Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin has long prided himself on spreading the Latin poptimist gospel of the "Latino Gang," a growing milieu of Latin American artists taking over pop charts around the globe.
But upon the September release of the controversial video for "Perra," or "Female Dog" — Balvin's joint single with Dominican rapper Tokischa — critics have asked who "the Latino Gang" is purported to represent. Critics have called out the artist's video for its demeaning and hypersexualized depictions of Black women, commonly known as misogynoir.
Directed by Raymi Paulus, the visuals for "Perra"depict the white, Colombian rapper tugging at two Black women on leashes. Their faces, as well as other Black people in the video, were made up to look like ravenous dogs. Tokischa, a Black woman, poses on all fours inside a doghouse.
The video was quietly taken down from Balvin's YouTube page on Sunday, for reasons yet to be confirmed by Balvin or Tokischa. The Times also contacted representatives for YouTube, who have yet to acknowledge the video's takedown.
Paulus, who is also Tokischa's manager, could not be reached for comment; his personal Instagram page, which once boasted more than 74,000 followers, has been deleted.
All that exists on YouTube, apart from a reaction video posted under the user name "Dominican Guy Reaccionan2," is an audio clip.
A sticky reggaeton cut from Balvin's 2021 album, "José," the song "Perra" is a collaboration with 25-year-old rapper Tokischa, who had already stoked much ire in her home of the Dominican Republic for her exhibitionism and lyrical forays into many sexual taboos, including kink and BDSM. Her music video for "Yo No Me Voy Acostar" had previously been taken down in December 2020, for reasons unknown.
In "Perra," she and Balvin trade off lusty verses about prowling for sex the way dogs do. "I'm like a dog in heat," raps Tokischa in Spanish, "Looking for a dog to hit it."
Such lyrics are pretty standard fare in perreo, a particularly raunchy subsect of reggaeton. And now, more than ever, women partake in the "bellaqueo" as human subjects who experience sexual desire, not just objects of it. Such has been the goal for women like Tokischa, who have boldly confronted stigmas against their sexual expression with a shamelessly queer and sex positive outlook.
But whatever social gains women may have made in reggaeton have been undermined by Balvin and Tokischa's video, which is nothing short of a sociological minefield.
"What a totally despicable and racist is the video," journalist Nuria Net tweeted in Spanish, reacting to the "Perra" visuals. "But taking it down from YouTube without making any kind of statement or mea culpa is very cowardly and does not solve anything."
In a joint statement issued last week, Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez and Presidential Counselor for Women's Equality Gheidy Gallo Santos wrote that Balvin "uses images of women and people of African descent — a population group with special constitutional protection — to whom he presents with dog ears. In addition, while walking, the singer carries two Afro-descendant women tied with neck chains and crawling on the floor like animals or slaves.”
In a recent interview for Paper magazine, writer and historian Katelina Eccleston approached Balvin with questions regarding the marginalization of Black women in reggaeton, despite its roots in the predominantly Black communities of Panama and Puerto Rico.
"We know where Reggaeton comes from, and if you're in this game you should know where you come from... Once you're doing the right thing, we'll find you," said Balvin, who implied that he would take steps to be more mindful of race relations.
While the inclusion of voices like Tokischa's may herald a more socially progressive reggaeton, the overall mission of Balvin's multinational and multiracial "Latino Gang" will require much more fine-tuning.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.