Perhaps the youngest musical genre to achieve global visibility, reggaeton is barely 30 years old, which means that many of its most popular artists don’t know life without it. As Felipe Maia explores, that has led to the emergence of some nuanced conversations around identity, art, and ownership — especially in Spain, whose relationship with the rest of the Spanish-speaking world is, to say the least, fraught.
The genre’s continuous rise in Spain has raised urgent questions about cultural ownership, colonialism, and race as a result of centuries-old social hierarchies between Europe and Latin America. While some fans and industry stakeholders consider this phenomenon a valuable cultural exchange and a natural outcome of the genre’s global ascent, reggaeton’s rise in Spain has also frustrated many Black and brown Latin Americans, especially Caribbean ones. The issue is layered: There is concern about Spanish artists profiting off the music of Afro-diasporic cultures once colonized by Spain, sometimes even eclipsing the visibility of those who founded the movement. Moreover, Spaniards and Latinos are often conflated in the public imagination. Latinidad is an ethnic identity category, not a racial one—two realities that erase significant differences and structural inequalities around skin color, educational access, and class. Meanwhile, other industry executives and cultural commentators hail reggaeton’s takeover in Spain as a sign of globalization’s advantages.