Among Break Spotify recordsstarring in a new Brad Pitt movie and cast as a miracle superhero, Bad Bunny is having a great year. No other Latin artist has achieved this today worldwide stardom — and yet the reggaetón rapper only has eyes for one place: Puerto Rico.
To kick off the tour of his latest album, Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny booked El Choli, San Juan’s largest indoor arena, for three nights in a row. The $15-$150 tickets were not sold online, so people camped outside for hours. It was designed that way; the tickets were meant to be really only available to those who live on the island. A record that celebrates the beauty, girls and resilience of the island must of course be well danced by the people.
The booking was a sign to outsiders to stay out. Years after Hurricane María devastated the island, Puerto Rico is now facing a revival gentrification and developmentespecially from Americans on the mainland who have a substantial tax benefit in return. But resources for islanders have not improved. Newcomers claim that the beaches are private property, when by law they are all public. being developers polluting water and endangering nature. This tension is on top blackoutscaused by the recent privatization of electricity (rates have risen) seven times in the past year alone). It’s a feeling Bad Bunny touched on in his song “El Apagon” (literally: “The Blackout”).
So what do Puerto Ricans do? We party. In response to growing tensions among developers, party protests have turned up from coast to coast as an act of reclamation and dissent. In the popular seaside resort of Rincón, protesters danced to plena while she demolished and cleaned up building materials abandoned by developers last month. (The courts had declared the work illegal in February, after a year of protests.) These protests aren’t just dancing to good beats, though. They are rooted in a long history of direct action and often come with brushes with police.
Significantly, the first of these performances aired on Telemundo PR — imagine ABC had Beyoncé perform on national television for four hours. While Bad Bunny is not a political organizer, he is an amplifier given his massive platform. His explicit desire for a better Puerto Rico is evident through his music. His record-breaking performances last weekend radiated a cathartic, collective joy for attendees and streamers alike.
Given Puerto Rico’s fraught relationship with the United States, Bad Bunny’s spotlight on land carries a certain weight. For many islanders, Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory has created a feeling of inferiority and internalized colonialism, said José A. Laguarta Ramírez, a research associate at Hunter College Center for Puerto Rican Studies. “There’s often the idea that Puerto Rico is too small to make it or big things are coming out of it,” he told me. “A side effect of that is that every time a Puerto Rican does something that gets international recognition, it’s a source of national pride, a kind of cultural nationalism.” (I admit: as a diasporic, I am also guilty of this.)
Politically, Puerto Rico is very divided. There are groups who want independence from the US, those who want to remain as a territory, and those who want to become a state. But wherever you fall, people see celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Daddy Yankee as proof that, yes, Puerto Rico can be a place people can be proud of — despite the bullshit. Bad Bunny, who grew up in the public housing of Vega Baja, is just the latest to be added to the national canon.
As Bad Bunny’s celebrity grows exponentially, these shows were a refreshing reminder of where — and who — reggaeton is. Bad Bunny didn’t leave Puerto Rico behind as he climbed the charts. He brought it.
Bad Bunny’s rise can be attributed in part to his penchant for genre-bending. Sure, it’s reggaeton, but there are also touches of rock, R&B, salsa, dembow and much more. He is daring and experimental, while at the same time referring to the characteristics of the genre. Un Verano Sin Ti reflects that recording. Features range from reggaeton heavyweights such as Tony Dize and Chencho Corleone to emerging Puerto Rican indie artists such as The Marías and Buscabulla. He could have shown American artists – he is certainly big enough to do that. But in a May interview with the New York Times’ Isabelia Herrera, Bad Bunny said he’d rather ‘bring the whole world underground from Puerto Rico, you know? That makes me proud of what I represent.”
Fans agree. As Carlos Nagovitch, a concertgoer, told me in Spanish, “He never stopped making music from Puerto Rico.”
The international popularity of reggaetón is of course soaring, and not all hits come from Puerto Ricans (I think of “La Fama” by Rosalia or “Mi Gente” by J Balvin). Really coming home to artists from the island or from the diaspora is therefore an ultimate power play. The world may consume and produce reggaeton, but separating the music from its history and context won’t happen if Bad Bunny has anything to say about it. “Everyone wants to be Latino, but they lack rhythm, drums and reggaeton,” he sings in “El Apagón.”
But qué emoción to have an artist who cares more about being accessible to Puerto Ricans than American perception. If you weren’t at El Choli, you were watching the Telemundo PR broadcast or livestream at a party in the squares nearby. There were over 18,000 people at these shows every night, and that doesn’t include people watching from home. The performances were an event for all Puerto Ricans, even those in the diaspora watching from TikTok or Twitch.
There was a special, once-in-a-lifetime quality to these performances. “It was just us and him,” said concertgoer Alysa M. Alejandro Soto. “I feel like that’s what he wanted to achieve: a special, intimate moment with PR.” During all three shows, Bad Bunny spoke about the privatization of the electricity grid, the gender violence experienced by women and the pollution of the beaches. Since Bad Bunny’s music already lends itself to issues on the island – “El Apagón,” “Andrea” and “Yo Perreo Sola” are all great examples – he was expected to have something to say about the collective experiences Puerto Ricans experience. are confronted . “We have a government over us that is ruining our lives day in and day out,” he said before telling the private electric company and the governor to go “pal el carajo”.
He also spoke of better PR.
“He asked the crowd how many of us wanted to fulfill our dreams while living in Puerto Rico,” added Alejandro Soto. “It made me very emotional as I am currently out of PR for academic reasons and I miss it every day. He uses his platform very wisely to make people aware of issues affecting Puerto Rico and to break many stereotypes.”
According to Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle of the indie band Buscabulla, the energy at the shows was “absolutely enormous” and like “a portal to another dimension”. The duo, who can be heard in the song ‘Andrea’, performed every night at 2 a.m. alongside Bad Bunny. For Berrios, it was the biggest show she’s ever done, and probably one of the most emotional.
“The show was a special show made for Puerto Rico,” Berrios told me. “I just hope it inspires people. I hope it encourages more people to just be more involved in the PR issues and maybe bigger artists are more aware and start doing more for Puerto Rico.”
Buscabulla was not the only one to be brought on stage. In addition to the artists that can be seen on Un Verano Sin Ti and some fans with excellent dance moves, Bad Bunny also invited queer musicians like Young Miko and Villano Antillanothe first prominent trans-Latin rap artist. misogyny and transphobia is ubiquitous on the island, so to see these performers on stage, who are often marginalized within the genre, at the biggest concert in Puerto Rico’s history on national television is mind-blowing.
“I’m a queer woman, and growing up, we never really had songs about women who love women,” said Alejandro Soto. “We always had to fit the urban music of straight men, because that’s what we had. Young Miko, Villano and other queer artists are doing something very important, and it makes me so proud that they are from PR.”
In front of Marisol LeBron, an associate professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, she enjoyed how “tongue-in-cheek” the performances were.
“I was on Twitter and saw things like, ‘I feel so bad for people who aren’t Puerto Rican,'” she said. “There’s something very powerful about that – to affirm this sense of unbelievable pride every day. The fact that the shows gave people an outlet to counteract its overwhelming dominance [inferiority] story and the kinds of things that define people’s daily lives is actually amazing.”
It would be a misnomer to say that Bad Bunny is at the heart of change on the island, or that he is the ultimate ally. But damn, he can throw a party.
“It’s bigger than Bad Bunny,” LeBrón said. “It’s about this energy and it’s about this connection. It’s this sense of unity.”