Feature image: Frame from Bad Bunny’s music video “Yo Perreo Sola,” where he appears in drag. Via Bad Bunny’s YouTube.
PART III: Bad Bunny’s Contemporary Music and Art Is All About Gender and Sexuality
Disclaimer: ArtRKL reached out to Bad Bunny’s team in all the ways possible with no success to get an interview with him for this story.
In Part I of Bad Bunny’s Puerto Rican cultural empire, you learned that his contemporary music and art disrupt the United States’ cultural economy. In Part II, you dove deep into understanding why his work discusses politics, race, and colonialism.
Now, you’ll go on an intense journey diving deep into gender and sexuality. Bad Bunny’s music and art are a disruption with a new representation of gender and sexuality in reggaeton. This is a music genre historically known for its machismo, its unhealthy perpetration of toxic masculinity, and its unhealthy representation of men as macho, alpha males and women portrayed as sexual objects.
Over the past decades, certain conventions have dominated reggaeton, but Bad Bunny has firmly rebelled against these norms. His straightforward yet complex actions include painting his nails, applying makeup, and wearing dresses, skirts, and heels. He also features LGBTIQ+ individuals in his music videos. He has kissed men in live performances and acting roles, all of which contribute to his redefinition of gender and sexuality within the genre. His actions shift the conversation through his music and art by addressing complex topics such as violence against women, femicides, and the killing of trans women.
According to Vanessa Díaz, a Puerto Rican interdisciplinary ethnographer, filmmaker, journalist, professor of the "Bad Bunny and Resistance in Puerto Rico" course at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and co-founder of the “Bad Bunny Syllabus Project,” Bad Bunny is creating something different in reggaeton. He’s bringing new representations of beauty and providing a safe space for the LGBTIQ+ community and women through his platform.
Bad Bunny’s music video “BATICANO” explicitly speaks about sexuality and strongly critiques religion.
Setting New Social Standards in Reggaeton
“He doesn’t have to do what he does. He could have the song “Caro” and not make its video with a lot of messages about disabilities and different types of beauty and masculinity. I’m always looking at what he’s doing differently as an artist,” Díaz said. “I had students in my class who saw the video of “Caro,” and it completely changed their way of thinking about reggaeton, Latin American music, sexuality, and representation.”
Bad Bunny’s music video “Caro” features different types of beauty.
Díaz said that Bad Bunny started appearing in 2018 with his nails painted. Even though it’s been five years since he started doing that, and seeing men with nail polish is quite normal now, it was an important statement from Bad Bunny. He was defying the traditional heterosexual masculine stereotypes expected of a reggaeton singer. This defiance also led him to speak out about complex social issues related to gender and sexuality that are not usual in mainstream reggaeton.
"You can't underestimate the importance of having Bad Bunny speaking about the realities in his lyrics and the realities of femicides. Speaking not only about the things that affect Puerto Rico, but the world and Latin America," Díaz said. "He speaks about femicides or women's struggles in his lyrics and videos. That's a disruption. I don't think we expected to have someone like him, in terms of fame, who's speaking about things like that. Or that he has a music video about domestic violence. It's different."
First image: Bad Bunny with his nails painted. Photo via Refinery29 retrieved from Bad Bunny’s Instagram. Second image: Bad Bunny with his nails painted. Photo via Refinery29 retrieved from Bad Bunny’s Instagram. Third image: Bad Bunny with his nails painted. Photo via Refinery29 retrieved from Bad Bunny’s Instagram.
Speaking About Violence Against Women
The songs where he speaks about those complex and difficult issues are “Yo Perreo Sola,” “Solo De Mí,” and “Andrea.” In “Yo Perreo Sola,” he sings about a woman perreando sola, or dancing by herself and not wanting any man to come near her. In the music video directed by Stillz, he appears in drag wearing a wig, a skirt, heels, breast prostheses, and heavy makeup. The video at the end states in Spanish that if “she doesn’t want to dance with you, respect, she perrea sola,“ or dances alone.
Bad Bunny’s music video for his song “Yo Perreo Sola.
For “Solo De Mí,” he dives deeper into the subject of violence against women with his music video portraying a woman with bruises and blood on her face while singing with a microphone. While she lip-syncs the song, you listen to him singing, “No me vuelvas a decir bebé. No. Yo no soy tuyo ni de nadie, yo soy sólo de mí,” which translates to: “Don’t call me baby again. No. I’m not yours or anyone else’s. I’m only mine.” This is one of the most striking statement pieces on a visual level because of the compellingly painful depiction of violence against women.
Another outstanding song is “Andrea,” featuring Puerto Rican duo Buscabulla. This song does not have a music video, but it does have a strong message. It speaks about Andrea. Her story can represent any woman because of how relatable her mundane experience is as a woman. Both Bad Bunny and Buscabulla sing about how Andrea just wants to be respected and left alone.
Bad Bunny sings in Spanish, “no hay mujer sin herida' ni hombre que no mienta. Ey, ella no quiere una flor, solo quiere que no la marchiten. Que cuando compre pan, no le piten. Que no le pregunten qué hizo ayer. Y a un futuro lindo le inviten. Que le den respeto y nunca se lo quiten.”
