What do Macarena and Despacito have in common besides being big hits in Spanish and becoming as famous as “Happy Birthday”? Both songs peaked in 1996 and 2017 at number one on Billboard’s coveted Hot 100 list.
Two decades and a profound revolution in the music industry separate these two peaks of Latin music in the world. If the Los Del Río song broke the hegemony of English music in the age of CDs and radio stations, the hit by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee spread across the world via streaming platforms. And unlike Macarena, Despacito ushered in a period of undeniable protagonism of reggaeton in the music industry.
For Deezer Artist Manager Fabio Santana, the golden phase of reggaeton is a reflection of the music market reality dominated by streaming and smartphones. “The popularization of streaming services and breaking down of barriers to reach the user had a major role in making the genre one of the most played,” he says.
From the cultural outskirts to the top charts
The rhythm’s history didn’t start with hitmaker J Balvin, heartthrob Maluma or the Ozuna phenomenon. The first reggaeton hits were born in small Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million in Central America.
There, an unlikely mix of musical rhythms and cultural influences such as reggae, hip-hop, and rap gave rise to a cohesive and engaging yet peripheral and stigmatized sound. As they say in the reggaeton scene, the rhythm that was born “tiene flow”, which means, that flows. And this sway has spread throughout the world.
One of the rhythm’s first global hits was Gasolina, signed by the Puerto Rican Daddy Yankee, an artist still captive in the Top Charts of major streaming platforms. In 2005, the song was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award as record of the year, and while not having secured the trophy, Daddy Yankee showed the potential of reggaeton on a global scale.
World domination would come 12 years later with Despacito, who won the title of most played music on streaming platforms six months after it was released. The English version of the hit, featuring Justin Bieber, acted as an “endorsement” for Latin music’s triumphant entry into the center of American pop.
The music streaming revolution was the key to the globalization of urban music. Reggaeton has gone global thanks to streaming platforms and social mediaMauricio Mendoza, Head of Content and Industry Relations at Deezer for Latam
According to a survey by BuzzAngle, which analyzes data on music consumption, reggaeton outperformed traditional country music in the US and secured 10.8% of music consumption market in 2018, against 7.9% of the cowboys’ rhythm.
In addition to the magnitude of the reggaeton phenomenon, there is the data illustrating the cultural disputes of Donald Trump‘s United States, marked by the president’s fierce anti-immigration policy. Listening to reggaeton has become almost a political act, even though the songs talk about cars, unrequited love, and perreos (the Latin twerk).
Rhythms like salsa, bolero, and bachata have always been present or influenced artists from Brazil and around the world, but none of them have achieved such commercial success as ReggaetonFábio Santana, Artist Marketing at Deezer Brasil
Once at the heart of the music industry, these artists began planning and executing their work directly from the US. “Today, much of the Latin music hub is ironically located in Miami – precisely to think of more global projects,” says Fabio.
The BuzzAngle study points out that reggaeton has only been able to break down barriers in a hotly disputed market thanks to streaming platforms: about 95% of all music consumption in the genre comes from them.
Any conversation about the Latin music market begins with one word: streamingMichele Ballantyne, COO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in the 2018 RIAA Latin Music Revenue Statistics report.
“Remember that the success of a song always depends on audience acceptance and performance, but the role of streaming continues to be to introduce releases and help them grow with the addition in playlists and editorial highlights. The data provided by streaming, such as the number of streams, listeners, skips, cities, and most heard countries, are essential for the artist’s strategy to be planned correctly, ”says Fábio.
And from what the numbers show, the strategies are working very well.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Latin music revenues grew from $ 243 million in 2017 to $ 413 million in 2018. And the streaming format is increasingly central to the rhythm’s success.
The age of feats
The predominance of streaming platforms acts as a template for artists, who have adapted to the new logic of music consumption for success. This is definitely the age of collaborations. The more feats an artist does, the more likely they are to appear on streaming service playlists and be heard by a non-genre audience.
There is no other genre united and working together as the ReggaetonMauricio Mendoza – Head of Content and Industry Relations at Deezer for Latam
Again, reggaeton dominates this strategy as few genres do. In 2007, the list of the 25 most popular Latin singles had only three songs with more than one artist or band. By 2017, collaboration was almost a prerequisite for success: 19 of the Top 25 singles from Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs were performed by more than one artist. The result is an unprecedented global reach. In 2018, two of Spotify’s five most-followed playlists were from Latin songs – Viva Latino and Baila Reggaeton.
“Nowadays, artists are more willing to collaborate and this enables the genre’s success and evolution. They are friends; they look at each other and grow up together (…). There is no other genre that works as united as Reggaeton,” says Mauricio Mendoza, Head of Content and Industry Relations at Deezer for Latam.
Older artists who were not directly linked to the rhythm quickly realized the strength of collaborations. On her latest album, Madame X, Madonna inserted two reggaetons with Colombian Maluma, who was also sought by Shakira for two collaborations that totaled billions of streamings. Mexican diva Thalia sought out Natti Natasha, one of reggaeton’s top female names, for a partnership on No Me Acuerdo, which already has over one billion views on YouTube.
The potential of collaborations also sparked the interest of Brazilian artists and today the country collaborates directly with the reggaeton boom, especially for the trajectory of singer Anitta. Her first rhythm hit was Ginza, a partnership with J Balvin made in 2016. Soon after came Yes or No with Maluma, and in 2017 a new feat with J Balvin in Downtown gave the singer the reggaetonera title. The singer’s most recent release in the segment was the participation in the song Muito Calor by singer Ozuna, already recognized as one of the main artists of the genre.
Besides her, other big names in the Brazilian industry approached the main reggaeton hitmakers. Claudia Leitte sought partnership with Daddy Yankee, Pabllo Vittar sang with Argentine Lali, Luan Santana collaborated with the CNCO quintet and Ludmilla has a feat with Puerto Rican duo Zion & Lennox.
For Fabio, this is not a one-way street, as artists from other Latin American countries have also seen a promising and unique market in Brazil. “The artists with whom Brazilians partnered (J Balvin, Enrique Iglesias, Lali, and Jennifer Lopez) also reaped the fruits of the Brazilian market. Increasingly, Brazil has been seen as a strategic country for Latin artists to achieve global success. The numbers and the Brazilian’s audience enthusiasm are essential to launch hits around the world”, he says.
From small lanes in Puerto Rico to the center of the music industry, reggaeton boasts impressive numbers and the rhythm’s names are at the top of the cultural industry’s most coveted lists. “The opening of the market to urban music, partnerships between international artists, the new model of music consumption – this all made it possible for Reggaeton to become one of the most popular rhythms”, says Fábio.
However, how long can reggaeton maintain its empire? There is speculation about the rhythm’s future, especially regarding attempts at renewal and the unfolding boom of Latin music. Catalan Rosalia, who recently conquered the world with her exciting flamenco-indie-pop, has introduced new sounds to the reggaeton scene and is opening new possibilities for Latin music.
Latin trap, a mix of reggaeton and the rap subgenre, is also gaining ground on streaming platforms. For Mauricio, despite these new sounds, the trajectory that reggaeton has built is more solid than imagined. “This is pop music, not just a trend. It’s possible to talk about music trends within urban music today, like Latin trap, but reggaeton is here to stay for a long time”, he says.
Translated by Jennifer Ann Koppe