For too long, music at Vassar events has stuck to similar playlists full of American pop hits. There is no singular music taste at Vassar, but from College-sponsored events to student-run parties, we find that the music played often sounds like the “Top 50-USA” playlist from Spotify mixed in with the occasional ’00s hit song (Spotify, 2021). Bruno Mars, “I Got a Feeling” and “Mr. Brightside” can only be played so many times until people start to leave. Many of these songs are iconic in their own right, but we the writers are tired of English-language tracklists dominating the Vassar social scene while reggaeton songs smash global charts (Billboard, 2021). It’s time for Vassar students to up their music game and incorporate more reggaeton into their playlists.
When we discuss our musical preferences with friends and peers, some tell us that they don’t like to listen to Latin music because of the language barrier, but music is about more than just lyrics. Lyrics contain only a fraction of a song’s significance; beat, flow and dance potential are also crucial to great music. African-influenced syncopated rhythms give many Latin genres the noticeable off-beat, bouncy rhythm that sways the listener (Sounds and Colours, 2021). Additionally, different percussion instruments like bongos, congas (quintessential in salsa) and claves add a different timbre to the rhythms that is unlike the traditional percussive sounds of American pop music (Sounds and Colours, 2021). One must not restrain their musical repertoire to the language they are most familiar with; there is so much to be enjoyed from world music—especially at parties.
With origins in Panama, reggaeton made its way to Puerto Rico where producers coined the genre’s name and eventually catapulted it to the mainstream (The Music Origins Project, 2019). Reggaeton masterfully combines hip-hop, dancehall, Latin American and Caribbean genres and rhythms to make a genre full of songs that just make you shake. If there was a “put on a reggaeton song and try not to dance” challenge, there would be no winners. Thanks to young Latinx listeners, some of the biggest names in reggaeton like J Balvin and Daddy Yankee are making waves in the United States, but more Vassar students need to wake up to the sounds that will undoubtedly elevate their musical experiences (Stanford Daily, 2018).
Some reggaeton tracks, such as “Gasolina,” “Danza Kuduro” and “Despacito” are popular in the States, but it’s time to widen this repertoire. Take, for example, “COMO UN BEBÉ” by J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Mr Eazi. As the song begins, the alternating baseline and drums take the listener to a place of dancefloor euphoria (Youtube, 2019). It’s not that the beat is hard or very intense, but it’s a subtle background with a smooth lyrical flow from Bad Bunny that can transport the listener anywhere. The drums might remind them of a warm tropical beach and the hypnotic bass might remind them of staring at themself in the mirror at that certain party. For gloomier times too, there are reggaeton songs that take a somber tone like “Si Estuviésemos Juntos” by Bad Bunny and “Lo Siento BB:/” by Tainy, Bad Bunny and Julieta Venegas.
Many contemporary reggaeton songs are full of collaborations with other artists. These artists are from all parts of the Spanish-speaking world and the collaborations bring geographically distant audiences together in representing diverse Hispanic identities. Big Latin music artists like J Balvin, Daddy Yankee and Karol G collaborate with American superstars like Beyoncé, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj to reimagine musical borders in “Mi Gente,” “Despacito” and “Tusa,” respectively. Yet, there lie thousands of reggaeton songs beyond ones with English features. There is enough variety in reggaeton for universal appeal.
Because reggaeton and Latin pop borrow from several traditional genres, listeners can hear the layers of sounds as they develop. In Colombian artist Karol G’s latest album, she departs from her usual reggaeton hits with the song “200 Copas.” Her producer reached out to Mexican artist Danny Felix to create a Ranchera style song, combining the acoustic sounds from the traditional Mexican genre with Karol G’s vocals. A single song like “200 Copas” shows how artistic ideas can come together to forge new musical worlds.
In an increasingly globalized world, Vassar students should be listening to more diverse music. According to the United States Census estimate, there are 41.7 million Spanish speakers in the United States, giving the country the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico (United States Census Bureau). If trends continue, by 2050, one in three people in the U.S. will speak Spanish (Forbes, 2021). Municipalities like New York City have adapted to a multilingual community in various ways, including by displaying announcements and advertisements in many languages—especially Spanish alongside English. Particularly in the era of COVID-19 where international traffic has lulled, foreign-language music serves as a way to metaphysically transport the listener to their destination. These songs provide a gateway to an elevated party experience, an entertaining way to learn a language and a means of exploring the limitless number of genres that lie beyond the English-speaking realm.
Check out our Spotify playlist here.