Feminist Reggaeton?

Hi Internet,

So those of you how know me IRL will know that I have a particular love for music with a strong, syncopated beat–and by that I don’t mean Swing, I mean Samba. And Reggaeton. Obviously Samba is originally Brazillian, and has been in the Ballroom musical lexicon for many years. Reggaeton is newer, a mash-up genre of hip-hop elements via the Puerto Rican  underground music scene in the 1990s. It’s made its way to the mainstream Top 40 charts these days, with huge artists like Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber borrowing the rhythms and I am loving every minute of it.

(Yes yes,  I know, appropriation. But that’s a conversation for another day.)

So recently, a song that’s hit the Top 40 radio rotation is one called “Rockabye” by Clean Bandit. I heard it while driving, car-danced, and then went home to look up the song. In doing so, once I found a lyric video on YouTube and was surprised–nah, shocked.

It’s sort of…feminist?

Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with reggaeton, it doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation for, well, progressive lyrics. There’s a reason I laughed myself silly at finding this parody video about the genre:

So look–I like reggaeton, but I do kind of have to turn my feminist brain off to enjoy it.

HOWEVER. “Rockabye” tells the story of a single mother working to support and comfort her kid. It’s probably the only reggaeton song I’ve heard from a female perspective, and it’s definitely the only one I’ve heard that isn’t about clubbing and grabbing body parts and sexsexsexsex. In fact, it’s in a way about the consequence of the men from all those other reggaeton songs having not kept it in their pants and eschewed their responsibilities to perhaps find more ladies in the club.  (I jest. Slightly.)

My first thought upon reading the lyrics was “This is totally subversive.” People are going to be bopping along in the club to a song with a positive social message.

How does the music video stack up? Let’s have a look:

[sigh] Ok. So the music video in my mind complicates things. I’m a bit over the “single mother has no options but become stripper” trope–BUT. There are some saving graces here. The lady in question is minimally sexualized over the course of the video. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the video promotes the athleticism and art of pole dancing, especially with the sequences when she’s in the forest. She’s performing for herself there, away from the male gaze. And despite the fact that yes, she’s wearing fishnets and a bikini, her movements are less suggestive than those of dancers in other reggaeton videos, which takes the focus off the sexualization of the pole dancing and focuses our attention more on her life outside the bar and her kid.

It’s not a perfectly feminist representation, but few things are. What it does do is complicate the traditionally misogynistic atmosphere of the modern reggaeton experience, and that’s worth something.

So what do you think? Is “Rockabye” subversive? I’m obviously not Puerto Rican and Spanish isn’t my native language–people who know more about reggaeton music and culture, what do you think? Are there other example of song with pro-feminism (or at least not anti-feminist) messages?

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