Grammys, Moralism and Hot Dogs: What’s really behind the fight between J Balvin and Residente?

This is the image with which J Balvin responded to Residente after he said that his music was like a cart of ‘hot dogs’.

José Osorio tweets and J Balvin deletes it. René Pérez answers him in an Instagram video that Residente later removes. The individual speaks and the artist censors him. What, if anything, does it mean for someone extremely well-known to delete something from social media, when they know that there is no longer any chance that what they said will be deleted? The only thing people who can do everything have no control over is what they say. The word is a snake that stings the tongue that mentions it.

The lack of control in the fiefdom of Latin commercial music lasts for a short time, a label that achieves the magnificent artifice of globalization thanks to the successes of local harmonies. Those of us who pay attention continue to detect the sweetness of the brave rhythm under that layer of caramel that for lack of a better name we still call industry.

Whitening, we say, comes from Miami, but there is also a barbarous and polluted Miami, streaked with commoner churre, and a global phenomenon, which in its last season managed to spread outside the record labels, has its centers of power anywhere, as well as its niches of resistance. What is left in Miami is the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which distributes the Latin Grammys, an issue that led to the dispute between J Balvin and Residente.

René Pérez Joglar, 'Resident'.
René Pérez Joglar, ‘Resident’.

Balvin called for a boycott of the awards gala to be held on November 18 in Las Vegas. Referring to reggaeton and its current drifts, he said: “The Grammys don’t value us, but they need us. We give them ratings, but they don’t give us respect ». His comment, although not explicitly stated, establishes the guidelines for artists of the genre to reach a fundamental question: why is respect a category that still belongs to the Academy?

René accuses Balvin of not writing his lyrics, but “May 7” is one of the most sincere autobiographical themes in the neighborhood. There, Balvin does not try to camouflage himself and reveals the dilemma of the Latin American lower middle class, that cultural limbo still loaded with unprecedented power and mistreated from all fronts: “It was very close to the rich and very rich to the nea.”

With a masterpiece under his belt like the record Colors, Balvin has a work in which some underlying weaknesses appear, probably the identity debts that he still pays to the rancid paisa oligarchy, to the Creole mafia of Antioquia, but all that dissolves in his music as a dispute, not as vindication. Sometimes it seems to be just missing the last screw thread. In “In Da Getto,” he says, “I grew up in the ghetto and the world is my home.” That conjunction does not work. It goes like this: “I grew up in the ghetto, the world is my home.” In any case, it is Balvin who allows us to reach that definitive line.

That the untraceable jargon of the trap has become a mainstream habit cannot be read only as unhealthy appropriation. This supposes that success always corresponds to the other, to moral error, and that the foundations, by themselves, have no possibility of becoming a seductive object. We are in an exquisite water where the conservative statement belongs to the transgressor, and the transgressive statement to the conservative.

René ends up defending the caspous institution. When he ironizes that Balvin surely changed his outfit for each of the thirteen nominations he obtained in 2020, he does so from one of the most wrong places possible: the one who believes that he will reach the stage by bicycle, just as he did at the Awards. Youth, it is a gesture less swallowed by capital. That the Academy no longer has reggaeton in mind, when it is the genre that keeps it in office, supposes a supposedly sophisticated position, as if there were a neat area to be safe.

René is bothered that another protests and that he practices self-aggrandizement in his subjects, attitudes more than welcome, inherent to the genre, that he has sustained all his life. “If you don’t have a pencil, drop it twenty,” he says, but, first, Balvin isn’t a rapper, he doesn’t have to have a pencil, and, second, the least we need are songs with a pencil. As we move into the logocentric dictatorship of the world, that is, as we become adults, few things become more unbearable than so-called “lyrics songs.” René doesn’t say; Explain. Balvin does not say; shows. It moves in a kinetic and synaesthetic sense, it works with images.

His records are called Vibes and Colors, for example, and when René told him that his music was like a Hot Dog cart, that everyone likes it, but that if people want to eat good they go to a restaurant with Michelin stars, Balvin did not have to answer anything , He only took a photo in a hot dog stand, not already winning the duel, but something more powerful, diluting it, having control of events. René expected a replica to be played on his premises, but this should be the time of the ear and the skin, not the mouth.

Statements about the social situations of his country, or anywhere else, do not mark the political tendency of the artist’s work, no matter how much we want it, and reading it like this means that subaltern meanings or discourses cannot be established outside of the didacticism of the domesticated insurgency. That Balvin is ambitious, or that he likes to attract attention, generates more reactionary moral judgments than any frivolity or rudeness of his.

What is in dispute here is not the talent between two singers, but different ways of reading pleasure as an ideology. Two routes, one male and the other androgynous. Two models to assemble. Despite the apparent antagonism, there is no Balvin without René, but one of the stories has already been closed, and the other has not.

René fills his own signifier, I had it with verbiage, especially because many times, over the years, he behaved like someone convinced that he had overcome the system, one of the least subversive positions there is, and certainly the most bored.

Colombian singer J Balvin.
Colombian singer J Balvin.

As a brand that it already is, his way of embodying privilege more passively endows Balvin with an involuntary sincerity that, together with the quality of his music —to me very high, very funny; a voluptuousness that does not ignore the melancholic touches of depression—, it still allows us to decompose it in a sense contrary to itself and to channel it in directions not foreseen due to its condition as a spoiled child of marketing.

Why should we give up the possibility of desire as a commitment? “The libidinal attractions of consumer capitalism must be faced by a kind of counter-libido and not simply by a depressive delibidinization”, says Mark Fisher, and this is the point where we understand that Balvin’s music steals the body, a temple that René Although he always praised its importance, he never managed to conquer it completely.

At three in the morning —the true moment, the moment of conspiracy and sensuality, basically because it is the only hour in which man is incapable of deceiving himself— Balvin’s flow does not lie. The fact that its themes sweep the high night, from a place of enjoyment, but also contemplative, makes it a phenomenon somewhere between elusive and indispensable, just like hot dog carts. More than a place, music is time, hence a hot dog cart at two in the afternoon is not the same as at five in the morning.

A defender of the street, René presents himself in his video as an aristocratic preacher. What if we started giving awards to corner stalls? What if we didn’t give anything to anyone? What if we were talking about music that has elevated fast food to the category of virtue? In any case, the fundamental thing is that when people are hungry what they buy is a Hot Dog, because there is no money to pay for a Michelin restaurant.

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Grammys, Moralism and Hot Dogs: What’s really behind the fight between J Balvin and Residente?

Hank Gilbert