The end of the 2010s will go down in history as the beginning of the Latin trap and reggaeton era. For the past few years, variations of these two original genres took over the globe—especially captivating North American audiences, finally.
In 2017, Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” was its own seminal moment in the process of the Latin trap global takeover. From a Latino’s perspective, “Despacito” was the first glimpse of a bigger movement that was decades in the making. Daddy Yankee and Fonsi—with the help of Justin Bieber, who later hopped on for the most commercially successful remix of the decade—reached worldwide dancefloors and broke records for the most views on YouTube. More importantly, though, “Despacito” opened the floodgates for artists like J Balvin, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, and Karol G, to name a few, to show North American audiences what they were capable of, and boy did they ever.
Following the breakout success of “Despacito,” the world was finally watching and ready to listen to what reggaetoneros had to offer. Artists were recognized by fans and media members alike as worldwide sensations, despite achieving notoriety on a local and regional level. The impressive growth of Bad Bunny, Karol G, and company, was such that mainstream outlets eventually began to refer to them as “global popstars,” a white-washed euphemism that took away their reggaeton roots. This practice made these artists appear more digestible to American audiences. However, removing their reggaeton tags strips them of who they are and becomes a disrespectful denial of cultural history.
Following “Despacito,” new fans waited patiently for the next chart-topping hit, and so began one of the weirdest and most dangerous trends popular in reggaeton: The interpolation of American music.
On March 20, 2018, Alex Rose and Myke Towers released “Darte,” a trap song borrowing the melody from Akon’s 2006 hit “I Wanna Love You” to create a smash single that would change the immediate future of the industry. Rose and Towers might have interpolated Akon to pay tribute to the famous R&B star—the official video begins with cuts from Akon’s performing live while his chorus plays in the background—but they also created a blueprint for quick success, putting the originality of the Latin trap genre in danger.
After “Darte,” in January 2019, Daddy Yankee released “Con Calma,” which took its charm from Snow’s 1992 single “Informer,” using the melody and adapting new lyrics. In July, Anuel AA’s posse cut “China” turned the melody from Shaggy’s 1999 classic hit “It Wasn’t Me” into the most awful earworm of the year. In October, J Balvin, alongside the Black Eyed Peas, released “RITMO,” a dry tune that uses the same chorus as Corona’s “Rhythm Of The Night.”
Less than one month into 2020, not one but two different songs copied the chant from Ini Kamoze’s 1995 single “Here Comes the Hotstepper”—Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam’s long-awaited comeback single as Los Cangris, “Muévelo,” and the collaboration between Static & Ben El and Pitbull, “Further Up.” These songs were released only two days apart. The latest single in this daring-free interpolation trend, released January 12, 2020, is “Me Gusta” by Shakira and Anuel AA. Listen for yourself and spot the source material.
With the lack of creativity stripping away the boldness of the reggaeton genre, this current interpolation trend is nothing short of troubling. The innovative nature of reggaeton is the reason for the genre’s international success. Reggaeton always could reinvent itself. With this new interpolation craze, however, that magic disappears. What is the long-time cost of a newly-charting hit?
The result of this new vogue is a predictable one: easily-made songs that have no desire to be more than a couple-months-long novelty. Fans of the genre end up dancing to machine-made tunes repeating the same structures, filled with trite lyrics and recognizable melodies, created to satisfy the vast majority of American listeners without capturing what makes reggaeton so unique.
Worse yet, true reggaeton fans know these artists and producers have the means and creative drive to give us innovative, fun, and fresh songs. Just look at the praise Bad Bunny has received in American-based magazines. We know reggaetoneros can make genre-shifting music, which is why the laziness behind this trend is almost offensive—especially for Latinos who’ve grown with the genre and adopted it as our primary sound. Now that reggaeton has broken into the US market, garnering more money, resources, and the motive to deliver better quality songs, this current trend—an effort to make the genre friendlier to the English-speaking listener—feels like a betrayal.
Now, it’s in the hands of the artists to not let this become the benchmark for reggaeton. For artists, the question is simple: Are they willing to allow the sound and movement they love to become a cyclical money-making machine, or do they want it to have a more significant impact on the world of music?
Reggaeton and Latin trap artists have the chance to go against the coming tidal wave. Too, we as listeners have a voice. After all, we are the ones whose listening habits graduate songs onto the Billboard charts. Latin music is peaking, which necessitates a new responsibility for its leading practitioners, creatively speaking. It’s time for artists to step up. Otherwise, Latin trap and reggaeton will be relegated to a simple fad and lose its creative essence.