EXPLORING REGGAETON: Part 6, Machisimo versus Feminine Ideal, Ivy Queen in a Male-Dominated Genre

Jul 7, 2006 (Updated Aug 1, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A spin away from the masculine dominance of most reggaeton...

Cons:I wish Flashback had included MORE new material and less rehash...

The Bottom Line: Ivy Queen is expected to release a new album next month. Should you wait for that one, or buy Flashback? Read on and learn more...

Reggaeton is a bastion of male bravado and swagger --- a corner of musical world that reeks of testosterone overload. Is it any different from hip-hop, or from the hard rock styles of heavy metal or punk? Not particularly. And just as heavy metal fans could point out Joan Jett and one or two other females as exceptions to "disprove" the generality of male dominance, the relative rarity of such female success stories really only serve to underscore the rule.

Reggaeton is a male-dominated musical style. There are quite a few women who enjoy it and who like dancing to its slick beats, but the overwhelming majority of artists are male.

So too are the themes. Pop stars and country stars love their love ballads, but you sure don't hear that kind of thing in reggaeton (thank God!) Instead, you hear street savvy sagas of gangs, underdogs, violence, or even just hanging out. Masculine themes that fiercely heterosexual males could sing about without getting laughed at.

The one (and only one) exception to the otherwise inviolable law of male chest-thumping is Ivy Queen --- the only female artist to yet break into the ranks of reggaeton's top artists.

A Little Background on Ivy Queen...
Her mama might have named her Martha Ivelisse Pesante back in 1972, but all her fans today call her Ivy Queen, though she's also been dubbed the "Queen of Reggaeton" and even the "Celia Cruz of Reggaeton". Ivy grew up in New York City and moved back to her family's hometown of Aņasco Puerto Rico when she was in her early teens.

Right from the start of her musical career, Ivy started breaking down walls of male dominance by focusing on the budding latin hip-hop community. Her timing was perfect for mounting up on a reggaeton wave that was just starting to build. Ivy's 1997 debut album, En Mi Imperio, showed a definite rap emphasis, an emphasis that continued a year later on her sophomore release of The Original Rude Girl, but that started to show some of the reggae influences that were marking the reggaeton style of the late 1990s, and of course, by 2003, she was firmly up on top the reggaeton wave with her Diva release. It's a timeline of development that you see repeated through the career paths of most Puerto Rican reggaeton stars.

Yet Ivy Queen manages to stand apart from the pack, even while melding in with an overall sound that's startlingly masculine for a female artist. I think its her vocal style that's really had a lot to do with her ability to get acceptance in the reggaeton club. Ivy's vocals remind me a lot of the early 80s sound of Grace Jones. Do y'all remember Grace Jones? The sleekly sexy, vaguely androgynous Jamaican amazon?

Grace had a deeper voice than most women, and she had a way of blurring gender lines. Some folks called her a "dyke", and I'm not sure she wouldn't have been proud of that even if someone said it to her face. She was definitely a performer who marched to her own drummer and who made her own rules.

Ditto with Ivy, I think. But it's her vocal sound that really got me onto the path of seeing parallels here. Ivy Queen just has such a deep sound, and such a masculine kind of delivery, that it just makes me see right past her (quite nice) breasts to her heart and soul.

That's not to say that Ivy lacks anything in the femininity department. She deviates from the male dominated pack in her ability to steer away from the rough and tumble street themes to get into subjects that no male could touch. Some of her songs deal with feminine issues, points of view, and even an edge of social conscious that's generally missing from the reggaeton genre. For example, her song La Abusadora sings about abusive relationships and the indignities that women suffer, but that men close their eyes to without a thought in the world. On other songs, she sings about single motherhood, infidelity, and other sorts of "touchy feely" issues....yet without losing her grip on reggaeton reality.

But let's go ahead and spin up her disc Flashback and see just how she manages to walk the tightrope of being reggaeton's only female star.

Standouts and Thoughts on Flashback...
There's a lot of good tracks on this disc, and only a couple real snoozers. There's also a couple different ways to view things. You can dice things up by similarities in beat and sound, you can stretch things out in a sort of chronology---spotting thematic changes in the development of Ivy's sound, or you can look at the themes and influences.

Let's start off with the latter, since I already touched on the way that Ivy tends to bring a feminist perspective to the reggaeton table. She's also probably the only reggaeton artist to have every done a cover of any female-penned song. The song in question is Selena's hit Si Una Vez. It's no secret that I'm a big Selena fan, and to be honest, I do prefer Selena's original. But the song does fit with Ivy's feminist perspective, and it introduces a recurring theme that you hear over and over here. It's basically a "men are pigs" theme. Not exactly earth shattering in its perspective, but hey, you sure don't hear Daddy Yankee and Don Omar singing about it...

