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EL ESPECTADOR

Despacito, That Sexist Yet Irrepressible Soul Of Reggaeton

Reggaeton singer Maluma on stage
Reggaeton singer Maluma on stage
Andrés Hoyos

-Essay-

BOGOTA "Despacito," the title of this summer's hit song by Luis Fonsi, means "slowly" in Spanish. Listening to it is like drinking an unsavory broth. Slowly.

It's my own silly fault really for being exposed to it, namely by opening a Spotify account and asking my children, aged 9 and 6, to create a list of songs for me. It's true, I wasn't expecting them to find Beethoven string quartets or Bach cello suites, Ravel's boleros, Cole Porter songs or even those by The Beatles. But you'd think they'd at least pick some of the music they've been hearing at home — Queen, Cat Stevens, Joaquín Sabina or even Mexico's Molotov.

No, they made playlists with artists whose names I had never heard of: Luis Fonsi, Maluma, Daddy Yankee, Wisin, J. Balvin, CNCO and the like. They all seem to be luminaries of the world of reggaeton, expect for a few like Katy Perry and Bruno Mars. They did, however, include a song they love by Leonard Cohen. Hallelujah! Bless him, the great Leonard.

I read that reggaeton emerged from the poor districts of Puerto Rico. I can understand that its lyrics, consequently, will not be filled with metaphors, lyricism or sophisticated allusions. But they don't really address social problems, racism or politics either. No, these songs are just about sex from the male perspective. Anything else — and there is little else — is peripheral.

The world of reggaeton is as sexist as that of the Wild West cowboys.

A little attention paid to the lyrics can help a person understand why there are so many teenage pregnancies in Latin American countries. The leitmotif in these songs — with slight variations — is: there is a big fiesta (partyyyyy...), and baby, or mami or mamita, ends up in bed with a guy! But there is no romantic breakfast the next day, just awkward stumbling to clear the bottles they've left lying about.

"What's your name?" as one song goes. "I dunno. Where did you come from? Didn't ask.."

The world of reggaeton is as sexist as that of the Wild West cowboys who stand, shoot and walk away. Surely there must be some female reggaeton singer somewhere, calling men papiand singing lyrics like "your love was like a Kleenex I threw away ..." I have yet to hear it though.

"Despacito" singer Luis Fonsi Photo: Andre Kang/El Nuevo Dia/ZUMA

But here's the thing. I will not deny that reggaeton is catchy. I sometimes wake up at night and hear Fonsi's "Despacito" echoing in my head, with its obstinate, thumping rhythm. It won't go away. The video of the three Italians mocking the song, which went viral on YouTube, was spot on. They hate the song but cannot stop singing it and moving to its infectious rhythm. It's a musical ghost from which one cannot escape.

How long will this wave of repetitive music last? How many mamis will be dragged willingly into bed by these walking testosterone bags who disappear into thin air the next morning? Quite a few, I imagine, since reggaeton has an irresistible beat perfectly suited to the perpetual excitement of adolescence. So yes, roll over Beethoven.

Could this genre benefit at all from speaking of something other than quick, easy sex? Who knows? Going back to my children, I am trying to get them to put together an "experimental" playlist. The idea is, it should contain anything but reggaeton. I'm hoping for Ed Sheeran, Queen, Adele, whatever takes their fancy. No judgment.

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