a woman holds a phone with many notifications, the time says 8:50.
Design by Phoebe Unwin. Buy this photo.

Él tiene que escribir para la gente. “He must write for the people.”

These were the words with which my sister recently countered my father’s repetitive rant against renowned Puerto Rican band Calle 13’s work.

I inherited my opinionated nature from my father. If you think you know someone who’s extremely opinionated, you have not met Papa. Papa has opinions on topics ranging far and wide, from very simple to tremendously complex. Naturally, as a Puerto Rican adult male in his late 40s (sorry for the specificity, Papa) with two teenage daughters, he has a very strong opinion regarding reggaetón and its subject matter. And while some of his opinions are unique, his opposition to reggaetón certainly isn’t.

It is no mystery why many adults are fiercely against their children listening to reggaetón. According to child psychologist Daniela Muñoz, reggaetón is apparently “a type of abuse that causes early and inadequate development (in children).” The negative stigma behind raggaetón stems from the sexist language in its lyrics, its controversial origins and widespread disapproval among adults. While I must admit that reggaetón is plagued with a promotion of questionable societal values, I would rather present reggaetón to parents, and readers overall, as an educational opportunity, a socio-political statement and a celebration of culture.

While reggaetón features language that is hard to digest, it also represents the ultimate way to let loose and have a good time while celebrating one’s cultural roots. Specifically, reggaetón’s ancestry lies in Jamaican and Panamanian reggae, Cuban salsa, New Yorker hip-hop and African and Puerto Rican bomba. This is in addition to the fact that the songs are undeniably very catchy, and who doesn’t love a catchy tune to vibe to?

If an assured good time and a cultural celebration aren’t enough, a recent study featured in the Neuroscience Academic Journal demonstrated that reggaetón evokes the highest level of activity in the auditory-motor regions of the human brain.  

I must admit there is some truth to arguments against reggaetón. As a zealous feminist, I must also admit that it seems a bit contradictory to ardently defend music that constantly employs misogynistic expressions. After all, many reggaetón songs are characterized by deeply sexist lyrics and, at times, I even catch myself innocently singing along to them, only reflecting on the lyrics when inquired about them seriously. 

When I actually pay attention to the language reggaetón tracks routinely include, it becomes difficult to position myself in favor of music that appears to be so degrading for women. Male reggaetón artists are chiefly responsible for objectifying women and depicting them in dehumanizing positions in their songs. Some have even faced backlash for their intensely offensive depictions of women, such as Maluma and Farruko. And so, the question arises: Are women who listen to reggaetón disrespecting themselves and their self-worth? The simple answer is no, because the problem doesn’t lie in the musical genre nor in its listeners. It lies in the misogyny within modern-day society.

Music is a reflection of society. It mirrors the values society promotes. And while I am proud to be Puerto Rican, it is important to note that Latinx culture is known for its promotion of machismo. As a result, it comes as no surprise that the modern music genre that reflects Latinx culture manifests its roots in machismo.

Reggaetón has a complicated and debatable history with societal approval of the values it encourages. However, although misogynistic discourse dominates Latinx culture and, consequently, reggaetón, the genre has actively sought to reinvent itself in recent years. 

Bad Bunny, for one, has championed the evolving socio-political narrative around reggaetón. His song “Andrea” sheds light on patterns of domestic violence and femicide in Puerto Rico, narrating the story of the late Andrea Ruíz, who was denied a restraining order against her abusive ex-boyfriend Miguel Ocasio and was found dead a month later. Additionally, “Yo Perreo Sola” attempts to restructure the narrative around female sexual desire within reggaetón. His song with the largest socio-political impact, however, has been “El Apagón.” A celebration of Puerto Rican orgullo paired with a strikingly eye-opening music video, which sought to inform Bad Bunny’s audience of the gentrified reality of the island.

Bad Bunny’s work is notable and largely appreciated, but alongside him, there are also many female artists that have attempted to reclaim the narrative that dominates reggaetón. Puerto Rican artist Ivy Queen is often cited as the pioneer who jump-started the feminist movement within reggaetón. Her song “Yo Quiero Bailar” is a testament to female sexual desire and the importance of consent. Recently, artists like Young Miko and Villano Antillano, both members of the LGBTQ+ community, have added a new face to reggaetón and provided representation within the genre that was previously unheard of.

Reggaetón’s accommodation to modern socio-political dialogue has revitalized the cultural pride felt by many when listening to songs within the reggaetón genre. The genre represents an attractive way to engage with Latinx culture, especially for teens. Bands like the aforementioned Puerto Rican group Calle 13 embrace the Spanish, African and Taíno roots of Puerto Rican culture and include them in their music, presenting reggaetón as a celebration of Latinx heritage. This description is perfectly personified through the song “Latinoamérica,” which is both a commemoration of Latinx culture and a political critique of Latin American and foreign governments.

Given that reggaetón has evolved over the years, it is important to recognize its origins in poor urban Puerto Rican communities amid public housing projects. As my sister so eloquently explained to my father, many reggaetón artists seek to use language that appeals to members of all backgrounds, which explains the domination of language that some deem inappropriate within reggaetón. Reggaetón has made statements as powerful and impactful as taking down corrupt political figures through music “from below,” as was the case in ousting former Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló from office.

So, in short, no, reggaetón is not mind numbing your children nor promoting misogyny — society is. Reggaetón is merely a reflection of problematic values engraved in modern-day society and its attempts to reorient its intentions have positioned it as a trailblazer of culture and activism at a global level. In fact, after many conversations and going back and forth with our differing points of view, my passionate father has even succumbed to adding a few reggaetón tracks to his playlist, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.  

Graciela Batlle Cestero is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at gbatllec@umich.edu