Si Una Vez. It's pepped up in Ivy's version, faster, harder, more pulsing in tone. It's still a basic story of betrayal by a man who didn't know how good he had it until he screwed up, and now that lying scurvy dog can just beg like the dog he is. Okay, okay, so that's nowhere close to a literal translation, but it does get the general gist of the tune.

The same kind of "men are pigs" theme pops up in Ivy's own tunes, like Cuentale, in which a lying, cheating dog of a man is hitting on our heroine who tells him in no uncertain terms that he's not gonna be two-timin' with her! Break up with one before movin' on to the next. Not a tough concept, but it's sure not the kind of song a guy would sing! Heck no!

Us guys also wouldn't be caught dead singing songs like Quiero Bailar, which talks about a guy expecting sex after a dance like it was a BAD thing....can you imagine? Man! This feminist perspective is tiring me out. Let's talk about something else.

Let's talk about the musicianship and the kinds of sounds that you hear on Flashback.

There's four new, previously unreleased, tracks here, and they all show off a very similar reggaeton sound as male artists, like Don Omar and Daddy Yankee. In fact, spin up Marronero and I think you'll be struck by the uncanny similarity of the beat and pace of this slick tune with Daddy Yankee's big hit Gasolina. It would be easy to think that Ivy Queen "borrowed" the sound from the Dad-ster, but the only problem with that theory is that Flashback and Barrio Fino both came out at about the same time, so the logistics say it's the coincidence of shared heritage and influences.

Cuentale and Marronero tilt slightly towards the reggae influence, Si Una Vez oddly towards rap, in spite of its non-rhyming and very tejano foundation, and Libertad hits solidly at the hip-hop side of the house.

Of the tunes that Ivy had previously released in the pre-2003 era, I kind of like the big reggae sound of Yo Soy la Queen, though I think a lot of the hurban listeners of 2006 would favor the pulsing rhythm and driving hip-hop heavy lyrics of Muchos Quieren Tumbarme.

One big commonality that runs through many of the tunes here is a huge techno sound, with sometimes overdone keyboards and synthetic effects. You get it on La Mala, you hear it on Te He Querido, Te He Llorado, and just in case you miss it, it will bang you upside the head on Yo Voy Pa'l Party (which flirts perilously close to the "eclectic" side of Germany's techno-whizz kid group, Kraftwerk --- a bizarre parallel to draw, I know, but I can't help spotting bizarre where it is).

Bottom Line...
Ivy Queen's Flashback is an interesting album that mixes current-generation mature reggaeton tracks with earlier tracks that tilt more heavily towards either the reggae or hip-hop sides of the reggaeton foundation. It's not always a cohesive sound, but it's a good perspective on the Ivy Queen sound and it does give us a good taste for how she works a feminine edge into what is normally considered a very macho kind of music. The sound doesn't always differ much from "the boys", but the themes and lyrics sure as heck do set her work apart from the crowd!

Makin' Tracks...
20 tracks total on Flashback, 4 are first-time releases (the first 4 tracks on the disc), 1 is a remix, and 15 are rehashes of previously released material. Not quite a "compilation" release, but moreso than a studio release. Here's what's what...

1. Cuentale
2. Marronero
3. Si Una Vez
4. Libertad
5. La Mala
6. Te He Querido, Te He Llorado
7. Yo Soy la Queen
8. Muchos Quieren Tumbarme
9. Al Escuchar Mi Coro
10. Reggae Respect
11. Como Mujer
12. Yo Voy Pa'l Party
13. Quiero Saber
14. Quiero Bailar
15. Yo Lamento
16. En la Disco
17. Miles de Voces
18. La Abusadora
19. Aunque la Distancia
20. Yo Lamento (salsa remix)

This has been Part 6 of a 10-part series exploring the roots, heart, soul, and future of the reggaeton style. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the works and influences of the artists who are forging the new flavor of urban latino music, and seeing it spread to unexpected corners of foreign genres. Here's where we've been and where we're going on this musical journey...

Part 1: Rise of a New Urban Power
Part 2: Movers, Shakers, Players, and Names to Know in Reggaeton
Part 3: Conceiving a New Style, El General and the Panamanian Nexus
Part 4: Defining the Boundaries, Tego Calderon and the Puerto Rican Claim
Part 5: A Star Is Born, Daddy Yankee Fought the Pop Machine --- Yankee Wins
Part 6: Machisimo versus the Feminine Ideal, Ivy Queen in a Male-Dominated Genre
Part 7: Heard in the Streets, Wisin and Yandel Give the People What they Want
Part 8: Scrappy Young Punks, Alexis and Fido and the Good Fight
Part 9: A Prophet Pointing the Path, Don Omar Today and Tomorrow
Part 10: Little Kids, Big Kids, and Explicit Content: an Ongoing Controversy

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