Writing about reggaeton in 2018 inevitably means writing under the shadow of ‘Despacito’. The track, which was already a hit across Latin America and Spain, took off internationally last year once Justin Bieber jumped on board and became one of only three Spanish-language singles (including ‘La Macarena’) to have ever reached No. 1 in the US charts. The song also reached the top spot in countries this side of the Atlantic — in the UK, Ireland, Italy, France and Germany, to name only a few. Its runaway success has opened the doors to Spanish-language hits from Little Mix and CNIC, J Balvin and Beyoncé, and Demi Lovato and Luis Fonsi, paving the way for more transcultural collaboration in the years to come.
Despite the genre’s recent rise to prominence within the English-speaking world, reggaeton has been a mainstay of Spanish-language music for over two decades. While we might have some early recollection of reggaeton from Daddy Yankee’s 2004 smash hit ‘Gasolina’, the movement emerged earlier, in the 1990s, amongst Spanish-speaking communities in Panama, Puerto Rico and New York. An amalgamation of musical styles coming from different cultures — dancehall from Jamaica, Puerto Rican bomba and North American hip-hop — reggaeton serves as a musical map of the migration and movement which has shaped the communities living in the Americas.
With ‘Despacito’ giving way to the likes of ‘Mi Gente’ and ‘Reggaeton Lento’, reggaeton is showing no signs of vacating airwaves across North America and Europe. However, while reggaeton has a much more varied and complex history than what white audiences might immediately realise, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to music being produced across Latin America and Spain. With the genre’s runaway success over the past year, 2018 looks set to be the year when English-speaking audiences become acquainted with the sheer variety of music recorded in the Spanish language.