Poster for Tainy’s “LA BABY” music video with Feid, Sech, and Daddy Yankee directed by Elliott Muscat. Courtesy of Elliott Muscat.
The Shift in Reggaeton’s Visuals and Aesthetics Through New Sensibilities
Reggaeton is a Latin American music genre that historically has been heavily criticized for portraying men as strong, hypermasculine beings and women as sexual objects. It allegedly depicts traditional and toxic masculinity, that portrays men as macho, alpha males gazing at a woman for sexual desire. In the past decades, the genre’s visuals and music videos mostly showed half-naked women placed around a usually male singer.
Yet, that visual narrative and aesthetic is slowly changing in the current context. Artists and film directors such as Elliott Muscat and Gian Rivera, better known as Death of Gian, are some of the contemporary creatives who continuously work hard to generate this visual shift gradually. They currently collaborate with some of the genre’s most prominent and renowned artists, such as Tainy, Feid, Mora, and Jhayco.
According to Ana Canepa, 28, a Mexican academic researcher of reggaeton and the founder of the digital magazine Perreo Intelectual, which studies reggaeton as a reflection of the context of its production. This visual shift, according to Canepa, is because
“reggaeton is very different from what it was 20 years ago. This is in regards to its production, impact, and reach. There’s a bigger budget to produce it and a more global audience.”
That’s the case with Muscat and Rivera’s art. It comes from a genuine place of authenticity that seeks to contribute music videos that are new and different on an aesthetic level. Their art is characterized by cinematic visuals that tell compelling stories based on their collaboration with these reggaeton artists, which set them apart from others in the industry.
They strive to create art that stands out from the crowd in the reggaeton industry, which is intentional with the messages they communicate as visual artists. They tell visual stories that don’t add to the unhealthy narrative that sexually objectifies women or that present men as macho, alpha males. It’s not in their professional and personal natures to portray that.
“We have a responsibility as artists to make the world a better place. As human beings, we have so much potential to grow, to connect with each other, and to leave this world a better place than it was when we first got here,” Muscat said. “One of the strongest ways that we can accomplish that is through art. It’s incredible to see how powerful a single video, a song, or a painting can absolutely move a whole nation, if not the entire world.”
With that responsibility in mind, Muscat, 32, has created art pieces from a place of deep authenticity and positivity. Whenever he collaborates with other artists, he likes to set a common goal on how they can create art that feels very special and has a positive impact once it’s out in the world.
Muscat’s ongoing collaboration with Puerto Rican artist and music producer Tainy has continued over the past four years. During the past few years, Muscat led the creative direction for the multimedia art for Tainy’s DATA album, which was released this year. For this project, Muscat created visuals that spoke of Tainy’s love for Japanese culture while merging it with his strong Latin American culture.
According to Canepa, the merging of cultures in Tainy’s art has a deeper meaning because in
“Latin America, the television from 20 or 30 years ago, it was cheaper to purchase the licenses for anime rather than U.S. television. It was more accessible to have Dragon Ball, Pokémon, or Digimon,” Canepa said. “It’s very interesting that all these artists make so many references to Asian culture. In the end, they’re not referencing Japan. They’re referencing their childhoods.”
Setting a New Standard
Those references were evident when Muscat created the art that portrayed Tainy’s artistic identity. He generated visuals that immediately appear to disrupt reggaeton because of how different and minimalistic they are. Muscat created a new visual narrative that opposes the norm in the industry and is strikingly beautiful and rare. His artistic vision comes from a very personal place where he has set a personal responsibility of setting positive art standards that reach a global audience.
“Showcasing and using objectification as a form of shock value or as a form of just filler to call it art, I believe is a form of laziness. It can have a negative impact because for someone younger who’s looking to consume art, to get inspired, and who’s wanting to then contribute to the world of art and music, they’re going to look up to the generation above them,” Muscat said. “If the standard is set, if we’re saying as a collective group of artists, that this is ok to do, then that’s what the younger generation will do.”
That new standard is also one with which Rivera, 24, identifies. He seeks to create fresh visuals that bring something new to the table with the artists he collaborates with while exploring a unique and contemporary aesthetic. Rivera cannot identify with ideas that portray women sexually dancing without any narrative, story, or content. It’s something that he finds challenging to execute and isn’t his nature.
“This typical story of a girl at a bar looking at a guy with desire. The typical scene of this girl desiring an artist and even worse, when there are multiple women desiring the same artist. I don’t know,” Rivera said. “When you think about it and zoom out from all the situation, it’s weird. They’re weird inhumane situations.”
For Rivera, it’s very important on a personal level to create something different from the norm and that also stops adding to that narrative. He even says that he would be very ashamed if his mother ever saw one of his videos with that disrespectful undertone towards women.
