Unverified Legion of Trill member
In 40 minutes, the former grocery bagger from Puerto Rico will try on outfits worth thousands for the cover of this magazine. In 12 hours, he will be photographed embracing the world’s highest-paid supermodel. In one month, he will be staring out onto a sea of 125,000 superfans from the heights of Coachella’s main stage.
But right now, Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, who also goes by Bad Bunny, is slouched almost completely horizontally on a green-room couch in downtown Los Angeles, thinking about being with his parents back home in Puerto Rico.
Outside of that house, perhaps the world is listening and talking about me,” he murmurs in Spanish. “But in that house, everything is the same. Nothing has changed. It’s beautiful for me to go there and they still look at me with the eyes of, ‘Come here, Benito Antonio. The baby. The son.’”
Bad Bunny wants to be the biggest artist in the world—and he is. Last year, his fifth solo studio album, Un Verano Sin Ti, was Billboard’s top-performing album of the year, beating out Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. He broke the all-time record for tour revenue in a calendar year—with $435 million earned—and was Spotify’s most streamed artist for the third year in a row. But Bad Bunny also wants to just be Benito; to do whatever he wants, or hace lo que le da la gana, as he named his sophomore album. And until this point, it is exactly this mentality that has brought him unprecedented success. Where other musicians reaching for his level of stardom have hidden certain parts of themselves, Benito has refused to compromise: on the language he sings in; the political stances he assumes; the dresses and nail polish he wears.
Bad Bunny is perhaps the world’s first reverse crossover artist, whose success comes from a refusal to cater to the mainstream. His stubborn originality, independence, and fiercely local lens have made him a radically new kind of global pop star, etching pathways to success that completely bypass New York or Hollywood industry gatekeepers.
But the further Benito ascends into the stratosphere, the more the expectations of his growing fandom threaten to exceed what his whims can deliver. His unequaled stature means he is often asked to speak for an entire region, a responsibility that he alternately embraces and chafes at. During the course of our conversation, he dances around political questions and refers to himself as a chamaquito—a little boy.
Seven years into his career, Benito, 29, is a legitimate heir to Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, or Beyoncé. How he navigates this next fraught period could determine how close he can come to meeting the near impossible expectations placed on him by his fans, his homeland, an exacting industry—and himself.
“I always say that if a thousand people listened to me and I performed once a month at a little place, just with that I would be happy,” he says in his deep baritone and distinctly Puerto Rican inflection. “But the hunger and the passion that I have for this is impossible, because I always want to give more and more and more.”
In 2022, Bad Bunny had the type of pantheon year that even other pop superstars dream about. Un Verano Sin Titopped the Billboard charts for 13 non-consecutive weeks, with the least played song on the record racking up 190 million Spotify streams. In November, Un Verano Sin Ti became the first entirely Spanish-language album to receive a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
Benito’s success starts with his inimitable singing voice, which is malleable enough to be imbued either with cutthroat swagger or pathos. He’s a master aural chemist, melding together decades of Latin music into cutting-edge mixes that resonate at the club, on the beach, or at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And he creates at a startlingly fast pace. “I’ll send him an idea and tomorrow night, there are vocals in an email that don’t need any adjustments,” the producer Tainy, who is one of his main collaborators, tells TIME.
Benito has achieved all of this without releasing a single song in English, or making any real attempt to cross over. Other Latin artists have scored megahits in Spanish: Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” back in 1958, Los Del Río’s 1993 hit “Macarena,” Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” in 2017. But U.S. interest has ebbed and flowed, with subgenres like Latin pop and reggaeton—a genre that blends Jamaican and Latin musical influences with hip-hop elements—dismissed by industry insiders as fads.
Bad Bunny grew up in the midst of reggaeton’s first mainstream moment. San Juan, P.R., and artists like Daddy Yankee and Ivy Queen played crucial roles in the genre’s evolution in the ’90s and ’00s. As a teenager, Benito listened to reggaeton and other forms of Latin music, and anointed himself Bad Bunny based on a childhood photo taken of him in a bunny costume. He started recording in his room and uploading songs to Soundcloud, and his first hit, “Diles,” blew up when he was 21. Five critically acclaimed and commercially successful solo albums followed, along with a Super Bowl performance with Shakira and 10 music videos that have each surpassed a billion views on YouTube.
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