Friday, August 07, 2009

Reggaeton as MTV-grade Pop

Wisín and Yandel's "Abusadora" is nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in the best pop video category. The other nominees are: Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Cobra Starship and Britney Spears. Hhmmm...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a reggaeton or Latino urban music act has been nominated to the SAME category (in one of these big deal awards) as pop megastars like Britney and the others. Right? In that case, while no reggaeton song has ever matched the ubiquity of "Gasolina," this nomination seems like yet another type of milestone for reggaeton.

I know... I know... "Abusadora" is dembow-less, so is it still reggaeton?

But while we try to figure that one out, Entertainment Weekly's Simon Vozick-Levinson celebrates the nomination as a "welcome (if unexpected) step toward breaking down genre barriers," adding, "as far as I’m concerned, labels like 'pop' and 'reggaeton' confuse more than they enlighten, anyway."

So as he celebrates the breaking-down of barriers, Vozick-Levinson is still calling it reggaeton.

Marisol has the following to add: "Of course depending on how people view this nomination, this might only lend credence to the claim that reggaeton is dead."


DJPerso said...

It's DJPerso again, sorry ive been flooding your weblog lately, i was gonna say that even though abusadora is not pure reggaeton, it still retains that so called new "electro" dembow, so it retains some reggaeton characteristics. I consider you one of the number one authorities on reggaeton so im very eager to see what you have to say, what's your definition of reggaeton , and what do you predict for its fuutre,

Thank you

raquelzrivera said...

No need for apologies. I'm so happy we've been communicating so much through this blog. Authority? Hhmm... lets say documenter or chronicler ;-) I'm so glad to share opinions about this with you because I have one angle on the story and you have another.

Tell me more: what do you mean by "electro dembow"? Dembow, as I know it, is absent from "Abusadora".

As "reggaeton" gets further away from dancehall reggae, I have a harder time understanding why it still makes sense to call it reggaeton. The "música urbana" label some folks have been using makes more sense to me in that case.

But, that said, I'm not one to try to impose my opinion of whether it should be called reggaeton or not. I'm more interested in documenting and understanding who calls it reggaeton (and who doesn't) and why.

So, to me, as long as people are still calling it "reggaeton" then (in a way) it's still reggaeton.

Check what my friend Kahlil just told me about this same topic on Facebook: "
Jaja. ¿Pero esa canción por la que están nominados no es justamente puro dance-pop? Si sustituyeras las reconocibles -irritantemente reconocibles dirían unos- voces de W y Y y tradujeras las letras al inglés, se esfumaría toda posible referencia al reggaeton. Los versos rapeados podrían haber aparecido en una canción de Beyonce o de la Gaga. Mi pregunta es quiénes determinan los nominados para los premios son meros empresarios de la cadena o son críticos o VJs o qué? Muy curioso el fenómeno."

DJPerso said...

Thank you for your response :),
and i read kahlil's response, its definitely interesting to know how abusadora ended up there lol,
well about the new electro dembow that im talking about is this new trend of reggaeton producers to lighten up the sound of dembow and playing around with it without loosing it. here are some other examples << DJ Nelson El Strip CLub << arcangel <<< Tito <<< Nejo y Dalamta and Alexis y Fido - Te Estoy Esperando (Official Remix)

the producers mainly DJ Nelson like to call it "Electroflow" Reggaeton,

theres still that snare that hits after the kicks, but the sound of dem bow has definately been marginalized in these tracks,

some other producers go as far making straight up electronic dance tracks, and i think this departure is giving birth to the term "musica urbana"

what are your thoughts?

raquelzrivera said...

Thanks so much for all those references! I look forward to going through them. More soon (probably tomorrow).

raquelzrivera said...

Hi Perso. You're right! The dembow beat is still there just really sped up. (Right?) Plus they have those synths dance/tecno-style.

I can't believe I just dismissed "Abusadora" as dembowless at first listen. Well, actually, I can believe it. The song "feels" like dance/tecno music to me, so I didn't pay it much attention.

My co-editor Wayne has been great at breaking down for me (and others) the changing musical aesthetics of reggaeton. So I wonder what Wayne would have to say about all this. (Wayne?)

w&w said...

It all depends on what you mean by "dembow." For a lot of listeners and artists, dembow simply describes the ol' boom-ch-boom-chick that we could trace across reggaeton, dancehall, soca, UK funky house, a whole heap of African dance pop, etc. In that sense, all of these more recent productions still have a "dembow" feel to them, if yes, often sped up and using electronic drum timbres rather than well-worn samples from, say, Shabba Ranks tracks.

That gets us toward the second, more specific definition of "dembow" that allowed you to say, Raquel, that you didn't hear it in the W&Y track. If by "dembow," we mean a boom-ch-boom-chick beat that not only marks out that rhythm but that also makes use of very specific drum samples (many of which sourced from various versions of the song, "Dem Bow"), then it's true that more recent "reggaeton" (if we can call it that; i think we can) don't have it.

Hope that makes sense. What this electro-dembow turn means, more than anything, is that these PR artists are embracing a contemporary sonic palette, which both allows them to reach MTV but also, perhaps, forces them to abandon certain sonic signposts that were/are a lot more disctinctive to the genre.

w&w said...

not to muddy the waters again, but actually, i shouldn't say that "all" of these recent productions still include the dembow rhythm (if not samples), since some actually seem to depart from it altogether. take "algo musical," for instance, which favors a much more straightforward/duple house/techno backbeat and does not use snares to pull against the pulse in 3+3+2 fashion (as we hear, for instance, in "abusadora").

raquelzrivera said...