“There are videos that are simply made for men’s satisfaction. I find that very toxic, weird, and uncomfortable. Where I come from and where my art is born, that [narrative] doesn’t come through,” Rivera said.
He firmly believes that art reflects what’s inside him- a true mirror of his life, what's in his mind, and his personal culture. His current philosophy with his art is all about representation and seeing the artists he portrays as people and vulnerable human beings. He understands that the people he works with are all on the same level, which is quite evident in his art.
Playing With Classy Art
You can see that clearly in the music videos “Classy 101” for Feid and Young Miko, and “PIDE UN DESEO” for Mora and RaiNao. For “Classy 101,” he was instructed by Feid to create a visual where both he and Young Miko felt small, but it felt big around them.
“Whatever that means,” Rivera recalled laughing. “And that’s where the scene with the giant building behind them comes from. Feid told me he wanted those spaces. I creatively gave him those spaces and we placed Young Miko next to him. That’s it. There’s no narrative story.”
As simple as that. Rivera created a visual where Feid and Young Miko – a man and a woman – are portrayed as friends on the same level, and no one seems to have power over the other. It’s one of Rivera’s subtleties that come through without much thought or hesitation. It just is and it feels natural. Yet, Canepa notes a solid reference in “Classy 101” that serves the visual shift.
“The chorus says that she likes freaky and nasty [sex], nothing romantic, which is obviously a reference to Plan B’s “Candy” [song]. I looked up the video for Plan B’s “Candy.” It’s about candies and women in bikinis,” Canepa said. “You can see the difference in budgets, but also the huge contrast with Young Miko being a woman singing that. Even if it’s a woman saying that she likes it freaky and nasty, [Classy 101] is not showing the same images in the music video of the original song referenced.”
That particular element that Canepa points out is what Rivera refers to as contrasted videos, where the visual story told has nothing to do with the words being sung. That same contrasted portrayal also occurs in “PIDE UN DESEO,” where reggaeton artists Mora and RaiNao seem like two friends living their daily lives in a relaxing manner.
For Rivera, it was about depicting a vibe that represents more the daily lives of “normal” people. One of the main elements that adds to this relaxing and realistic vibe is that the extras for the video are not professional models. They were friends of Rivera’s friends that ended up in his video, which is something that he loved. As for Mora and RaiNao’s portrayal, he did not have to direct them too much.
“Both of them are humans. For me it comes through naturally, and it comes from the same premise for “Classy 101,” which was looking for spaces,” Rivera said. “It was all very natural. They’re normal [people] for me. I see them as human beings. It all comes with the [film] direction, the space, and the vibe they’re feeling. Honestly, I didn’t direct them that much. Sometimes with artists, the less direction there is, the more they do because they let go.”
Left: Artist RaiNao in the center surrounded by the extras in the music video “PIDE UN DESEO” with Mora directed by Gian Rivera. Courtesy of Gian Rivera. Right: Some of the extras for Mora and RaiNao’s music video “PIDE UN DESEO” directed by Gian Rivera. Courtesy of Gian Rivera.
Portraying Men as Sensitive and Emotional Beings
always pursued in his art. It is something that Muscat can also relate to with his art, which always comes from a place of authenticity and positivity. He constantly pursues and executes art at a high level that communicates his perspective and experiences.
That’s one of the reasons why Muscat stands out from the crowd with art that easily differentiates itself from others in the industry. He believes his art reflects his values, feelings, and opinions. He seeks to communicate connection, collaboration, love, beauty, equality, and empowerment. These values are evident in the videos “obstáculo” for Tainy and Myke Towers and “SACRIFICIO” for Tainy and Xantos.
These videos contribute a new narrative where Muscat excels at clearly portraying men as emotional and sensitive beings. For both videos, he relies heavily on a film technique where he gets up close and personal with the camera with Myke Towers and Xantos. Muscat shows their faces and eyes right at you to evoke authenticity by serving Tainy’s purpose of keeping things minimalist and directly to the point of the emotion that a song represents. For “obstáculo” he just wanted to directly impact the viewers without having to do much on the production side of the piece.
“Considering [obstáculo] is the [album’s] first track, it’s just like: hey, we’re from Puerto Rico. We’re here. If we can do it. You can do it. Get in people’s faces. Be aggressive. Do whatever it takes and don’t hold anything back and here we are,” Muscat said. “It’s a statement to start off a video that close because it means something. You feel it right away. You feel it so much."
The video for “obstáculo” serves a deeper purpose than Myke Towers just getting in your face. It acts as the visual shift moving away from objectifying women and celebrating materialistic items. For Muscat, it’s about celebrating equality, love, and compassion.