This translates to: “There’s no woman without wounds and no man that doesn’t lie. She doesn’t want a flower. She just wants them not to wither her. That when she buys the bread, she’s not whistled at. To not be asked what she did yesterday and to be invited to a nice future. To be given respect and never have it taken away.”
They sing about a woman who wants to be happy, free, and independent rather than face constant disrespect from men. These lyrics add to Bad Bunny’s exploration of speaking about tough subjects like women’s violence, which Díaz believes are topics no one wants to talk about and are often taboo in society.
Bad Bunny’s visualizer for his song “Andrea” featuring Buscabulla.
Getting Uncomfortable With Difficult Subjects
“No one wants to dive into those topics. No one really wants to talk about femicides. No one really wants to talk about domestic abuse. In pop culture, who really wants to talk about that? Who wants to talk about the murders of trans people? When it’s a very serious issue all over the world,” Díaz said.
When Díaz mentions Bad Bunny speaking about the murders of trans people, she’s referring to his 2020 performance with Panamanian artist Sech on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” When they were singing their song “Ignorantes,” Bad Bunny was wearing a skirt and t-shirt that read, “They killed Alexa. Not a man with a skirt.” This was in reference to the murder of a trans woman named Alexa Negrón Luciano in Puerto Rico.
The heavy and complex vulnerable realities of trans women are a serious issue around the world. Such is the case for Costa Rican trans model and artist Jenny Morris.
Changing the Gender and Sexuality Narrative in Reggaeton
Bad Bunny's activist statements about gender and sexuality are just some of the ways he's changing the narrative in reggaeton. In his new album "Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va A Pasar Mañana," according to Refinery29 Somos, he even centers on singing about women's pleasure. Ana Canepa, a Mexican academic reggaeton researcher and founder of the digital magazine Perreo Intelectual, which explores reggaeton's literary and cultural value, believes that Bad Bunny is not obliged to make these statements.
“Reggaeton has not been known as a type of music that seeks a feminist audience or an audience of women. Before Bad Bunny, reggaeton was not music for women and LGBTIQ+ people,” Canepa said. “He’s including them when it’s not a requirement for his music. I think that the women who listen to reggaeton are not listening because he’s speaking about feminism. That’s not the reason.”
Canepa believes that Bad Bunny's authenticity derives from his positive motivations, backed by intentions of self-deconstruction to represent new reggaeton narratives. She states that while he's more aware of other realities, he's still a man in a Latin American context, which implies reflection upon machismo and its role in the music genre. Machismo refers to "a strong sense of masculine pride and exaggerated masculinity," which is a very prevalent behavior in Latin America.
“Machismo is part of reggaeton because it’s Latin American music. If we’re saying that reggaeton is going to reflect the Latin American context, then it’ll reflect machismo,” Canepa said. “And Bad Bunny, by being a man, he has all this context. Even though he doesn’t realize it, he carries it. He uses it in his songs and with his privileges when dressing and making decisions. He has all the privileges of being a man in Latin America.”
First image: Frame of Bad Bunny dressed as Nosferatu and wearing long nails in his music video “BATICANO” via Bad Bunny’s YouTube. Second image: Frame from Bad Bunny’s music video “BATICANO” portraying two men kissing via Bad Bunny’s YouTube.
Yet, Canepa expresses that Bad Bunny plays a vital role in his impact on adolescents. He represents an authority figure that’s opening a new conversation. He’s demonstrating different ways of being a man and expressing masculinity. He’s showing it does not need to align with the culturally-accepted establishments, as the norm and tradition regarding masculinity.
“When the video for “Yo Perreo Sola” was released, I was working at a high school [in Monterrey, Mexico] with children from seventh to ninth grade. That was in 2020. I had not realized that Bad Bunny was the most incredible thing for boys,” Canepa said. “He really was the biggest image. So, when a masculine authority is speaking about these subjects, it’s a conversation that a lot of people haven't heard anywhere else. This does have an impact on the boys who are listening to Bad Bunny and see him as an authority figure.”
That impact on young boys and men is just a small part of Bad Bunny’s ability to influence the current public discourse through his contemporary music and art. He’s come through as a powerful disruption through the creation of his Puerto Rican cultural empire.
He disrupted the United States’ cultural economy with his music and art in Spanish that came from the streets of Latin America. He blatantly speaks about politics, race, and colonialism. He disrupted traditionally – and toxic – masculine reggaeton with his new defiant and inclusive narratives with a more diverse conception of gender and sexuality. He created his Puerto Rican cultural empire in the United States and the world because he does lo que le da la gana, or whatever he wants.
“It’s not only his album name, but it is his way of being: yo hago lo que me da la gana [I do whatever I want.] It’s a very strong feeling. I’m going to do whatever I want. I’m not going to think about conformity,” Díaz said. “That feeling. That’s also a disruption. He’s doing things in a different manner. He’s always been doing it.”
Stay tuned for Part IV. There, you’ll watch our short documentary [Speaking Non-English], which tells the story of Jenny Morris, a Costa Rican Black trans woman who’s an artist and model.
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