Ozuna’s “La Modelo” is one step forward, two steps back for Latin music


With one of the last major Latin releases of 2017, Puerto Rican reggaeton star Ozuna has shown what we can expect from his work in the upcoming year. “La Modelo” (“The Model”) has all the ingredients of a smash hit in today’s urban-dominated musical landscape: an established leading man grooving to a smooth-as-honey track, accompanied by an equally popular crossover performer, in this case, rapper Cardi B.

Following its awkward opening, a few tropical-sounding bars followed, incongruously, by some ominous “the rappers are coming” digital sound bolts, “La Modelo” gets to the point and lets audiences settle into its sensual, comforting ride. Like many current hits, the song plays it safe, relying on tried and true rhythm and vocal delivery, carefully modulated to be noticeable but not overly disruptive. I can’t honestly say I understand Ozuna’s appeal, but there’s no doubt Cardi B. is the real deal. Her slightly husky voice captures the listener in a way that the purported leading man simply can’t match, and when she starts rapping… well, let’s just say I wish the song had a lot more of Cardi B. rapping.

Released in late December, the single received some positive critical notice, most of it focused on the great synergy between the two performers. And it’s certainly true, as music writer Matthew Ismael Ruiz points out, that Cardi B.’s participation in the project adds some oomph to Ozuna’s quest for crossover mainstream appeal.

Unfortunately, the song is only good if you don’t think about it too hard. Purportedly a love song (set in Jamaica), it relies on the overused trope of the poor Romeo from the streets falling for a rich Juliet absconded up her hillside mansion. You can almost hear Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” playing in the background. But, like that ’80s mainstay, it’s not really a love song at all, but an opportunity for a horny man to express desire for the girl who’s looking so fine. “I don’t even know her name/ but I want her,” sings Ozuna in the derivative and unimaginative lyrics. She’s “dangerous like a gun/ of all the babies she’s the champion.”

But that’s just one of the song’s problems. Another is its insistence on adhering to the worse stereotypes of urban music. It glorifies money and bling, gangsta culture, and the objectification of women. Despite all the talent that stands behind it, as a work of popular art, it’s morally reprehensible. How ironic that the music video opens with a blatant, and completely unearned, appropriation of Jamaican street imagery and of the likeness of Bob Marley. Ozuna, while undeniably talented, has a long way to go before he can compare himself to the Jamaican icon, not only in terms of artistic merit but even more so in terms of real commitment to a cause, any cause.

Rather than try to say anything of substance, “La Modelo” relies on endless shots of Cardi B.’s breasts, as she writhes provocatively next to the skinny, slouching Ozuna. The aforementioned hillside mansion is for some reason perennially occupied by a troupe of dancing hotties. Love and sex in this world are always about him, what he wants to see, what he wants to do. Perhaps, in the post #MeToo world, Ozuna and his peers could start considering how this attitude contributes to propping up the Harvey Weinsteins of the world?

“La Modelo” is already a hit. It’ll climb the charts and flood the radio waves, and bring urban Latin music ever more into the mainstream. Eventually, though, Ozuna and other successes like him will have to ask themselves if that’s all they aim to accomplish.


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