Talking Sex in Music: The Impact of Karol G & Other Latin Divas

The way that sexual desire is expressed has changed over time, and the success of female artists plays a significant role

When we think about sex and music, perhaps reggaeton is the first genre that comes to mind. it may be due to the explicit content of its lyrics and videos, which may have overshadowed other genres where sex has also been addressed, such as rock or pop. Yes, indeed: before Don Omar and Daddy Yankee, The Beatles, Prince, Led Zeppelin, or The Rolling Stones had already tackled the subject.

However, what we can affirm is that the way each musical style talks about sex is different and unique. In the case of reggaeton, it is a cornerstone of the genre. This particular style, which has become a favorite among new generations and is experiencing its absolute boom, originated in Puerto Rican underground clubs in the 90s. Stemming from a mix with 80s Panamanian reggae, it didn’t take long to build its own icons: from Yankee and Don Omar to Vico C, Hector el Father, Nicky Jam, and Tito El Bambino, among others.

One of the central criticisms within the urban genre has always been the treatment of sex and the representation of women in it. Currently, there are numerous academic studies analyzing the discourse present in reggaeton songs and their impact on society, especially on younger populations. Several studies have confirmed the cultural impact of these songs on social behavior, as exposure to sexual content has been linked to expectations of sexual activity, the initiation of relationships, permissiveness within relationships, and the decision to engage in risky sexual practices.

Some recurring elements in these analyses within reggaeton include «the denigration of women» (a term repeated in several reports), as well as their «objectification» (the (un)popular concept of the «woman as an object»), and «dehumanization.» However, most of these studies focus on analyzing well-known reggaeton songs written and performed by men. But have our reggaeton divas managed to change the narrative around sex in music? Let’s explore.

Talking Sex in First Person: the Arrival of Female Desire

Previously, we have seen how influential female artists like Madonna have transformed the music industry and societal understanding of sexuality since the 80s. Since then, female desire began to gain greater visibility, although not equally in all musical styles.

In the 90s, Ivy Queen was the first female reggaeton artist to confront a genre dominated by the male perspective, navigating a challenging path that media outlets like Billboard have considered crucial. «With songs like ‘Quiero Bailar,’ Ivy Queen has represented women in a movement that commercially took off dominated by men with aggressive lyrics, where she established herself as an unapologetic feminist voice.»

Here, we also find other artists who, while not receiving the same recognition, were present in the genre’s evolution, such as Lorna or Glory. In their songs, a fundamental shift in mutual understanding of sex occurred: the presence and expression of female desire. «Because I’m the one in charge, I’m the one who decides when we hit the dance floor, and you know it. The rhythm is taking me, the more you get close, the more I’ll tease you,» sang Ivy in the mentioned «Quiero Bailar.»

However, if we have to focus on the most relevant female artist in the genre who has truly changed the paradigm when it comes to talking about sex, it is undoubtedly Karol G. One year after the release of her highly successful studio album, «Mañana Será Bonito» (2023), which has garnered all possible awards — including a Grammy and several Latin Grammys — it is clear that the artist represents an unprecedented success in the globalization of reggaeton, even in countries like the United States.

Between 2020 and 2022, according to Luminate, the consumption of Latin music in the country has grown by 55.29%, far surpassing the 21.61% of the overall industry and the four largest genres in the country: R&B/hip-hop (12.17%), rock (22.28%), pop (20.64%), and country (19.22%).

Precisely, within this latest release and its B-side, «Mañana Será Bonito (Bichota Season),» we find lyrics that indicate a shift in perspective in sexual representation. In «OKI DOKI,» a song in the pure Motomami style, the Colombian artist talks about how oral sex is better now that she’s not with her ex: «This big one is a show-off / I tried it, it tasted so good / It’s better than I thought / It’s tastier than what I had before,» she sings. Explicit content is also evident in several other songs like «Gatúbela» or «Kármika.»

One particular aspect of Karol’s style when discussing attraction in her songs, perhaps not found in the more old-school songs of the genre, is a greater complexity in expressing her feelings. That is, when she talks about sex, she doesn’t just talk about sex. She also adds other components to the song that go beyond the act itself, such as exploring how she feels or the type of relationship she wants or doesn’t want. These factors provide a greater understanding of female sexual desire in this case.

Other examples of female artists who have contributed to giving greater visibility and centrality to the role of female desire in urban music include Anitta, María Becerra, Becky G, Natti Natasha, Emilia, or Rosalía, among others. In fact, when «HENTAI» was released, social media buzzed with the song’s meaning, but it is an ideal example of the female expression of sexual desire, which also deviates from the genre’s traditional rhythms towards a more pop-acoustic horizon. How can we forget the viral «Te quiero ride, como mi bike / Hazme un tape, modo spy / Yo la batí, hasta que se montó / Lo segundo es chingarte, lo primero Dios»? The artist has masterfully portrayed the essence of sex, as she did in «DI MI NOMBRE» in «El Mal Querer» (2018).

It is worth noting, of course, the particularly explicit nature of female artists more associated with dancehall, a genre that inherently revolves around desire and sensuality, such as Tokischa — who has become a collaborator of Madonna, even starring in the remix of «Hung Up» — and Bad Gyal, who has once again shaken up the charts with her debut album «La Joia,» where the lead single is titled nothing less than «Perdió Este Culo.»

Women Writing to other Women

If the fact that women talk about sex in music still causes a stir — we only need to look at artists who have recently been criticized for doing soit is also essential to highlight the relevance and still innovative nature in the industry of these lyrics written by women desiring other women. Perhaps the strongest boom in this regard has been made by Young Miko, who in the last year has become one of the most relevant female artists in reggaeton.

From the beginning, the Puerto Rican artist focuses her songs and lyrics on sexual attraction, directing them all towards other girls. Hits like «FINA,» «Classy 101,» or «Lisa» have gone viral, with unforgettable lines like «speaking frankly, I have a problem, and it’s that I quickly fall for girls.» Undoubtedly, she is one of the LGBTQ+ references in the industry globally, along with other performers like Villano Antillano or Snow Tha Product.

However, we also have to point out other examples where, even if the artists have not openly expressed their sexuality, they also write to other women from desire. Karol G does this in her recent «CONTIGO» or in «QLONA,» her collaboration with Peso Pluma, where the Colombian singer sings: «You’re provoking me even though you’re doing it unintentionally / I asked about you more than a month ago / You broke up with that fool. I really want to kiss you / I saw you in a photo, and I imagined you without clothes / I’d be lying if I said I’m not crazy to see you / With those jeans, how curvy you look.»

The same can be found in Nicki Nicole’s «Una Foto Remix» or in «8 AM,» where in both cases, she writes to a female recipient.

In conclusion, all these artists have taken giant steps in understanding sexual desire beyond the established heterosexual male perspective. Our divas have not only given us great hits to empathize with but have also managed to break down the barriers of objectification, constructing their own subjectivity; a mirror in which other women can also recognize themselves.