Women like Karol G, Natti Natasha, Becky G and Anitta are transforming reggaeton. Here's how. – USA TODAY

In the world of reggaeton, 2022 has been the year of the “Bichota,” with women dominating the machista genre in unparalleled ways.
Colombian singer Karol G, who coined the aforementioned girl boss title by feminizing the Puerto Rican slang term” bichote” (big boss), scored a slot at Coachella this year, where the 31-year-old star sang to a sea of blue-wigged fans and brought out J Balvin as her guest. She’s the second female artist to simultaneously hold the No. 1 and 2 spots on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart.
Dominican-born Natti Natasha, 35, became the most successful female artist on Billboard’s Latin Rhythm Airplay chart, with her sensual No. 1 “Mayor Que Usted,” her 16th song to hit the top 10 on the chart. 
Then there’s Mexican American dynamo Becky G, who nabbed a Hot Latin Songs No. 1 with her biting breakup anthem “Mamiii” (a collaboration with Karol G) and a No. 1 album with her sophomore effort “Esquemas.” The 25-year-old joined the cast of “Encanto” to sing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” at the Oscars and was honored at Variety’s Power of Young Hollywood event.
Such infectious girl power creates a notable inflection point for reggaeton, a Latin genre that fuses warm Caribbean rhythms and swaggering rap with a hip-hop sensibility. The genre has traditionally been spearheaded by men: from Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón and Don Omar in the 2000s, to modern-day stars Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Ozuna.
“It was just a little bit difficult to accept that women also had a point of view when it came to sex, when it came to power, when it came to society, when it came to just expressing themselves in a very raw way,” says Natasha of the lag in female representation in reggaeton.
What sets these reggaetoneras apart from their predecessors is their artistic autonomy.
“They are able to come to the table and be the directors of their image,” says Michelle Habell-Pallán, professor of gender, women and sexuality studies at the University of Washington. “Women have always wanted to represent themselves on their own terms, but there was always a producer, a label, a manager, a father that limited (them).”
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Much like female rappers rising to prominence in mainstream hip-hop in recent years, reggaetoneras have established a collective presence, a remarkable feat given the genre’s mostly male history.
Verónica Dávila Ellis, assistant professor of Spanish at James Madison University, says reggaeton has “largely been seen as a masculine space” because of the genre’s hedonistic imagery.
“When we associate reggaeton automatically with violence, sex and drugs, we understand those as masculine,” Ellis says. “It is seen as unsavory or indecent for women to be inserted in spaces where the values are about sex and (partying) and doing whatever you want to do with your life.”
Habell-Pallán says women who enter this arena are flipping the script on stereotypical feminine images, which may explain past reluctance to take female artists in the genre seriously.
“There’s a real going against traditional gender roles, and if you’re going to take the baton of reggaeton and really throw it down, you’re not going to be the innocent, sexually naïve woman,” Habell-Pallán says. “There’s a general fear of women in power or representations of women in power.”
Natasha says she encountered this resistance as she made headway in the reggaeton scene in the early 2010s through collaborations with established male acts like Omar and Farruko. She teamed up with Ozuna on the dance-hall-inspired “Criminal” in 2017, which marked the beginning of a mainstream breakthrough.
“It was very hard to understand that because I wasn’t raised as, ‘You’re a girl, you can’t do these types of things,’ ” says Natasha, recalling the sexist sentiment of reggaeton being “more for men because they can actually say what they want to say.” 
But Natasha says she was drawn to the strength of reggaeton’s “unapologetic” nature.
“It had this power thing about it,” Natasha says. “The freedom of speech was definitely in there: I’m literally going to say (things) the wrongest way I can, and it’s OK.”
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From Karol G’s afro-house banger “Provenza” to Natasha’s K-pop confection “Yummy Yummy Love,” women in reggaeton are pushing the boundaries sonically and lyrically.
They’re fearless about referencing other styles in their repertoire, such as Karol G covering Selena’s Tejano hit “Como La Flor” at Coachella and performing with Anahí of pop-rock group RBD at a June show in Mexico. “Because they’re pulling from different musical streams, they bring sounds from the pop world into reggaeton,” Habell-Pallán says.
Natasha, who’s incorporated bachata, tropical and dance-pop into her sound, says such experimentation not only allows her “to have fun” with her music, but also to honor her heritage.
“When I was in the Dominican Republic, I had all these different influences,” Natasha says. “When I go in the studio and I can actually relive this music, mixed with a genre that I love like reggaeton, it just allows me to reach so many different parts of the world.”
In addition to refreshing reggaeton with unique soundscapes, Natasha and her contemporaries also offer a provocative message with their self-knowing lyrics.
“One of the important contributions woman (have made to) reggaeton is bringing these narratives that were otherwise not encouraged,” Ellis says. “It’s no longer me in the home, me as a mother or me as a wife, but it’s me as a complex human being, me and my sexuality, me and my needs.”
Natasha says these confident narratives help give young girls “a bigger view” of their capabilities.
“When they see this type of behavior – not necessarily saying bad words, not necessarily being sexy – but having that freedom of speech allows them to open their mind and know that … they are allowed to do the same things that men do,” Natasha says.
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Women in reggaeton are bringing a sexual frankness to Latin pop that’s changing the game.
At this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Brazilian singer Anitta delivered a steamy performance of her reggaeton smash “Envolver,” including a bodacious dance breakdown.
“The more traditional female pop star has always tended to sing about love and been very stereotypically feminine, and here you have a group of women who are more sexual in their attitudes, in their lyrics, and more open about the way they dress,” says Leila Cobo, vice president of Latin content at Billboard.
Natasha, whose No. 1 hit “Ram Pam Pam” is an explicit kiss off to a past lover, says such candor is an important aspect of her authenticity.
“I’ve never felt like I’ve had to be very careful about the things I say,” Natasha says. “When I do my songs, I really just want to give people realness.”
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