Daddy Yankee followed the path of other reggaeton stars who retired from their genre at the height of their popularity. Credit: Daddy Yankee

In December, reggaeton legend Daddy Yankee announced his plan to dedicate himself to Christianity. He dropped the bombshell on a farewell tour with an auspicious name: “La Meta” (the goal, in Spanish). A drone depicted a giant cross and the message “Christ is coming.”

Fans were intrigued and skeptical. But a reggaeton celebrity retiring for faith is not new. Daddy Yankee’s departure from a successful career in reggaetón follows those of other icons including Farruko, Julio Voltio, and El General (the latter is a Panamanian artist who influenced the reggaeton movement and would later claim Satan drove him to make this music). 

But why do reggaeton artists who’ve announced their devotion to religion happen to be middle-aged men? 

In honor of National Reggaeton Day on March 15, Epicenter NYC sought answers. We spoke with reggaeton historians, theologians and experts of the Puerto Rican experience (reggaeton was popularized in Puerto Rico in the early 2000s).

What does women’s sexuality have to do with it?

Cloe Gentile Reyes, a faculty fellow in New York University’s music department, said her earliest memories of reggaeton are of dancing in Stillwater Park in Miami Beach with friends after school. 

“[My] dominant feeling around it has never been the misogyny that I know is present,” she said. 

It was a formative part of her girlhood that, in hindsight, forced Reyes to look back and interrogate the scripts she might have been given about being a woman. Reyes said she is reckoning both with this problematic messaging and the experience of finding liberation in reggaeton. 

But the belief that women could either be virtuous or promiscuous wasn’t just embedded in reggaeton. “It was all media, all family, intergenerational stuff,” she said. 

Cloe Gentile Reyes, a faculty fellow in New York University’s music department. Credit: Cloe Gentile Reyes Credit: Cloe Gentile Reyes

As part of a 2002 anti-pornography campaign, former Puerto Rico senator Velda González sought to eliminate all pornographic content in the media to supposedly save middle-class youths from moral corruption. 

To do so, the government policed women’s sexuality, especially that of Black women. Puerto Rican elites tied hypersexuality in reggaeton to Blackness, scholars say. They thought women in these music videos posed a threat to the virtues of “marianismo,” which is a set of values based on the Virgin Mary. They include focusing on your nuclear family, showing sexual modesty, and not engaging in sex for pleasure.

Former reggaeton stars who retired from their careers said they did so “to live for Christ.” But Reyes’ maternal grandmother, who was Puerto Rican, a devout Catholic, and a salsa dancer from the Bronx, saw nothing wrong with expressing both the sensual and religious aspects of her identity. 

“And she was pretty promiscuous,” Reyes said, recalling her grandmother’s rhinestone jeans with “Juicy” printed on the bottom and how she was always decked out with her red leather jacket on Sundays for church. 

“Due to these historical pressures, these ideals of modesty, ideals of femininity, that’s where that sort of binary thinking comes from, feeling that ‘I can’t be both’ or ‘it doesn’t make sense to be both,’” she said. “But I never felt that … and I attribute that to the women in my family, and how they were able to negotiate these contradictions, which maybe weren’t contradictions to them.”  

What does gender have to do with it?

Many male reggaeton superstars who retired from the genre see it differently. 

“Many of these reggaetoneros, particularly these men, it is in their 40s and 50s that they’re having a reevaluation about life,” said Jorge Juan Rodríguez V, visiting assistant professor of historical studies at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. 

“Having spent the majority of your youth in a field that is perhaps more sexual, how does that shift as you’re getting older, perhaps have kids and perhaps have different interpretations about how that sexualizing works?” he said. 

They often leave at the height of their careers, after years of backlash from critics who say they hypersexualize and objectify women in their lyrics and videos. Some of their music has even been censured for misogyny

Daddy Yankee has made public remarks emphasizing his respect for women and that he’s “not a machista.” But in the early 2000s, people would have said differently, said Nina Vásquez, a reggaeton educator who writes curriculum on Puerto Rican history for the Connecticut Historical Society. 

By contrast, reggaetoneras like Ivy Queen have been seen as empowering women with their take on female sexuality. Ivy Queen’s “Yo Quiero Bailar” paints a picture of bodies grazing each other at the club. But it focuses on the message that women can say “no” to going further, said Reyes.  

“The whole idea is, that doesn’t mean I’m going to bed with you … I attribute a lot of that early feminism [in reggaeton] to her,” Reyes said. 

