For Your Consideration: Latinx women deserve more recognition in the Latin music industry
During his acceptance speech for Top Latin Artist at the Billboard Music Awards earlier this month, reggaeton singer Bad Bunny dedicated his award to a perpetually undervalued group in the Latin music industry: Latinx women.
“I want to dedicate this prize to women around the world, especially Latinx and Puerto Rican women. Without you, nothing would exist. Nothing. Not music, not reggaeton. Nothing,” the Puerto Rican artist said. Continuing in Spanish, he called out misogyny: “Stop sexist violence, stop violence against women. Let’s educate right now, in the present, to have a better future.”
Bad Bunny is known for challenging Latinx stereotypes of masculinity with his penchant for pink suits and painted fingernails. But the artist failed to credit Boricua singer Nesi as a featured artist on his hit single “Yo Perreo Sola” despite his message on machismo and misogyny. While he brought Nesi out to perform her parts during his Billboard performance, Bad Bunny’s lack of respect for Nesi and his collaboration with primarily male artists is more telling of the industry overall.
Male acts dominate the 2020 Latin Grammy nominations, with urban artists J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Ozuna earning the most nominations, respectively. Only five women, including flamenco trap singer Rosalía and reggaeton artist Karol G, across 53 categories, earned more than one nomination.
This awards season reflects a pattern of gender inequality in the Latin music industry. Ruidosa, a festival organizer and Latinx feminist platform, analyzed more than 500 categories during 2017’s major Latin music awards, including the Latin Grammys, the Latin Billboards and the 40 Principales Awards. The study found that women were both grossly underrepresented in nominations and won awards at lower rates than their male counterparts. Women received only 14% of nominations in 2017, with men and gender diverse bands earning 76% and 10%, respectively. Of the award winners, women made up just under 12% compared to men earning 82%.
Even the most iconic female artists experienced pervasive sexism in the Latin music industry despite their success. Although she’s now a household name, Mexican American pop artist Selena Quintanilla dealt with rampant sexism in the ’90s. Working in the male-dominated Tejano genre, Quintanilla initially struggled to break into the industry, with machismo radio programmers refusing to play her music. Despite the discrimination she faced, Quintanilla ended up dominating the Latin music charts. Billboard recently ranked Quintanilla third on the “Greatest of All Time Latin Chart,” behind Enrique Iglesias and Luis Miguel.
While female representation is abysmal in mainstream pop music, it fairs even worse in reggaeton music, a genre that’s disproportionately more male than female. Reggaeton, which originated in Puerto Rico in the late ’90s, is one of the most popular genres in Latin music. Reggaeton fuses Jamaican reggae and dancehall rhythms with Latin American genres and Spanish rap lyrics. The genre, created by Black artists and producers, is now dominated by light-skinned and white male stars like J-Balvin, Bad Bunny and Anuel AA who fail to recognize the genre’s Black pioneers.
But Afro-Latina singer Ivy Queen made a name for herself in the early 2000s as a reggaeton artist who helped pave the way for the genre. Her third album, “Diva,” is widely considered to have been vital in exposing reggaeton to the mainstream public. While a few female reggaeton singers such as Karol G and Natti Natasha have broken through on Latin charts in recent years, Ivy Queen confronted sexist stereotypes in the genre in its infancy.
Male reggaeton singers rarely receive criticism for their lyrics that reduce women to sex objects, but female artists continue to face hostility for freely singing about consensual sex and pleasure. Ivy Queen’s music challenges the values ingrained in Latin American society that women should be chaste and pure. One of her biggest hits, “Quiero Bailar,” an ode to women who embrace their sexuality on the dancefloor, became the first Spanish-language track to reach No. 1 at an American station in Miami and won her a Billboard award. Her mainstream success as a female reggaeton artist was an anomaly for many years before the genre’s resurgence in the late 2010s.
In response to the lack of reggaeton and trap artist nominations at the Latin Grammys in 2019, a slew of male artists spoke out against the Latin Recording Academy for disregarding an essential genre of Latin music. The Latin Grammys, under pressure, featured three new categories in 2020: Best Reggaeton Performance, Best Rap/Hip-Hop Song and Best Pop/Rock song. Now, male reggaeton artists completely dominate the nominations, with female artists woefully underrepresented. In the future, I hope that male artists can find the same passion advocating for reggaeton music and apply it to the women who continue to revolutionize the genre.
Maria Eberhart is a sophomore writing about Latinx pop culture. Her column, “For Your Consideration,” runs every other Thursday.