Having reached mainstream Western cultural relevance, Latin music is taking on a curious new kind of beauty — hip.
Popularized over the last decade by chicas like Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Camila Cabello, some of the hottest pop tunes this year are inked with ornate ornamental accents and tropical tangents.
So says Mashable, citing contributions from anti-clone Ariana Grande (“7 Rings”), French Montana (“Unforgettable”), and even Lil Pump (“Gucci Gang”), the doodling, balearic-featuring, marijuana-reggae sensation from Florida.
Famed for its chill-out “pop” amid the screaming, glitz, and streaming-trail blitz of the new urban pop, Spanish-language streaming service El Rey is one of the mainstream realms where alt-Latin stars are staking their claims.
And by and large, their journey to mainstream success hasn’t been untroubled by sexualization.
The box of “Coconuts” within an “Rokkaan” playing on El Rey in New York City on Aug. 1, 2018. Photo: Ari Baum/Mashable
For almost as long as there’s been the casual media industry perception of a pink-tinted, Caribbean-cum-Latino South American patina, there’s been a gray-market adjustment of material culture as well. Musicians and performers — whether small-scale entrepreneurs, ambitious college kids, or famous men — who show up in an exotic place, wear their clothes in a lighthearted, sometimes self-aware fashion, and do their sound in an icky style are predictably critiqued with either suspicion or derision.
While mega acts like Maroon 5 and Eminem have stayed afloat despite nearly 20 years of domination of popular music, nearly 30 percent of Spanish-language listeners polled by El Rey this year admitted to listening to an alternative genre of music. And according to El Rey, listeners now label the genre 21st century “modern” Latin (the term carries overtones of fashion or aesthetic, like Miami alternative chic).
So what’s being dubbed today’s variant?
“The black, artistic, retro-futuristic direction is considered to be edgy and modern in today’s contemporary Latin music scene,” El Rey marketing VP Sabine Andreoli told Mashable.
Grammy-winner Nicky Jam and Iggy Azalea were among the biggest to shift toward this new, for some, kitschy look. (Azalea joined several other pop stars who have posted playful bods for Instagram, including Ariana Grande, J Balvin, and A$AP Rocky, a few years ago.) In nearly every case, the singers broke up their image, letting them wear clothes with cartoonish, ill-conceived prints and embellishments — sometimes fake skin, socks that look like beach rash guards, pairs of espadrilles or athletic shoes with devil horns on the side — and at the very least appear to be wearing a wink.
“That was before we had an [art] commission in our office. We had never done ad campaigns,” Balvin tells Spin.
Most of the artist-to-artist Instagram shills seem to be an amorphous bunch of self-funded/avowed self-appointed curators. Nothing seems to describe the phenomenon well enough — Are they enjoying a nostalgic trip to Far East Fantasy days? Talking about cellophane-wrapped twenty-two inch G-strings, or do they find something appealing about the fashion analogies to hip-hop? Or, as in the case of Iggy Azalea, is it just their way of embracing the signature color of their yet to come album that the other fellows on Instagram are too busy holding up as their models? (Meanwhile, Azalea said in a recent interview that she chose to use Am I Wrong to represent a “bubble of people who tend to have all of their ornaments on display all the time.”)
“It’s very cute and creepy at the same time,” Cardi B said, mentioning a bra-and-panties photo taken on Instagram in which she’s squatting on the floor. “I know them, I’m like that, but I’m that girl who is always up high. It’s so cute.”
A giggle, so honest it actually reveals some of the audience’s skepticism for these musically charged relays,