What can be learned from James Rhodes’ negative comment on reggaeton and Bad Bunny | The North American Route | Culture


Bad Bunny during his performance at the Latin Grammys on November 18.
Bad Bunny during his performance at the Latin Grammys on November 18.Chris Pizzello (GTRES)

The nativity scene was put together: James Rhodes, the classical music pianist turned pop figure, has criticized reggaeton. He has done it in one of the talks organized by BBVA in La 2, To my teenage self. “Explain to me, please, about reggaeton and Bad Bunny. I swear I’m not saying it’s bullshit, but I don’t understand its popularity. Are we going to hear it in 200 and 300 years? Well no, not a joke, “said Rhodes in his speech.

Deep down, Rhodes’ participation in the program is more about seeking information in the face of music that he does not like and that he does not understand than a frontal attack. But that hardly matters. Two topics conducive to polarization come together: the figure of James Rhodes, who left social networks tired of the battles caused by some of his tweets about Spain, and reggaeton, the musical genre that triumphs in discos and on which criticism weighs of machismo from its origins. You would almost say that it is a perfect combination for the opposite to be done to reflect. Or, as comrade Pablo Ordaz wrote so correctly the other day, citing Antonio Machado, the perfect combination for the appearance of “that bunch of pedantic pedestrians”, among cynics, badly thought out, skeptics and outrageous egos.

James Rhodes and reggaeton as polarized issues, but truth be told, any issue can be these days. Because we live in times that threaten interpretation. And yet, that’s when you need to know how to interpret the most. It is when it is most necessary to explain that no one can be criticized because they do not like reggaeton at all, but neither can they be because they love it. And yet, when it comes to music – that is, culture – it is necessary to interpret and value the work in question. Tastes are one thing, all of them respectable, and another is the measurement of those tastes according to formed interpretations and with the ability to properly inform themselves, put in context and confront ideas to shape a reality. This second is not liked by those who only want to defend their opinion, even if they do not know or want to know what they are talking about.

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That Rhodes does not like Bad Bunny’s reggaeton is understandable. Bad Bunny probably doesn’t like Rhodes’ music either. The most interesting, without a doubt, is not that. The most interesting are the responses of the adolescents (cleverly selected for the occasion of this remote control program) to explain to the famous pianist why they do like him or give him the value that Rhodes denies. Reggaeton, like other musical genres that triumphed in past decades, is a music according to a time and it is the adolescents of that time who understand it best.

A boy affirms that it is a music to dance in the disco and there offers a key that to Rhodes perhaps escapes him. Reggaeton, like the vast majority of Latin music, cannot be understood without dancing. Reggaeton, a style born in the Caribbean, appeals to the body, to the entrails, it seeks to “move the nut”, as was said about salsa in the past. If there is no need to dance, it is almost impossible to understand part of his success, much of his revolution. It should be said: most of the styles from the suburbs appealed to the body. It happened with jazz, blues, tango, cha-cha-cha, rock’n’roll, son, salsa, rumba, hip hop, electronics …

It’s interesting because, then, reggaeton tells us about those poor communities in the Caribbean that made it possible. When these communities are worse, the more they seek to escape with music, the more they seek to offer rhythm, to give options. His music sheds light on political and social complexities that show that this Latin American street style, influenced by the black African rhythm, offers us interesting sociological aspects. In this way, widening the angle of vision, perhaps it is no coincidence that reggaeton began its conquest of the world after the Great World Recession of 2008 and 2009. The world, more precarious and fragile that was to come, looking again for a Great Evasion.

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Not only that. Reggaeton has been a consolidated style for years and has therefore evolved. Its evolution has gone through different periods since the nineties of the last century and in the last one it has seen its musical productions grow. In other words, it has mutated enough to be able to conquer larger audiences. J Balvin and Bad Bunny are perhaps the best examples. His productions, as well as his less aggressive compositions, offer further reading to explain how this style has reached nightclubs beyond the Caribbean region. His records of recent years can measure the evolution of pop, which, always so versatile to appropriate other music, has ended by vampirize to reggaeton for the benefit of their own recycling. You may not like reggaeton, but then you may not like current pop because it has used it to show another face in the 21st century.

James Rhodes, photographed at his home in Madrid, the city where he lives.
James Rhodes, photographed at his home in Madrid, the city where he lives.Ximena and Sergio (EPS)

As the dominant style of recent years, reggaeton, therefore, has long ceased to be simply a suburban expression of Latin American communities. It is a successful commercial formula that allows the industry to simplify to the maximum in order to achieve rapid returns, without attending to artistic questions. And as a formula for success, it tends to be reduced to very low and worrying levels. It loses melody, rhythmic flexibility, rich variants, new edges … it becomes merchandise and loses the valuable cultural and sound exchange. As Santiago Auserón said in an interview published in The weekly country, loses musical essences due to a robotic sound. Becoming a world genre also has that threat, less when it is fed by other sound options and a peripheral vision and not easy.

Rhodes asked: “Are we going to hear it in 200 and 300 years?” It is an impossible question to answer for sure, but it is undoubtedly an interesting one. But something can be answered now: reggaeton was considered dead a long time ago and it is still there. It is a genre that has exceeded expectations. In fact, it has broken barriers that seemed impossible, such as the powerful Anglo-Saxon market embracing musicians singing in Spanish, with their native languages, with superstars also paying attention to their rhythms. In 200 and 300 years we will not be. But if we are now to know that Bach, Elvis Presley or the Beatles are listened to by far fewer people than those who listened to them in their time. We are also now to know that the polarization of the times does not serve more than to set fire to any reflection. It does not matter if you like reggaeton or not, if it is impossible not even to sit down and measure its importance.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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