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Experts also credit reggaeton’s popularity to its simple but catchy beat. And they say it’s here to stay, as evidenced by artists from other genres such as salsa incorporating the sound into their music.

“Very easy to dance to. … It should be no surprise that it has caught on so easily among young people,” said Raul Fernandez, a professor at the School of Social Sciences of the University of California, Irvine, who has written about Cuban music.

“The lyrics to dance music are often not exemplary in a literary sense,” he added, but “people aren’t going to dance in order to be educated by the lyrics.”

Indeed, some fans barely notice the slangy, rapid-fire lyrics, or say it’s not the main attraction.

“I really like reggaeton. It has a beat that fires me up,” said Yanet Perez, a 28-year-old Havana resident. “It’s fun to dance to because of the way it gets you moving, although the lyrics sometimes can be bad or slimy.”

Records with explicit lyrics in the United States have carried parental warning labels since the 1980s, and last year the Rihanna video “S&M” was banned in at least 11 countries. In 2009, Jamaica prohibited songs and videos with explicit references to sex and violence from being broadcast on radio or TV.

The backlash against reggaeton has historical echoes in Cuba, where genres such as danzon, cha-cha, timba and salsa once scandalized older generations by pushing contemporary boundaries of sensuality. Today, they are firmly established in the musical mainstream.

In the 1960s the Beatles were banned from Cuban radio, and some fans were forced to cut their long hair, reprimanded at work or passed over for jobs. Now, a Havana plaza boasts a statue of John Lennon and the nearby Beatles-themed bar The Yellow Submarine is a thriving nightspot.

Ironically, some of those who would clamp a lid on reggaeton’s excesses once rebelled against their own elders by listening clandestinely to John, Paul, George and Ringo.

“Reggaeton is very popular among young people,” said 22-year-old singer Carlitos “Papi” Chacon, who avoids explicit lyrics in his own music but acknowledged that many of his peers “say crazy stuff.”

“I think (the backlash) has only made people listen to it more,” Chacon said. “What you have to do is keep working and not box yourself in. … You have to make music.”


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