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Radio Ambulante asks 'How can you be a feminist and listen to reggaeton?'

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For three years in a row, Bad Bunny has been the world's most streamed artist on Spotify.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TITI ME PREGUNTO")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: Bad Bunny is at the forefront of a global obsession over reggaeton. Thing is, artists in that genre often write sexually explicit lyrics, sometimes becoming quite misogynistic. Patricia Velazquez created the first Puerto Rican reggaeton archive. And throughout the project, she's been haunted by a question one of her college classmates once asked her - how can you be a feminist and listen to reggaeton? At first, Velazquez was shocked. She didn't know how to respond.

PATRICIA VELAZQUEZ: (Through interpreter) Because no one had ever questioned my morals that way. I said something like, I listen to reggaeton and I listen to it every day. I'm a feminist, and I dance to reggaeton the way I want.

MARTÍNEZ: That clip came from some reporting that my colleague Lisette Arevalo did for NPR's podcast Radio Ambulante. First, she takes us back to the beginning of reggaeton.

LISETTE AREVALO, BYLINE: Some say it was born in Jamaica, others in Panama and in New York City and, of course, in Puerto Rico.

MARTÍNEZ: One thing's for sure - its commercial strength was established in Puerto Rico.

AREVALO: Since its birth, young people rapped or sang crude and confrontational lyrics, and they were often violent songs that talked about what was happening in the streets. But above all, they made reference to the country's social conditions - unemployment rates of up to 59% in some areas, schools in poor conditions, government corruption and violence linked to drug trafficking.

MARTÍNEZ: Many songs sounded something like this. It's from 1990. It's Vico C with "La Recta Final."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA RECTA FINAL")

VICO C: (Rapping in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: Not everyone in Puerto Rico was in love with reggaeton at first. Some related it to a criminal subculture, and it was impossible to ignore the lyrics that reduced women to objects of male fantasy.

AREVALO: Especially because of the content of its videos, which usually featured women in G-strings rubbing themselves on the singers.

MARTÍNEZ: But eventually, more voices entered the conversation.

AREVALO: One of the first persons to change the direction of reggaeton was Ivy Queen, who is considered the queen of reggaeton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIERO SABER")

IVY QUEEN: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: Lisette Arevalo says Ivy Queen broke through in a world dominated by men.

AREVALO: It was not easy, of course. Ivy Queen has said that their reaction was always critical - that she was too short, that her voice was too thick, almost masculine. But she has said that this difference was her weapon.

MARTÍNEZ: She began taking reggaeton in new directions in 1997. But in 2003, Ivy Queen released perhaps her most important song, "Yo Quiero Bailar" (ph).

AREVALO: A complete revolution for music because it talk about woman's consent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIERO BAILAR")

IVY QUEEN: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: Ever since that breakthrough, many LGBTQI+ folks, women and feminists have embraced reggaeton.

AREVALO: It is also a genre that has not left aside its roots - the social protest at all levels. And women have been there giving new meanings to the songs and talking about the urgent issues that affect them.

MARTÍNEZ: And perhaps one of the greatest ambassadors of reggaeton has embraced this message. Here's Bad Bunny with his song "Yo Perreo Sola."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YO PERREO SOLA")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

AREVALO: It is a song dedicated precisely to the freedom of women to have sex and dance whenever they want, with whomever they want and without anyone hitting on them or pressuring them.

MARTÍNEZ: But even Bad Bunny isn't absolved from objectifying women. He's done it, too. So back to the original question then. Can you be a feminist and like reggaeton? Patricia Velazquez of the reggaeton archive finally landed on this.

VELAZQUEZ: (Through interpreter) Because I can. Because my feminism allows it. It allows me to decide what I like, what I listen to, how I dance and how I don't. It gives me the authority over my body and my decisions.

MARTÍNEZ: Our thanks to Lisette Arevalo from the podcast Radio Ambulante for her reporting on this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALGO BONITO")

ILE AND IVY QUEEN: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Lisette Arévalo