Inside Chile’s Thriving Trap and Plugg Universe


Once a rapidly growing Latin American economy, and fertile ground for influential indie pop and neoperreo movements, Chile has become the center of socio-political discord that’s swept the region over the last several years. Since October 2019, millions of Chileans have taken to the streets in waves of protests and civil unrest dubbed el estallido social, or the social outburst. Their goals: dismantle the neoliberal policies of the Seventies that fostered staggering income inequality, abandon the archaic Pinochet-era constitution, and draft a new magna carta to codify institutional gender parity and land rights for the country’s indigenous communities.

In 2020, hundreds of Chileans were maimed during the violent repression of former president, the billionaire Sebastián Piñera, who recently died while piloting his helicopter, triggering a national wave of schadenfreude. The hopeful government of student union leader-turned-president Gabriel Boric, who was elected in 2021, failed multiple attempts at passing a new constitution, fanning the flames of a far-right backlash that has gridlocked political discourse. And the formerly vibrant capital city of Santiago now stands bruised in the shadow of burned buildings, spiking crime rates, and a fractured populace fatigued by precarity.

An unresolved culture war, plus the ravishing effects of the pandemic, have sewn bleakness and disillusionment into Chilean music. You can hear it in the guttural rage of a burgeoning post-hardcore scene led by Asia Menor and Candelabro, as well as the icy techno K-holes of Alejandro Paz and Valesuchi. However, between primal screams and dance floor disassociation, flourishing streetwise narratives have come to epitomize the disenfranchised emotions of a generation. The soundtrack for el estallido social has become trap, reggaeton, and plugg crafted in peripheral neighborhoods, shifting the artistic status quo and propelling Chile’s music industry into enormously lucrative territory.

“Chile was in a dictatorship just over 30 years ago, so politics has everything to do with our music,” says rising trap phenom Akriila, speaking with Rolling Stone from Santiago. Born Fernanda Sepulveda and hailing from the district of Maipú, she bought her first microphone while in high school and recorded early demos in her mother’s car. She was initially drawn to mixtapes from Princesa Alba and Gianluca, circa 2017. But by the time she began releasing music during the pandemic, trap was the sound of the zeitgeist.

She describes the evolution of Chilean trap as “euphoric.” Early hits like Gianluca and Pablo Chill-E’s “Sismo” in 2019 echoed Atlanta cadences, while 2022 new-money anthem “JFM (Jovenes Flaite Milloneta),” by Aqua VS, Pablo Chill-E, and Julianno Sosa, reclaimed the pejorative “Flaite” (or “Ghetto”) and consolidated this new local idiom. Chill-E in particular is best known internationally for collaborating on Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG, but at home he’s a trap trailblazer and people’s hero who fought alongside protestors in the first waves of el estallido. Later, he enlisted folk legends Quilapayún and Inti Illimani for the searing indictments of “Aburrido.”

Akriila cultivated her own blend of irreverent boasts and social critiques across buzzy 2021 singles “XEKERAU” and “Monas Xinas,” as well as an imaginative 2023 mixtape titled 001. She’s since collaborated with chamaleonic trap tent poles Young Cister and Harry Nach, and in recent months, she’s pivoted towards a commercial reggaeton sound that made crossover superstars out of Polimá Westcoast, Kidd Voodoo, and Marcianeke. At 20 years old, Akriila stands unconcerned with easy classification, and wise to industry games that equate sonic versatility with market potential.

“Yeah, I do trap, but I think about it as pop, the way Charli XCX, Rosalía, and Tokischa operate within specific genres but fall under the pop umbrella,” she says, teasing a forthcoming album with more adventurous forays into reggaeton, drum-and-bass, and acoustic ballads. “Trap is harder edged. It’s about street codes, malianteo, and strong personalities. It’s very different from something like plugg, which is romantic and dreamy. Trap isn’t about love.”

“We’re on the other, more sentimental side of the coin,” adds Posion Kid, a founding member of Nvscvr, widely recognized as Chile’s godfathers of plugg. The trio is composed of vocalists Poison Kid and Baby J, and producer MLSHBTS, who have roots in the Santiago districts of Renca, Padre Hurtado, and Pudahuel. The group came together the way plugg projects usually do: on the internet. Their 2018 debut New Bois overflows with quirky genre hallmarks including cartoonish auto-tune and Nextel chirps, and even a couple of features from Polimá Westcoast.

In recent years plugg has surged across Latin America, finding sadboi idols in Colombia’s Sa!koro and Mexico’s Mikeanyway, and confounding, shitposty provocateurs in Argentina’s SWAGGERBOYZ, AgusFortnite2008, and Stiffy, and Peru’s Terrokal Boyz, Ghxst Ghxst and JordyLongSocks. And while Chile certainly isn’t hurting for irreverence ​​– just look at uproarious agitators KUINA and Guro – the prevailing trend is more aligned with R&B en español, as with silken projects like Kode and Bouncy Boys Band.

“Plugg became an extension of R&B,” says Nicolás Orellana, editor-in-chief of Sonido Radar, an outlet that’s been reporting on the rise of Chilean música urbana since 2016. “It’s softer, inside music that helped younger artists and fans unpack their emotions in the wake of traumatic events like el estallido and the pandemic. It became comfort music at a time when everything was fucked.”

Trending

Chilean trap, plugg, and reggaeton have hit their blockbuster stride, raking in millions of plays across streaming platforms and stepping into the international market. Young Cister and Argentine trap icon Duki linked up for romantiqueo hit “Dolce,” while Polimá Westcoast enlisted Colombian superstar J Balvin for throbbing otaku anthem “Kawaii.” Meanwhile, Akriila just wrapped a Latin American festival tour with performances at Lollapalooza in Argentina and Chile, Estéreo Picnic in Bogotá, and Festival Ceremonia in Mexico City. Nvscvr are also going on tour in support of their new album Top, with spring dates in 10 Chilean cities and a string of shows in Mexico, Argentina, and Peru. But growing, quantifiable success doesn’t mean these artists are getting too big for their britches. 

“Middle-class people in Chile have always hustled and those are ultimately the stories we’re telling,” says Nvscvr’s Baby J. “That’s the target of Nvscvr’s music. I sing about realities I’ve experienced. I don’t need a character. I’ve been broke and unemployed, and I think that speaks to a lot of middle-class Chileans who don’t have the resources to rise above.”





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