Estamos bien

Image via VMan.

For the uninitiated, Bad Bunny’s real name is Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio. He is a 25-year-old Puerto Rican trap artist who quite vocally likes: hookah, nail polish, subtweeting, and aLtErNaTiNg CaPs; and quite vocally dislikes: casual homophobia, gender-based violence, being subtweeted, and Donald Trump.

Benito’s music can typically be categorized somewhere at the front of the most recent wave of popular urbano music. At his sold-out Saturday night show at Madison Square Garden, an introductory voice-over described Bad Bunny as the “heavyweight champion of Latin trap” as the man himself ran onto a lit stage. He was wearing a shiny lavender trench coat and shockingly bright green hair with matching acrylic nails, filed into short, symmetrical little points — the same nails that caused all kinds of commotion (mostly of the rote homophobic variety, nothing we haven’t heard already) upon their unveiling at the Billboard Latin Music Awards the night before.

Bad Bunny was nominated for twelve awards at that ceremony, by the way, led only by fellow heavyweights Ozuna, J Balvin, and Nicky Jam. But he will almost certainly be back for more. Bad Bunny’s debut album, the surprise Christmas Eve drop X 100PRE, delivered on his potential as something new, a step forward in a massive, cross-cultural musical movement. Built on foundational elements of reggaeton, dembow, and trap, X 100PRE reaches towards a future unrestricted by established genre, effusively dabbling in elements of punk-adjacent rock, Gothic gospel, and sleek imitation-80s synth. It sounds like the natural evolution of a millennial Latinx kid’s personal playlist, a reclamation of a young lifetime of musical code-switching.

But no code-switching was necessary at MSG. The implicit understanding that this concert would be a confident, overt display of Latinidad became explicit early on, as evidenced by the single instance Benito broke away from his native Spanish: “We fucking sold-out Madison Square Garden!” he boomed in English during his opening remarks, exultant. He took a few beats after that; it was difficult for even his voice to be heard over the cheers.

The collective “we” anchored the evening. We fucking made it. Latinxs may not typically be centered in the pop cultural narrative, but we have always been integral to its past, present, and future. At that moment, the spotlight was Bad Bunny’s — and ours. It felt like an act of mild defiance to stand in one of the most revered entertainment venues in the world and sing along to cheeky Spanish-language vulgarities in unison, almost as if thousands of us were in on some fun secret that your standard gringo popstar could never get. (For the record, “200 MPH” isn’t really about jet skis.) But Benito does understand, and not just the superficial stuff: he’s born and bred boricua, don’t you dare forget it. That’s not something we often get to say about artists with nine-figure streaming numbers.

As such, Bad Bunny’s Garden show was pan-Latinx celebration unique in its scale, passion, and joyous authenticity. He repeatedly thanked his fans for their support —in particular, his Latinx and Puerto Rican community, which he paid homage to in a documentary-style video at the start of the show. During a more emotional turn in the night, Bad Bunny directed us all to embrace those standing next to us, like a Catholic priest initiating the sign of the peace. Several surprise guests lent some swaggy urbano cred to the proceedings, including the singer Arcángel and El Alfa El Jefe, the Dominican dembow star who brought an urgent fire to Benito’s bachata-infused banger “La Romana.” An ear-splitting roll call of Latin American countries underscored the dominant Latinx turn-out among the crowd of over 20,000, along with all the flags fluttering among the crowd — Dominican, Cuban, and, above all, Puerto Rican.

Bad Bunny went on a victory lap of his short yet impressive career spanning all the way back to his breakout 2016 single “Diles,” in which Benito was only 22 years old and already breaking the internet. He also teased the crowd with his verse from 2017’s “Te Boté” (few kiss-offs are quite as vicious or finite as his scathing delivery of “fuck you, hijo ‘e puta,” truly) and an electrified take of his and J Balvin’s features on Cardi B’s 2018 summer hit “I Like It.”

But the loudest noise was reserved, by far, for Bad Bunny’s most recent solo work. The success of X 100PRE — and of Bad Bunny at large — is a reflection of his primary audience: we are young, we are Latinx, and we are brilliantly, humanly complex. At times angry and scorned, at others boastful and overjoyed, Benito calls for late night perreos one minute and grapples with identity crises the next.

It may be difficult to find nuance in the midst of a neon-colored rager, but Bad Bunny managed to translate these themes to a live experience with real moments of touching vulnerability: from thousands of voices yearning for happiness over Ricky Martin’s harmonies in “Caro,” to a triumphant on-stage perreo during the prickly, angry reggaeton break in “Solo de Mi,” to an epic farewell with the cathartic “Estamos Bien,” a salve delivered from on high as Benito literally flew above the arena. Even unquestionable bops such as “Ni Bien Ni Mal” or “Tenemos Que Hablar” are tinged with the familiar insecurities that come with nostalgia, growing pains, and an unpredictable future — sometimes we just like to dance along to them, too.

In his journey of creative and personal self-discovery, Bad Bunny’s success comes not from sacrificing his own identity, but from a whole-hearted embrace of who he is. Even more impressive, perhaps, is how he has extended an open invitation for us to join him. For many fans, Benito’s warm, instantly recognizable tag (“Bad Bunny beh-beh-beybayy”) simultaneously feels like a call to arms to the dance floor and a grounding breath of fresh air outside the club. But any way you listen — at home, at happy hour, or at Madison Square Garden, losing your voice in the crowd—El Conejo Malo always brings the party.