Bad Bunny is one of the few Latin American reggaeton artists to ever dominate top 100 charts across the United States. And so he occupies a crucial role in Latino self-perception, both in the U.S. and Latin America. He emerged from beyond the dominant, white-coded narrative to now take up space in an American music industry built to exclude Black people and Latinos — people like him. 

While Chuck Berry and Little Richard pioneered the Rock & Roll movement of the early 1950s, neither is today considered the “King of Rock.” This title was instead bestowed upon Elvis, who gained the recognition that, in a more just world, would have been shared with his predecessors. Non-white artists have been experiencing that same phenomenon since their time, making Bad Bunny’s power over the American musical scene all the more astounding. 

In particular, his success seems indicative of the power of Latin American music, which, in the recent past, was contained to its birth region. His lyrics and references, most recognizable to people familiar with Latin American history and culture, make it seem like he is singing to you — the groups of people that exist beyond the narrative of mainstream American music. 

I love Taylor Swift, but singing along to the line, “If she’s got blue eyes I will surmise that you’ll probably date her” always feels a little ironic, given that she is a white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. 

It’s something altogether different to sing along to the words of an artist who understands a little bit more about “your” life. In Bad Bunny’s song “El Apagón,” which deals with injustice in Puerto Rico stemming from American imperialism, he sings:

Aquí el calor es diferente, el sol es taíno 

La capital del perreo, ahora todos quieren ser latino

Pero les falta sazón

When he says that nowadays, “everyone” wants to be Latino, he tangentially addresses the topics of cultural appropriation as well as the popularization of traits of non-white groups by white people, while maintaining a rhythmic flow that captivates multiple communities of listeners — particularly with its incorporation of the influence of African drum.

For people who don’t experience this mainstream attention all too frequently, the feeling that a form of media has been tailored to your experience and identity is exciting and new. Being able to keep up with the fast-paced delivery of Spanish words packaged in a Caribbean accent, while simultaneously understanding every word you’re saying, is adrenaline-inducing. 

And Bad Bunny doesn’t seem like his fellow reggaetoneros, and I think that this is a large part of his appeal. Adorned with eye-makeup, earrings and wearing a red leather dress and knee-high boots for his “Yo perreo sola” video, Bad Bunny defied the heteronormative gospel of reggaeton. In a Latin American musical culture in which men exist at the very forefront — not only able but encouraged to sexualize the women in their lives — this move appeared earth-shattering. A rejection of toxic masculinity and the objectification of women.

Then, there is his immense musical talent: one that seems to stop any and all critiques from leaving my mouth. His ability to shift from genre to genre has converted him into the region’s Taylor Swift. Starting with trap, he skipped around for a while, landed on reggaeton, released an indie album, and returned to a mixture of reggaeton and trap with his latest album, released Oct. 13, 2023. 

During his dalliance with indie, which he infused with a reggaeton-adjacent flavor, he returned rhythm to a genre that, to me, can often sound rhythmless. One of my favorite songs of Bad Bunny’s, “Después de la Playa,” opens with a more musical — yet somewhat electronic-indie sounding — slow section, which then transitions into a classic mambo that sounds much more real, as if being played by a live band composed of African drums, trumpet, and accordion. The song is a perfect example of the genre-blending he conducts within his music, which, as a result, transcends the bounds of typical reggaeton. 

Coming from Puerto Rico — a U.S.-territory whose inhabitants’ right to representation in government has been kept from them — Bad Bunny understands what it means to exist beyond the bounds of what white America accepts as its own. But in a more trivial sense, he knows what it is to be purposefully separated from the musical talents of our age: in last year’s Grammy’s, “Un Verano Sin Ti” won Best Urban Album, while the superior award of Best Album was bestowed upon Harry Styles for “Harry’s House.” 

The two artists seem superficially similar. Both have been applauded for their rejection of toxic masculinity, with Styles appearing on the cover of Vogue in a dress in 2020. And interestingly, “Un Verano Sin Ti” was the best performing album of 2022, beating “Harry’s House” globally and leading multitudes of Bad Bunny fanatics to ask why. 

To my ear, Bad Bunny seems the clear winner in terms of sound and musical innovation, with his album crossing the bounds of at least three different genres and bringing indie into the Latin American mainstream. But “urban” seems to be the name assigned to all artists who fall into the categories — categories painted by thick, untidy brushstrokes — of rap and reggaeton. Even though these genres are adored by the populace, they never receive the associated respect in award ceremonies. Bad Bunny obviously understands that. 

Then you listen to the rest of his lyrics. It’s hard to get through the entirety of any one of his two- to four-minute-long songs without noticing his explicit objectification of women. A focal part of his musical persona seems to be his detachment from love, a classic reggaetonero trope, and many of his lyrics center around the sexualization of women. 

In “Un Verano Sin Ti,” Bad Bunny’s 2019 indie-adjacent album that served as his attempt at phasing out his playboy reggaetonero persona, he featured multiple female artists on the album and, potentially as a result, his lyrics became more respectful in nature (and sometimes even dealt with love). 

But his new album, “Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana,” features only one woman, who, crucially, collaborates with him in the dehumanization of other women, calling them sluts alongside Bad Bunny in the song.

The shift in tone from “Un Verano Sin Ti” to “Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana” suggests that, maybe, there was only space for women to be respected in his music when he was indie. Which then poses the greater question of whether women can even exist in reggaeton as a genre without being belittled and dehumanized. And maybe Bad Bunny’s shift in persona — his embrace of drag, his inclusion of women in his music — was part of the indie persona that he occupied for a couple of years. And now he’s back, a true reggaetonero.