Women of ‘musica urbana’ push back against genre’s history

By Didi Martinez | Digital Managing Editor

In the realm of urban Latin music, a range of female artists are riding the newest wave of the genre to push through the sexism that has historically plagued the industry.

“Musica urbana,” or urban Latin music, which includes sub-genres such as Latin trap, hip hop and reggaeton, is a genre dominated by males. While male artists usually have their breakout moment with the next tune that dominates the airways, the road is much harder for women who have to work to move past a “featuring” credit. Recently, however, a slate of young female artists such as Becky G, Karol G, Natti Natasha and Leslie Grace have become the much-needed voices of women within the genre.

Critics have long called out urban Latin music for its misogynistic lyrics and sexist tropes, the most prevalent among them being about dominating the “unconquerable” woman. The music of the early 2000s was notorious for this, a fact that reggaeton legend Ivy Queen addressed in her hit “Yo Quiero Bailar,” which questioned the way men pursue women at the club.

But a change may be underway, as addressing problematic portrayals of women is exactly what has given fuel to Latin America’s most prominent female artists.

Songs like the Mexican-American singer Becky G’s “Mayores” and Brazilian singer Anitta’s “Downtown” have shocked listeners for their no-frills illustrations of female sexuality. For example, last summer Becky G received backlash from critics who questioned her status as a role model for singing about a woman who likes older men and the sexual double-entendres used within “Mayores.”

In response, the 21-year-old singer told Entertainment Tonight, “With the platform that I have been given, I can act on being a feminist and ask people, ‘Why is it that you don’t like when a women does it? But all these years of urban, reggaeton male artists singing all these lyrics that are by far worse, it’s totally fine?’”

Becky G brings up a good point. Having women sing about their sexuality is about more than just “leveling out the playing field,” but about how men still portray women in a way that is a projection of their own desires. What has resulted are songs like Columbian singer Maluma’s “Borro Cassette,” which gloss over mutual attraction and consent.

At the same time, some of the biggest male artists of the urban Latin scene have also come forward as allies to the cause. Last year, Colombian artist J Balvin told The Huffington Post he is aware of the genre’s reputation and stays conscious of that when making his music.

“Part of what we did is change that misconception that reggaeton is machista and misogynist. On the contrary, women are our biggest fans, and they inspire us,” said Balvin, who collaborated with Anitta for “Downtown.”

And he’s not the only one. Last month, musical duo Mau y Ricky released a remix of their song “Mi Mala,” which features three Latina singers who each come from different Latin American backgrounds. The song features Becky G, Argentinian singer Lali and Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace, who all bring their own flair to the track — a move the singers said was intentional.

Most importantly, the Latina superstars of the genre have recognized that this is indeed a movement and have committed to lifting each other up through their music.

“The music is evolving, the mentalities are evolving,” Karol G told The Washington Post. “Machistas are out of style.”

Didi Martinez is a senior journalism and political science double major from Katy.