Anyone who knows anything about current popular Latino music, or current popular music in general, should know who Bad Bunny is. And as a Latino who knows a thing or two about music, I am a huge Bad Bunny fan (this is the third piece I’ve written about him).
Clearly, I am not the only one. Puerto Rican Reguetón star Bad Bunny was the most streamed artist of 2020 with 8.3 billion streams on Spotify, as of December 5. He is also one of only three artists to ever achieve over 100 million streams in one day (Drake and XXXTENTACION were the other two). He is the seventh most streamed artist of all time.
El Conejito Malo is also an outspoken activist. He is very vocal about issues such as racial justice, feminism, and combating homophobia and transphobia. He frequently takes to social media to voice his stances as well as not only integrating, but centering these themes in his art and performances. His first album of 2020, YHLQMDLG, revolved entirely around themes of feminism, though as a cisgender man he did take liberties that he should not have: naming a song Bichiyal (Boricua slang for bitchy girl) was intended to be empowering, though inappropriate coming from a cis man; he also centered himself more than he should have, dressing in drag for a female role in the music video of Yo Perreo Sola instead of letting an actual woman take this role. However, while imperfect, his art does bring focus to the liberation of marginalized people, including women.
So why is he so ignored by the American media? Why don’t you see him on the TV the way you see other artists like Drake and Post Malone? Why is it that so many Americans don’t even know who he is? Clearly his work speaks for itself, why isn’t he as celebrated as other artists?
Here is my take:
Bad Bunny’s music is harder for white people to steal.
All too often, white record label executives profit by pimping out artists of color and their culture to white audiences. This phenomenon is frequently a central theme in the music made by artists including Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Noname, and others. Bad Bunny is a Puerto Rican artist who makes music almost exclusively in Spanish. Most white Americans do not consume media in languages other than English, especially other languages primarily spoken in places where the majority of the population is Brown and Black. Bad Bunny’s refusal to give in and conform to the expectations of the parasitic executives in the music industry to sell culture to white audiences is entirely consistent with his “Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana” identity.
Many Latino artists have been forced to make music in English to achieve widespread commercial success in the United States. Bad Bunny however, fights the assimilation machine. His unapologetic embrace of his culture (despite what white Americans deem as “marketable”) is by virtue of its very existence, an act of rebellion.
Now think about this: his newest album, EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO, is the first album recorded entirely in Spanish to reach #1 on Billboard’s hot 200. Through his uncompromising expression and message, he has created what he calls “the gringo market,” finding success not only among Latino/a/x audiences, but in all demographics, without the cultural exploitation that the labels would have been able to achieve under different circumstances.
Many of the other popular performers I compare to Bunny are people of color. Many of them are Black. And for this reason, we cannot say that Bad Bunny, a non-Black Latino, is a larger target for racist hatred than they are. But the key difference is that there is not a language barrier between most of these other successful artists and the mostly-white Americans who frequently appropriate and steal their art. It is easier for white American record labels to take that art, force it into some form of assimilation, and sell out the artists’ culture for white American consumption.
When white Americans listen to Bad Bunny, it is impossible to ignore that, while he is their countryman, his music is from a culture that is not their own. And if there’s one thing that white people hate, it’s knowing that something isn’t theirs.