Ivy Queen Credit: Ray Villalobos

But not all roads from their reggaeton male peers lead to misogyny, regardless of sexually explicit lyrics. Many women who make up some of their most fervent fan base enjoy what they see as a liberation of women’s sexuality, reggaeton experts say. 

Daddy Yankee’s arguably most famous lyrics, “A ella le gusta la gasolina” (“she likes gasoline”), is about women’s pleasure, says reggaeton historian Katelina “La Gata” Eccleston.

“It’s profound and really telling that the men feel so freaking guilty that their only act of correction is the extreme of jumping into religion in a way that they otherwise would never have,” said Eccleston, who hosts the podcast “Perreo 101.”

What does marianismo have to do with it?

For Vásquez, the other side of this machismo complex, “marianismo,” was clear in her relationship with religion and reggaeton on the island. Growing up attending Catholic school at a time when reggaeton had just emerged from “el underground,” she came to know how church-going boricuas coded the genre.  

“I got it from family members, I got it from people randomly in the street, you hear it when a car passes by blowing reggaeton — at that time it used to be like Jowell and Randy — and you would hear people [say things] like, ‘ay, no, the youths now are lost’ or ‘God rebukes a thousand times,’” she said. 

Years later, Vásquez would start to peel back some of the layers and confront some of the contradictions.

“I felt free because I could be a woman and I could be sensual,” she said. “And it was OK, no matter if it was heteronormative, to me as a teenager. I was focused on the fact of, like, ‘I feel good; I feel like a baddie.’ ” 

Reggaeton was also a lifeline to her homeland. Listening and dancing to it was a way to stay connected to Borikén (the indigenous Taíno name of Puerto Rico), transported to a golden era of reggaeton in her youth. 

But as an adult, Vásquez, who is queer, now struggles with the question “how do I embrace a genre that, at times, also degrades an identity that I carry?”

Some of these reggaetoneros whose songs have homophobic or sexist tropes leave this music for a religious setting that might perpetuate the same problems. Even in Pentecostal or charismatic churches, which have a reputation for being more egalitarian with gender roles, prominent Pentecostal women are often overlooked for leadership positions, researchers say. 

“I don’t think people in general view those things as intersections,” Vásquez said. “So [these artists] never make the connection of ‘there’s a bigger picture here — the fact that I have gone through a thing where I’ve objectified millions of women through my music in this industry, to moving to another place where women don’t have a say at all.’ That’s still patriarchy working at its finest.” 

The same is true for overlooking more covert forms of sexualizing women in their chosen religious path amid the overt displays they’re used to in reggaeton, theology experts say. 

“There’s still huge sexualization in evangelicalism, born-again Christianity, Pentecostalism, because even in telling women to dress in a certain way, lest you make a man stumble, that is still a form of sexualization,” Rodríguez said. 

What does religious interpretation have to do with it?

Several scholars chalk up any shock or skepticism following Daddy Yankee’s announcement to public misunderstandings — of the man, the faith and the machine.   

“Is it that he is engaging Christianity for the first time?” said Rodríguez. “Or is it that he’s always been engaging Christianity? And we’ve been trained to think that only the conservative form of Christianity that requires him to leave reggaeton is Christianity?” 

Drawing from a recent brainstorm on X, Rodríguez listed several examples of longtime inclusion of Christian concepts, images and symbols in Daddy Yankee’s music. He pointed to the 2004 Billboard chart-topping record “Barrio Fino” as “one of the most Christian albums in reggaeton history” despite lacking an explicit intent to praise God. Daddy Yankee’s album is filled with Christian notions of good and evil, greed, justice, and repentance.  

Two decades later, what changed in Daddy Yankee’s headline-making speech wasn’t a sudden pivot to Christianity, scholars say. 

It was the choice to publicly reckon with no longer seeing “the flavor of Christianity he is engaged in (one that more explicitly calls for personal purification through explicit social practices and denunciation) as compatible with reggaeton,” Rodríguez said in a post on X. 

The artists are on their personal journey, he said. The problem lies with our often narrow concept of what it is to be a Christian and a “good” man. 

“I don’t necessarily want a clean answer,” said Rodríguez. “What’s at stake is, how are our people navigating, negotiating and pushing against colonial imposition and seeking liberation? Religious communities are one way that people do that, in complex and nuanced ways that are often messy.”

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1 Comment

  1. Once an artist leave the entertainment male or female and they have made up in their minds to be a witness for the goodness of Jesus Christ and repentant to serve and draw young souls to Christ, is a win for the Christian Faith… He that winning soul is wise… I applaud you guys for your work in drawing the lost to Christ🙌🏿

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