Reggaetón is music’s story of the year, but what’s not yet obvious is what the story is—what sounds it will draw from most, or even what language it will be in. Anything from hip-hop to salsa is fair game as long as there’s a rap and a word or two in Spanish, or even just a Spanish surname. On Cuban Link’s single “Scandalous,” he raps in English and guest Don Omar sings half in English and half in Spanish. The melody sounds way more like 1980s Latin freestyle songs such as Cynthia’s “Change on Me” and Noel’s “Silent Morning” than like anything in reggae or r&b—it’s melancholy in a particularly Latino way. And like in freestyle, the underlying beats and rhythm keep the music moving so well that the tune comes off lively rather than soggy. There’s a parallel to crunk here, which takes dark sounds from the suspense-film palette and gives them the thrill of syncopation. And just like in crunk, you’ve got sadness that the rhythm refuses to acknowledge—mournful tones in what is basically a throw-your-hands-in-the-air party song.
The lyrics are the usual mixed message: Cuban wants the girl wild and crazy and he wants her faithful—in other words, he doesn’t know what he wants but is hurt when he doesn’t get it, and he blames the girl. And Don says she’s bad, but the song doesn’t know if bad is good, and the singer and rapper aren’t wise enough to see this or honest enough to say it. So the sadness and madness of this upbeat party music go deeper than the music makers realize.