When Anitta hit the stage of the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards to receive the Best Latin award for her track “Funk Rave,” she said it was just the beginning. “You guys are hearing Brazilian funk, and you’re gonna hear way more Brazilian funk in the world right now,” she told the crowd. Anitta’s prophecy was quickly fulfilled, with her speech being closely followed by Karol G’s live performance of “Oki Doki” and “Tá OK remix,” her collaboration with Brazilian funk artists Dennis DJ and Kevin O Chris.
By dedicating half of her VMAs performance to a Brazilian genre, the Colombian singer — a record-breaking female reggaeton artist — was sending a clear message: she wants to break the Brazilian market too.
For producer Dennis DJ, the move feels natural. “These genres mesh well because they’re both popular Latin rhythms,” he tells Remezcla. “And everything that moves people is a good fit for funk, so I believe it is the same with reggaeton.” Dennis’s remix of “Tá OK,” which also features Maluma, showcases the similarities and differences between Brazilian funk and reggaeton by featuring a part that switches the tamborzão funk beat to a reggaeton one, and by having Karol singing lyrics in Portuguese (she even shouts out old school funk songs like Bonde to Tigrão’s “Tira a Camisa”).
But given the history of reggaeton in Brazil, Karol might be up for a big challenge. Seeing a Brazilian artist like Anitta have a substantial reggaeton discography and having artists like Bad Bunny and Karol G sell out stadiums everywhere, it’s easy to assume that reggaeton has truly left no stone unturned in the world, especially Latin America. However, reggaeton has historically struggled to resonate with Brazilian audiences — until now.
Reggaeton’s struggle to gain traction in Brazil is not due to a lack of attempts. The history of Brazilians venturing into reggaeton dates back before the “Despacito” boom. Pop star Wanessa Camargo recorded reggaeton songs like “Amor, Amor” and “O que vem do reggae é bom” in the 2000s; funk MC Tati Zaqui released “Água na Boca” in 2015; and Anitta started eyeing the industry around 2016 and took the genre’s recognition to a new level. But while her reggaeton songs like “Downtown” and “Envolver” had a great reception in Brazil, it was the international market she aimed at. In Brazil, reggaeton continued to be a very niche genre. Today, artists like J Balvin struggle to garner large audiences in Brazil, and Bad Bunny has never performed there with several major tours under his belt.
“Everything that moves people is a good fit for funk, so I believe it is the same with reggaeton.”
The similarities between the Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures have not been enough for Spanish-language music to find momentum in Brazil. The Brazilian music market is heavily dominated by local artists, and Brazilian people’s cultural awareness of their fellow Latin American countries… Well, it could be better. When reggaeton hit the mainstream throughout Latin America in the early to mid-2000s, Brazil was an outlier to that movement. The genre failed to gain the same traction as English-language pop or even K-pop. Conversely, there haven’t been strong marketing efforts from Spanish-language artists that target Brazil specifically from the onset. Exceptions apply to acts that have specifically catered to and promoted massively in Brazil (like Shakira and Ricky Martin) or who have captivated Brazilians through TV shows first (like Thalia and RBD).
Yet, that might be changing — mainly through local talent. Within the last few years, some Brazilian artists have gradually started to incorporate reggaeton into their music. It’s a timid sliding, but it’s happening across Brazilian genres like sertanejo, trap, funk, forró, and pop.
In 2023, the biggest reggaeton song in Brazil — which some listeners might not even consider to be a reggaeton song at all — is Castela’s “Nosso Quadro.” Though she’s Brazil’s most promising sertanejo star, those are undeniably reggaeton beats. Maybe smoother than the original Puerto Rican iteration, but still. Castela has been flirting with reggaeton in songs like “Nosso Quadro” and “Me Gusta,” with the latter being way more explicit in its intention to channel reggaeton and even featuring Spanish lyrics. The choice makes sense for Castela, who was born and raised on the Brazil-Paraguay border and spent her childhood on a Paraguayan farm (“Nosso Quadro” is also a hit in Paraguay).
It also makes sense that reggaeton finds a place in sertanejo, just like other Latine genres like bachata and guarania did. Sertanejo is known for being flexible in embracing other genres and quickly adapting to the music industry’s needs. Past attempts at making reggaeton break in Brazil also happened through sertanejo artists, in collaborations like Simone & Simaria with Sebastian Yatra or Luan Santana with Enrique Iglesias.
Building a bridge between funk and reggaetón is the basis of Anitta’s international career strategy, and more Brazilian funk-pop artists like Ludmilla and Luísa Sonza are finding success in exploring the connections between the two genres. Ludmilla has collaborated with Piso 21 and Emilia, and Sonza worked with Danna Paola, Aitana, and Mariah Angeliq. But if any past collaborations between Brazilian and foreign reggaeton artists left any room for doubts that the interest is mutual, “Tá OK (Remix)” makes it official that the Spanish-language market is willing to make concessions for the Brazilian market as well.
Though the music markets for reggaeton in Spanish and Portuguese are growing quickly, the challenge of Brazilian reggaeton making it big remains. Like reggaeton from Colombia, can the Brazilian iteration finally stick? What tracks like “Nosso Quadro” and trapper WIU’s “Coração de Gelo” have in common is that they sound natural to their singers’ original styles, even though they resemble reggaeton. Plus, they’re sung in Portuguese and contain the usual colloquialisms and lyrical themes that are typical to each artist and style.
While bridging the gap between Spanish-language reggaeton and the Brazilian market presents several hurdles, the recent collaborations and growing interest in this genre suggest that change is on the horizon. With artists like Castela embracing reggaeton beats or Dennis DJ exploring the genre’s connections through international collaborations, it’s clear that this is a promising time for reggaeton lovers in Brazil.
There may not be a foolproof formula to break reggaeton in Brazil, but there has never been as much effort to make it happen as now. And regardless of the outcome, Brazilian fans are surely having a feast.