“When everyone kind of sets the standard that it’s ok to be sensitive. It’s ok to talk about our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses because that’s what makes us human,” Muscat said. “That’s what is actually powerful to consume and to talk about versus some car and some girl or guy based on their appearance. That shift has been very powerful. It becomes more present every day and that’s thanks to the leaders in the space that have the platform to set that new standard.”
The “SACRIFICIO” story is similar. Muscat set Xantos and Tainy in a natural environment in Miami with the purpose of using nature and the close-up shots of Xantos as a means to portray a dreamlike vibe. The piano and violin aid this anime-landscape-inspired dream sequence.
Left: The super closeup of Xantos’ eyes in Tainy’s “SACRIFICIO” music video directed by Elliott Muscat. Courtesy of Elliott Muscat. Right: Tainy and Xantos in the music video “SACRIFICIO” directed by Elliott Muscat. Courtesy of Elliott Muscat.
“It’s strictly about the lyrics and the come-up story and overcoming impossible boundaries and obstacles. The best way to tell someone’s truth is by allowing them to speak in the clearest way possible. You just feel that intensity when the camera is just really close,” Muscat said. “To communicate truth and intensity in film, it’s [done] by intense close ups. Seeing someone’s eyes. The eyes are like a gateway to someone’s soul. There’s nothing more powerful than looking at someone’s eyes at a very close level that you never see in person.”
That visual narrative of men as sensitive and emotional beings is also something that Rivera does with his art. He wants men to come through as real people by adding a subtlety of a new visual sensibility to artists like Feid, Mora, and Jhayco. The sensibility is obvious in Mora’s video for “DONDE SE APRENDE A QUERER?”
Left: Frame of Mora from his video “DONDE SE APRENDE A QUERER?” directed by Gian Rivera. Courtesy of Gian Rivera. Right: Frame of Mora and the Dobermans from his music video “DONDE SE APRENDE A QUERER?” directed by Gian Rivera. Courtesy of Gian Rivera.
“If you look at my videos, I try for men not to look tough. As simple as that. I try for the artist to not look intimidating. That he’s not the macho alpha of the moment so that it feels more real,” Rivera said. “If we go a bit deeper, many of my extras are from the LGBTIQ+ community. I think it’s necessary to make a man more sensitive. It’s very necessary and even more so in reggaeton. I love giving that [sensitive] subtlety to Jhayco, Feid, and Mora. It’s something more personal.”
Music Videos as Artistic Statement Pieces
Along with that sensitivity comes the need of both Rivera and Muscat to create statement art pieces based on empowering others by serving as a purpose of representation and diversity. For Rivera, the representation of diversity is evident in his video “Fumeteo” featuring Feid, showcasing a drag person and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Rivera states that growing up immersed in the Internet and social media exposed him to different opinions and points of view.
“It’s something as simple as understanding that the African American community grew up without representation in big audiovisual projects. For Latinos as well. When I was growing up, I didn’t see a Puerto Rican represented in my favorite shows,” Rivera said. “When “Fumeteo” was out, one of the first comments I saw on YouTube was: I love the diversity in this video. My heart was full with happiness because, as a creative director, it’s very important to show the world not only as Europe or white people. Representation is very important and it’s something I take seriously.”
In Muscat’s case, his statement piece about empowering others is the music video “LA BABY” for Tainy, Feid, Sech, and Daddy Yankee. Muscat has a fascinating creative and collaborative process with Tainy, where he creates based on feeling rather than lyrics because he does not speak Spanish, and all the songs are in Spanish. This unique element of their collaboration allows Muscat to create more abstractly than in a literal way.
For “LA BABY,” Tainy’s intentions were for Muscat to create a video that portrayed powerful women, specifically in the music industry, while delivering its purpose of empowering the women who consume that music and art.
“That was just the baseline. We just want to make a music video that empowers women and shows them that they don’t need anybody else to do things for them. That they can be completely strong alone and take care of shit,” Muscat said. “Now it’s just about: look at all these amazing women that have done so many incredible things and that are absolutely rocking the music industry. Let’s celebrate that and let’s use our platform as men to help empower other women.”
The video is a feminist statement from a male perspective, but it’s also a disruption in reggaeton. For Canepa, this is an example of progress in the genre, but it doesn’t mean that all the work is done yet.
“It’s still a masculine representation of women. It is cool. Thank you for seeing us as people, but I really don’t know how much it’ll empower women. It’s not a woman speaking about herself,” Canepa said. “It’s progress, but we’re not there yet.”
To keep up with Muscat and Rivera’s art, follow them on Instagram as @elliottmuscat and @deathofgian. To keep up with Ana Canepa’s cultural and literary analysis on reggaeton, follow Perreo Intelectual on Instagram as @perreointelectual.
To learn how Muscat and Rivera’s upbringings and values deeply influenced their art and shift in reggaeton’s visual narrative, stay tuned for PART II.
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