In 2020, 11 of Spotify’s Top 50 artists around 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 music genres continuously dominate worldwide and are having large amounts of success outside of the Spanish-speaking world.
One possible explanation for the large influence of Latin American music — especially reggaeton — is its adaptation of popular music elements from around the world. Reggaeton originated as a Panamanian take on the Jamaican genre dance hall, but reached greater popularity with Puerto Rican artists in the early 1990s. Contemporary reggaeton draws from a wide variety of musical traditions, notably trap. Spotify’s 2020 number one artist, Bad Bunny, uses a mix of trap and reggaeton in what is often called Latin trap.
Of course, the influence of art and music goes both ways. Reggaeton has surpassed electronic dance music (EDM) and traditional country music in listeners from the United States. Moreover, the dembow rhythm has also become more and more prevalent in songs from the US. Examples of this include Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” or Doja Cat’s “Woman.”
Lines between genres are often blurred in music from all over the Americas, revealing that modern musical culture cannot be confined to exclusive boxes. It would be over-simplistic to talk of a straightforward cultural exchange between the United States and Latin America. In reality, there is a complex history of migration and cultural fusion dating back to European colonization. We can appreciate the unique cultural compilation that is 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 merge of different genre fans. Record labels have learned to make use of this increased market by having artists collaborate across genre lines. “Despacito” by Spanish-speaking artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee became a massive success in Latin America after its release. When another remixed version featuring Justin Bieber was released, the song became a chart topping hit in the US as well. This star-studded single that captured the attention of the whole world was not an isolated incident, and the collaboration between North American and Latin American musicians is only becoming more common.
Another top hit with English/Spanish collaborations is “Taki Taki” by DJ Snake and Ozuna, featuring Cardi B and Selena Gomez. By having so many artists on one track, these songs can attract a massive and diverse audience.
Another way to explain the rise of reggaeton music is its ability to get a roomful of people to start dancing; tracks like Guaynaa’s Rebota make for amazing party and club music. On the flip side, top artists from the US like Billie Eilish, Khalid, or Ariana Grande make great music that doesn’t necessarily inspire dancing. This gives clubs and radio stations ample reason to play reggaeton since its upbeat nature sparks friendly communal interactions.
For decades, Latin American music has played a large role in United States culture. In the 1990s, Selena took the country by storm with songs in the genres cumbia and bossa nova, and Afro-Cuban jazz was very popular from the mid-century onward. Latin American music is here to stay in the United States, and will only continue to spread its wings.