Thanks for the clarifications. They do help a lot.

So something like W&Y's "Me estás tentando" and Franco El Gorila's "He querido quererte" would be closer to the "more straightforward/duple house/techno backbeat" of "Algo musical", right?

(I want to be an ethnomusicologist in my next life! But luckily I have you, Wayne, in this one.)

What do you think, DJPerso?

DJPerso said...

Thank you for your responses raquel and MR Wayne,
i agree with most of the things MR Wayne said,
but i also have to add these new electro dembow tracks(excluding the straight up dance tracks) can loosely be considered reggaeton, because they are an extention and evolution of the reggaeton that came before, basically i think Reggaeton is trying to diversify, but i could be wrong.

I also have a question from both you and Mr Wayne.
Am i correct when i say that every genre of music has certain qualities that define them, for example, merengue, has its definitive drum pattern , but it also has a certain key melody it always follows, am i right?
but reggaeton is solely dependent on Dembow on most part, because you can change the melody, and it doesnt need to follow a certain melody, you can create a track of just pure dembow and itll still be reggaeton. i really would like to know if im going right about this or is there a fault in my understanding?

thank you

wayne&wax said...

@Raquel - yes, good ears. the two tracks you mention definitely employ classic 4/4 house/club style drum patterns rather than foregrounding (or even subtly inflecting them with) Carib-esque 3:2 cross-rhythms.

@Perso - i definitely agree that these "electro-dembow" tracks, and even the more straightforward club beats (like those mentioned above), can still be considered reggaeton. but i tend to be of a more inclusivist perspective; others might want to restrict the definition for various reasons. in the end, though, it comes down to narrative consensus, which is only still emerging.

as for genres and their defining qualities more generally, i don't think that there's any abstract formula. again, i think genre's tend to have musical as well as social meanings/constitutions. we might think that all reggaeton needs is a dembow, but if we didn't hear any rapping in spanish, it might not seem quite reggaetony enough; alternately, even without a dembow something like these W&Y tracks still really sound like reggeaton to a lot of us.

DJPerso said...

Thank You Mr Wax, for taking time and explaining to me your perspective and the musicological way of looking at it.
Well i have to say i see it somewhat different, i say a lot of early melaza tracks were pure dembow with little to no keyboard melody mixed with some hip hop. and Reggaeton right now, is a direct descendent of that.
So dembow didnt come later and get added to reggaeton, Dembow was with reggaeton since the beginning, so if we somehow take it out of the equation i would say the reggaetonity of the music decreases lol, at least in a strictly musical way. What do you think?

raquelzrivera said...

"Reggaetonity"... I love the term!

DJPerso said...

Hello again, guess whos back? It's me, your #1 website trafficer lol :D, i come to this website a lot, may be 4,5 times a day to see if you've posted something new lol,

well i wanted to let you know about another phenomenon, reggaeton/dembow dominicano, in specific ive heard this song has been blasting in washington heights

what are your thoughts on that?

by the way i think tito el bambino made a remix on it also
I thought it was worth mentioning

and im looking forward to your next topic post!!!!!

Thank you..:)

raquelzrivera said...

Sorry to be so slow with posts lately. I've been trying to do too much at once.

Thanks so much for keeping our convo going.

I just saw "Pepe". I totally agree with one of the last few comments on youtube: "que disparate de cancion y video but its so funny and catchy."

I'm sure there must be some inside/doblesentido joke in there somewhere.

I checked the El Bambino version. I didn't find it as funny, but anything that promotes DR and PR unity I have to appreciate at some level.

What do you think?

DJPerso said...

lolll yes i do agree its a wierd song,
i do like the aspect that its done by dominicans, and like exactly like you said the fact that through the featuring it promoted unity between pr and dr, something that seems so neeeded but difficult to achieve at this point of time.

CaRliToS said...





DJPerso said...

Hey raquel, its DJ Perso again :),
I have came across something and i would like to share it with you and ask for your feedback.
A lot of people been claiming that reggaeton has done reached its peak, and ever since has moved towards its rapid death, and its actually dead now (It has been for a while lol). Well we know one thing is true, reggaeton had reached its peak between 2003-2006. but to claim that its dying, i would say those cats dunno much about reggaeton. The fact of the matter is that at least production wise, most reggaeton songs between 03-08 and even now have a lot of others things in common besides the dembow.
The "mas flow" style of production. The Dramatic effects, the violin strings and techno synths. and on top of that, there was very little work done to make the dembow sound different from song to song. Basically to make it simple we'll call it the "Luny Tunes style of production"(even though all the credit shouldnt go to luny tunes, luny tunes built up on what eliel, dj blass, dj joe and dj nelson had done before)
and the era between 02-08(or 03-07), the mas flow era. so What came before the mas flow era? Reggaeton in different styles, from playeros old school, to blass and dj joe's techno driven, and dj nelson's experimental style of production and even though each of their styles dominated reggaeton at one time , it was never as profound and long lived as mas flow's influence. Don't get me wrong a lot of great songs were made by mas flow and all their offshoots (Nely, Nesty, Tainy, los presidentes). But lets be honest people, its milked dry. Luny tunes have lost a lot of power, unless they popularize a new style of production, their rein on reggaeton is goooooone.
Now new producers are coming to the scene, like yai y toly(los nativos) or yampi, and doing their own thing, hopefully it'll give reggaeton a fresh start. So at the end i come to this conclusion
(R.I.P Reggaeton de Mas Flow)(2002-2009)

raquelzrivera said...

I say you're onto something DJ Perso! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.