The Decline of Reggaeton: Is It Real?

The explosion of fusions and new trends reignites a cyclical debate

Archivado en: Anitta  •   Bad Bunny  •   Becky G  •   Daddy Yankee  •   feid  •   J Balvin  •   Karol G  •   Maluma  •   Natti Natasha  •   Peso Pluma  •   Rauw Alejandro  •   Rosalia  •   Villano Antillano  •   Xavi  •   Young Miko  •  

In the last decade, reggaeton has solidified itself as one of the most listened-to genres in Spanish-speakign countries. A success somewhat questioned, but one that seems to persist fueled by its consumption channels: social media, streaming, and the omnipresence of virality.

A style that actually, much like many of its performers boast, comes «from the bottom,» whose unquestionable positioning at the top of the mainstream seems to have been earned overnight. But it hasn’t been that way.

Bad Bunny performs during his «Most Wanted» tour at Barclays Center on April 11, 2024 in New York City. Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Critiqued, sabotaged, loved, and hated, the fact that reggaeton has always been in the spotlight of criticism and discredit is no coincidence. Nor is it coincidental that the debate about its announced death is reignited whenever reference artists choose to fuse their music with new styles or because they stop occupying the main lines of festival posters and other macro-events.

So, where is reggaeton right now? Is it still a changing trend? Does it have an expiration date? Let’s see.

Karol G, one of the main reggaeton icons worldwide, performs during a concert at Sultanes stadium on February 16, 2024 in Monterrey, Mexico. Medios y Media/Getty Images

The Failed Attempt to Kill Reggaeton

For a long time, it seems that the most illustrious voices of the industry wanted to «kill» reggaeton. This was the case in 2010, with the rise of streaming, where Latin music was among the most affected in terms of sales volume.

At that time, the mainstream press in the United States loudly announced the death of a reggaeton that had shaken the industry to its core to the rhythm of «Gasolina.» The successes of Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, Ivy Queen, and Luny Tunes, among others, had taken a step forward in a global industry where Spanish-language music still seemed anecdotal.

Daddy Yankee talks to media
Daddy Yankee talks to media as part of Race For The Cure Press Conference in Puerto Rico. GV Cruz / WireImage

However, despite the widespread desire to overthrow one of the most successful styles of Spanish-speaking music, the triumph of streaming has been a vehicle for the explosion of reggaeton. A trend that has persisted to this day, even in markets where English music predominates, such as the United States, where Latin music revenues increased by 7.5% in the first half of 2023, with 98% attributed to streaming playback.

The success of reggaeton and, with it, Spanish-language music, is global. It seems that little by little, the need to record studio works in English to undertake an international projection has ended. A path taken by artists like Enrique Iglesias or Shakira.

«The industry has undergone a significant transformation. When I started, it was difficult for songs like ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ or ‘Underneath Your Clothes’ to be programmed on American radio, but now people sing and dance in Spanish. But for me, in the past, it was a tough time, even in Spain,» revealed the Colombian diva in an interview with our colleague Cris Regatero.

@crisregatero ¿Habría cantado Shakira en inglés si la industria funcionase como ahora? Aquí un pequeño snippet de mi entrevista a #Shakira por su disco #LasMujeresYaNoLloran 💎 🔗 LINK A LA ENTREVISTA COMPLETA EN MI PERFIL #shakirafans #fyp #miami #entrevista #entrevistashakira #crisregatero ♬ La Tortura (feat. Alejandro Sanz) (Album) – Shakira

A feat that media outlets like Billboard attribute to the strong emergence of a new generation of Latin artists, especially within reggaeton. This is the case, for example, with Bad Bunny and Karol G, both in the top 10 of the most listened-to Latin artists in 2024. A ranking mainly composed of reggaeton artists where we also find J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, Feid, Maluma, and Rauw Alejandro.

Moreover, Mexican music has penetrated the top of the industry at full throttle: Peso Pluma, Fuerza Regida, Xavi are some of the names responsible for the genre’s consumption in the United States surpassing a 40% increase. Something that, in turn, has a lot to do with reggaeton, as corridos tumbados in their different forms reproduce the rhythm and styles of the genre’s global references.

Peso Pluma performs at the Coachella Stage during the 2024 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2024 in Indio, California. Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Coachella

But It’s Reggaeton in Crisis?

Who would want to kill reggaeton? Actually, this genre comes from the clandestine neighborhoods of Puerto Rico and Panama in the 1980s, part of a diaspora that also included Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the neighborhoods where the Latin migrant community settled in New York. A new trend that survived in its early years through pirate tapes and whose emergence in the industry has always been determined by its origin.

The term «reggaeton,» much like the concept of «Latinx» (a word that permeates and defines it), is supported by three elements: skin color, access to education, and social class. Through this scheme, the leading music medium Pitchfork makes a precise analysis that explains the historical stigmatization of the genre mentioned at the beginning.

Rauw Alejandro performs on stage during the Saturno World Tour at WiZink Center on September 10, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. Borja B. Hojas/Redferns

A style that, if we look back, has been widely denigrated, linked to violence, lack of culture, misogyny, and so-called «cultural trash TV» in its various forms. After all, as Puerto Rican historian Nina Vázquez asserts in the aforementioned medium, «reggaeton is a racialized genre.» And music is not an area that is exempt from reproducing the inequalities present in society.

In this sense, reggaeton, far from dying or agonizing, is more alive than ever. In its prime, as they say now. And this is due to different reasons, from the triumph of streaming to the genre’s absorption by circles of social reference, such as celebrities and influencers.

You just have to delve into TikTok to see how many trends are directly linked to the genre. And how these, in fact, create or strengthen careers like that of Young Miko, the female revelation of the genre this past year, or Xavi, currently one of the most listened-to Latin artists in the US.

Xavier Gutiérrez ‘XAVI’ performs as part of the 2024 ‘Tecate Pal’Norte’ Festival at Parque Fundidora on March 29, 2024 in Monterrey, Mexico. Medios y Media/Getty Images

Another element that consolidates the explosive triumph of the genre is its evolution and adaptability. It is evident that reggaeton has historically been a male and masculinizing genre, where its perspective on women and sex (the most recurrent themes) seemed reductionist and somewhat insulting to society. However, the landscape seems to transform every day with the emergence of female, feminist, and queer voices.

As analyzed by the indie magazine Crack, the inclusion of these elements in a genre with «hyper-patriarchal roots» demonstrates its ability to grow and adapt to the world around it. Voices ranging from the power of Karol G, Becky G, Natti Natasha, or Young Miko, or at the time, Rosalía, to somewhat more underground figures like Villano Antillano, Tomasa del Real, or Ms. Nina, among others.

Young Miko performs on the Coachella Stage during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 12, 2024. VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

In conclusion: reggaeton is not dead, it’s still partying. A genre that is a reference and dominant in the Spanish charts, which continues to evolve to this day, and gives us anthems for every life moment. There’s perreo left for a while.