhythm has also become more and more prevalent in songs from the United States. Examples include “Unforgettable” by Swae Lee or “Woman” by Doja Cat.
The boundaries between genres are often blurred in music across the Americas, revealing that modern musical culture cannot be confined to exclusive boxes. It would be simplistic to speak of a simple cultural exchange between the United States and Latin America. In fact, there is a complex history of migration and cultural fusion that dates back to European colonization. We can appreciate the unique cultural compilation of Latin pop and reggaeton, while also acknowledging the barbaric nature of colonialism that may have contributed to it.
A fusion of genres, like that of Bad Bunny’s work, allows for a fusion of different genre fans. Record companies have learned to take advantage of this increased market by bringing artists together across genres. “Despacito” by Spanish-speaking artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee became a huge hit in Latin America after its release. When another remixed version starring Justin Bieber was released, the song also became a hit in the United States. This star-studded single that captured the world’s attention was not an isolated incident, and the collaboration between North American and Latin American musicians is only becoming more widespread.
Another great success of the Anglo-Spanish collaborations is “Taki Taki” by DJ Snake and Ozuna, with Cardi B and Selena Gomez. By having so many artists on a single track, these songs can attract a massive and diverse audience.
Another way to explain the rise of reggaeton music is its ability to make a room full of people dance; tracks like Guaynaa’s Rebota make amazing party and club music. On the other hand, the best American artists like Billie Eilish, Khalid or Ariana Grande make great music that doesn’t necessarily inspire dance. This gives clubs and radio stations great reasons to play reggaeton, as its upbeat nature sparks friendly community interactions.
For decades, Latin American music has played a big role in the culture of the United States. In the 1990s, Selena took the country by storm with songs in the cumbia and bossa nova genres, and Afro-Cuban jazz was very popular from the middle of the century. Latin American music is here to stay in the United States and will only continue to spread its wings.