'I choose to go there': reggaeton's women redefine feminism on their terms

Leila MACOR
·4 min read

With a new single out Tuesday, two of reggaeton's most famous women are subverting the wildly popular dance genre's misogynist image, owning the style with an in-your-face ode to their sexuality.

The release of "Ram Pam Pam" sees Natti Natasha and Becky G get physical with tantalizing dance moves set to explicit lyrics, leaving little to the imagination.

For the 24-year-old Mexican-American Becky G, whose hits include "Mayores," the track is a redefinition of feminism that allows women to celebrate their desires.

Feminism, she told AFP, is "different for all of us. We all need in our own way."

"It's my way of saying, I want to be empowered as a woman... me deciding when I go there, it's because I choose to go there. And when I don't want to go there, I don't go there," the artist told AFP.

"There" is the boundary-pushing sweet spot where female artists can explore their sexuality without inhibitions or shame, in the vein of reigning hip hop royalty Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B.

To Natti Natasha, who found international fame with her hit song "Criminal," it's a natural process.

"We express ourselves with complete freedom. We are super comfortable. If Becky or I did not feel comfortable with even a single letter in the song, we would not sing it," said the 34-year-old Dominican, whose career took off after she moved to New York and signed with Don Omar, a singer and producer who's also worked with the superstar Bad Bunny.

Now she and Becky G are releasing "Ram Pam Pam," a tune as catchy as their first collaboration three years ago, "Sin Pijama" (No Pajamas), whose seductive video notched 1.8 billion views on YouTube.

Their new song tells a story set in a school gymnasium, directed at a man who abandoned the singer: "I have a new boyfriend who makes me ram pam pam / Don't look for me; there's nothing of me left here."

"Now I have another who fits me perfectly / Now you be bitter while he be delicious, and smoother," they sing, taunting the former lover.

Then they deliver the final blow: "Now I come when I want to."

Like hip hop before it, reggaeton's brash style has long been criticized as hypersexualized and misogynistic.

But for Natti Natasha, such critiques "come more from the perspective of people who aren't used to this."

In the genre's nascent days in 1990s Puerto Rico, it was simply known as "underground," becoming the target of censorship campaigns and drawing police raids for its "pornographic" character.

But today reggaeton is booming -- especially in the Americas, but internationally as well.

And to Natti Natasha and Becky G, that once-maligned hypersexuality is ripe for reinterpretation with women at the mic.

"It might not align with everyone's idea of what feminism is, but it's always with the intention of paving the way for the ones to come," said Becky G, who gained fame on YouTube as a teen.

- 'Own their sexuality' -

To Petra Rivera-Rideau, an American studies professor at Wellesley University in Massachusetts, what Becky G, Natti Natasha and other female reggaeton stars do -- from the Colombian Karol G to American Mariah Angeliq -- "definitely can be seen as a form of feminism."

In the early 2000s, she said, women in reggaeton "who were dancing were often perceived as being problematic, as being not 'good girls,' being too sexual, being in these kinds of spaces that women, good girls, or respectable women shouldn't be in."

At that time, the Puerto Rican Ivy Queen was the best-known of a handful of women in the genre, which gained a wider following in 2004 with international hit "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee.

"A lot of the policing of women in reggaeton has been about reinforcing a lot of assumptions -- that women need to be modest in order to be respectable and worthy -- and there's a lot of danger in those narratives," said Rivera-Rideau, author of the 2015 book "Remixing Reggaeton," a history of the genre.

She said there are many people who dislike the stereotype portraying Latinas as overtly sexy, and thus skewer reggaeton as "shameful and terrible."

"But we also need spaces where people can express themselves freely, Rivera-Rideau continued.

"And women deserve to own their sexuality and their own bodies."

Becky G thinks the conversation's tone is evolving -- and she's ready for it.

"Instead of saying, 'Ah? What did she say?'" she says, imitating the expression of a scandalized person, "now they tell you, 'You go, girl! I see you. I maybe wouldn't have done that, but I respect it.'"

And that, she adds, is "very different."

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