In Defense of Pitbull…

Do you remember this song?

It’s okay if you don’t. Pitbull didn’t really hit my consciousness either until a couple years later when “Ay Chico” destroyed the loudspeakers at all of my middle school social functions. But it was in 2004, the same year that “Gasolina” brought reggaeton to worldwide attention, that a Miami upstart released a Lil Jon backed multilingual ode to women’s backsides, with a tremendo hook built off a beat lifted from Nina Sky’s one hit record. It wasn’t the same Latin explosion that American radio experienced in the late 90s, but much like mid-aughts breakthroughs Daddy Yankee and Winsin y Yandel, Pitbull capitalized on an unexpected demand for Spanish tongues on rap radio. Pretty soon, however, the demand disappeared, chasing all the Spanish American acts back to their niche corners in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. Pitt’s future looked bleak.

After all, the volatility of the charts in the mid 2000s (especially for foreigners, or who were considered to be foreign acts) meant that Pitbull had as much a chance of turning into Ricky Martin as Down AKA Kilo. It didn’t help that Pitt didn’t make much noise for a few years after “Ay Chico” and a few appearances for Lil Jon and the Yin Yang Twins. But then came 2009 when Armando Christian Perez turned into Mr. 305 and unleashed “Calle Ocho.” Watch the video, you know you want to:

That song hit the top ten of every European chart (except for Poland’s and Slovakia’s, which obviously don’t matter), peaking at number 2 in Billboard’s Hot 100. This was the first in a series of seven top-10 and seventeen top-100 hits that the Cuban-American rapper has accumulated over the last six years, a distinction that not even Lady GaGa, Jay Z, nor even Beyonce can claim. As much as many may not want to admit it, Pitbull has become one of the industry’s most consistent hit makers.

But did you listen closely to “Calle Ocho” when you decided against your better judgment to watch the video again? It sounds very much like “Culo,” as it should, since it follows the winning formula of woman objectification + latin house rhythms. And while not everything Pitbull releases sounds like “Culo,” a lot of it does. Have you listened to his current chart-topper “Time Of Our Lives?” It should remind you of his former chart-topper “Give Me Everything.” It should also remind you of this song you couldn’t get out of your head two years ago. This one, too. Maybe even this one, if you’re a masochist and you’re still clicking.

The point is, you know what you’re getting when you hear “MISSUH WURHL-WHY” at the beginning of any particular song, and I can understand how it can get tiring. This would normally be the time to disparage the corporate repetitiveness of American pop music and to critique the state of mass-produced records penetrating our eardrums through the airwaves of Clear Channel nation. But I’m not going to do that, because that would be silly (after all, we’re not talking about high art, we’re talking about Pitbull). Instead, I’m going to swim upstream and defend Mr. Worldwide.

Although I’m Cuban-American myself, I don’t agree with Pitbull’s politics (though the GOP seems to like them enough). He’s not an especially skilled rapper, and his lyrics don’t get further than skin deep on a woman’s behind, often juggling whether he wants to see girls dance for him or strip for him. His beats are fine, but not earth shaking. None of his songs are going to last long (though “Ay Chico” still starts parties and may do so for the next decade), and his future may soon lie as a Lil Jon/Jay Z curator of young talent. He will end up as the least recognizable of hit makers the last ten years have seen. So why defend him?

Because Pitbull serves one and only purpose: to get people dancing. And ignoring the problematic themes of women objectification (which most of the country has already ignored considering the sexist state of pop music), Pitbull has delivered years of booty shaking and innocuous party music. He may be the most average hit maker in recent memory, but boy, does he get the people dancing. I discovered that ten years ago at a Cuban-American house when “Culo” brought seniors out of their rocking chairs and onto the dance floor. I rediscovered it when “Shake Shake” brought the chaperones to the center of a middle school gymnasium. I’ve been rediscovering it a few times a year since then, and it never fails to amaze me how an artist with such little talent manages to get a room moving. Dale.



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