Bad Bunny has a way of sneaking up on you. Time and time again, the Puerto Rican rapper and singer has challenged the Latin music industry and consistently pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a reggaetonero, breaking almost every toxic stereotype along the way. Bad Bunny’s innovative — and some may say rebellious — approach to the genre has led him to record-breaking success and attracted the likes of international artists like Drake, Dua Lipa and Rosalia for collaborations that would later become some of their most popular tracks.
Most recently, Bad Bunny made Grammy history with his latest album Un Verano Sin Ti. The album has earned two Grammy Award nominations and is the first Spanish-language album ever to be nominated for the category of album of the year. Bad Bunny is also the first artist to receive a nomination for album of the year at both the Grammys and the Latin Grammys. But his impact on the Latin music industry goes beyond musical recognition.
The rise of artists like Bad Bunny in mainstream music has not only become an essential bridge between two continents — but it has also introduced what feels like an unprecedented anti-machismo era for the reggaeton genre. To understand the significance of these milestones for Latin music, it’s important to know the past and to get to know the artist shaping the future. Read on to find out why Bad Bunny is exactly what Latin music needs today.
See also: Grammys 2022: The best red carpet looks of the night.
The dark history of reggaeton
Reggaeton as a genre originated in the 1980s during the construction of the Panama Canal. During this time, Jamaican workers travelled to Panama to help build the Canal and brought with them a sound that would forever shape Latin American music: Reggae.
By the 1990s, reggaeton had made its way to Puerto Rico and started a revolution. This vibrant, new Afro-Latin sound was taking over the underground music scene, but was widely shunned from mainstream society, particularly among the white population. Reggaeton was often associated with hypersexuality, crime and violence. From 1993 to 1999, a Puerto Rican anti-crime initiative targeted areas where the genre was flourishing by raiding public housing projects called caseríos. But the purpose of the raids wasn’t to seize drugs or weapons. Believe it or not, government officials were after cassettes.
The raids ended up doing the opposite of what they intended to do and drew more attention to the forbidden genre. By the early 2000s, the spotlight was on reggaeton, and its sound had evolved to incorporate more instruments associated with traditional Latin music. Slowly but surely, reggaeton was commercialized.
Reggaeton was no longer contraband, but as mainstream as the genre became, the potential to expand into the North American music scene remained untapped well into the late 2000s, with the exception of a few anthems (Alexa, play “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee).
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The Bad Bunny effect
Born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio (March 10, 1994 – AKA a Pisces king) Bad Bunny first emerged on the Puerto Rican music scene in 2013. With his deep voice, underground sound and unique persona, Benito quickly went from being a beloved local talent with a modest-but-loyal fan base to one of the industry’s most sought-after artists worldwide.
In a culture and musical genre where toxic masculinity and homophobia are alive and well, Bad Bunny has positioned himself as the ultimate ally.
Bad Bunny does things differently, so naturally, he draws in different people — even self-proclaimed reggaeton haters. He’s managed to reach new audiences and immerse them in the world of reggaeton by playing with different sounds and experimenting with various unexpected genres like Latin rock, trap and mambo. But he doesn’t do this without paying respect to the pioneers that paved the way for his present-day success, sampling and featuring iconic reggaeton artists like Ivy Queen, Don Omar and, of course, Daddy Yankee.
His experimentation doesn’t stop there. The artist looks for innovative ways to create and present his music videos. His Grammy-nominated album Un Verano Sin Ti features a 360-degree visualizer (think virtual reality) for over 20 songs, where you can feel as though you’re at the beach hanging out with Bad Bunny and friends.
In a culture and musical genre where toxic masculinity and homophobia are alive and well, Bad Bunny has positioned himself as the ultimate ally. With his unconventional fashion choices and outspokenness against gender-based violence and LGBTQ2S+ rights, Benito has single-handedly shifted the expectations of what a male reggaeton star can look like and stand for.
Related: Latinx vs. Latine: decolonizing queer identities in Latin America.
In 2020, Bad Bunny took the stage at The Tonight Show and performed his hit song “Ignorantes” while wearing a long skirt and a shirt that read, “They killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt,” in Spanish. The powerful message condemned the recent murder of Alexa Negrón Luciano, a Puerto Rican transgender woman.
Benito’s authenticity and creativity easily makes him one of the most interesting artists to watch today.
During the interview following his performance, Benito discussed the importance of allyship and his commitment to using his platform to shine a light on the Puerto Rican community and issues that matter. Just one month after the interview aired, Bad Bunny released one of his most famous songs to date, “Yo Perreo Sola” (which translates to “I Twerk Alone” — it’s deeper than it sounds). The song was written from a woman’s perspective and has been praised for its message in defence of women’s rights. The music video even features the artist in full drag to amplify that message. Another first for reggaeton.
Later that year, Latin pop star and fellow Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin called Benito “an icon for the Latin queer community,” in a Rolling Stone cover story. “[Bad Bunny] resonates with a generation that is, at the moment, discovering who they really are,” he continued. “It is very refreshing to witness in an industry known for its machismo.”
Whether you’re hooked on his catchy songs, gushing over his latest red carpet look or waiting for his next heartfelt performance, Benito’s authenticity and creativity easily makes him one of the most interesting artists to watch today. There’s no denying that Bad Bunny will continue to disrupt the industry and is well on his way to becoming one of the most influential Latin music artists of all time.