Bad Bunny's enormous success: Why the reggaeton artist is dominating the popular music scene
Bad Bunny’s latest album “Un Verano Sin Ti” is in its seventh week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. has amassed more Spotify streams recently
Over the past two months, the 28-year-old Puerto Rican superstar has appeared in the Spotify top 100 more times than Harry Styles, Olivia Rodrigo, Drake and Kendrick Lamar combined, Bloomberg reports.
So what’s behind the reggaeton singer’s massive success?
Writer and translator Carina del Valle Schorske profiled the artist back in 2020 for the New York Times. Bad Bunny — whose real name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio — champions music that’s both genre-defying and gender-fluid.
Born to a lower-middle-class Catholic family, Ocasio grew up in Vega Baja, a small town in Puerto Rico. His father drove trucks and his mother taught English. That upbringing weaves itself into songs like “Si Veo a Tu Mamá,” the opening track on his 2020 album “YHLQMDLG.”
In the song, the title of which translates to “If I See Your Mom” in English, Ocasio sings about running into his ex-girlfriend’s mother. Valle Schorske says the song plays into Vega Baja’s small-town feel, where it’s hard to be anonymous.
“There is some of the sweetness of island life in that song, as well as kind of a clever ear for Latin American songs that go beyond the Caribbean,” Valle Schorske says.
Valle Schorske notes in her profile that Ocasio largely sings Puerto Rican Spanish: In his words, he cracked “the gringo market” without sacrificing his mother tongue. Puerto Rican and Caribbean Spanish are often maligned, Valle Schorske says, with critics calling the dialect too playful or saying it uses too much English.
Ocasio, however, embraces both playfulness and flexibility in his songs. Now, Puerto Rican Spanish is used across the urban Latin genre by artists such as Rosalia and J Balvin.
“Despite his global success, [Bad Bunny] is always looking to remind his audience where his music is rooted,” says Valle Schorske.
Valle Schorske’s favorite song from Ocasio’s newest album is “El Apagόn,” or “Blackout” in English. In 2021, Luma Energy took ownership of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. Since then, there have been blackouts and rising energy prices, with Puerto Ricans forced to pay more for less reliable electricity.
After singing “El Apagόn” during a recent concert in Puerto Rico, Ocasio criticized Luma Energy for the blackouts.
“He says this country belongs to us and we’re the ones who have to take control,” Valle Schorske says, translating the speech. “And he says he believes in this generation and he wants to live here with you, with us, forever.”
During that same July concert, Ocasio invited up-and-coming queer Puerto Rican artists to share the stage with him while he sang backup to their songs.
One reason behind Ocasio’s global success is his musicality. Even if you don’t understand what Ocasio is saying, Valle Schorske says, the pride and playfulness in his songs are contagious.
“I think that kind of posture of inclusivity that, at the same time, makes no gesture towards assimilation is charismatic and inspiring to people around the world,” Valle Schorske says.
Chris Bentley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Jeannette Muhammad adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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