- October 14, 2021
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Bad Bunny has a genius for performance, a gift for challenging gender norms in fashion and beauty, and a fiery passion for his native Puerto Rico’s rich, thriving culture.
BY: Patricia Tortolani
PHOTOGRAPHED BY: Camila Falquez
“Yo soy Boricua, pa’que tu lo sepas.”
I deliver the line in my best Cuban/Puerto Rican-raised-in-Miami Spanish.
The blue hoodie slides back revealing a crisp New York Yankees snapback, a mop of curls underneath, deep brown eyes, and the suggestion of a smile amid three-day stubble.
Finally, I breathe.
Research for this story had me convinced that Bad Bunny would be a man of few words, a difficult interview. On the flight down I stressed so much about how to get the 27-year-old Puerto Rican rapper-songwriter to open up, I didn’t notice we’d arrived until the plane’s wheels touched ground and passengers broke into applause (a Puerto Rican tradition). “Just tell him you speak his language,” my San Juan-based uncle counseled me as he navigated the potholed streets outside of Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Bad Bunny’s language is a Caribbean Spanish punctuated with profanities, broken words, and highly particular regional phrases. It’s a dialect entirely unique to him, delivered in an unmistakable rumbling baritone; a language that Google cannot translate, yet half the world is singing along to.
After I let him know that I too am from the island, we agree to do the interview in Bad Bunny’s native tongue — I’ll handle the translating later. With this arrangement, I soon find he is neither a man of few words, nor a difficult interview.
Prada coat. Viviana O’Ontanon short necklace. Isa Noy long necklace. Stylist’s own durag. Photographed by Camila Falquez. Fashion stylist: Herin Choi. Hair: Ybelka Hurtado. Makeup: Frankie Boyd. Manicure: Chary Reyes and Carla M Negrón. Production: Worldjunkies Inc.
Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio is from Vega Baja, a rural town about 30 miles west of San Juan. While attending college and working as a bagger at the local grocery store, Benito uploaded self-produced songs to SoundCloud as Bad Bunny, a name inspired by a childhood photo of him dressed for an Easter celebration. In 2016, the track “Diles,” a Puerto Rican spin on the trap sound of Atlanta, caught the attention of Rimas Entertainment and Bad Bunny was signed to the powerhouse Puerto Rican label. Chart-topping collaborations with Cardi B, Drake, and J Balvin soon followed. In 2020, Bad Bunny performed at the Super Bowl LIV half-time show that was headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, and about a month later released his second studio album, YHLQMDLG (a Spanish initialism for “I do whatever I want”). The album, an homage to reggaetón (a style popularized in Puerto Rico in the 1990s that blends a variety of Caribbean and Latin American sounds with U.S. hip-hop), became the highest-charting all-Spanish album ever on the Billboard 200 and was Spotify’s most-streamed album globally in 2020.
“Going shopping with my mom, I would get lost in the women’s department.”
Joined by Bad Bunny’s manager Noah Assad, publicist Sujeylee Solá, and a handful of his friends, we settle in for lunch at a seafood restaurant where you would sooner go for a silver-anniversary celebration than a sit-down with the world’s biggest reggaetón superstar. But it’s where Bad Bunny likes to hide out these days. “I always tell people that to understand the culture of Puerto Rico, you have to come here and experience it,” he says, ordering a soda for himself and codfish croquetas for the table. “It says a lot that the shoot and the interview were here on the island. Not many people know Puerto Rico, and the truth is that right now it’s at a cultural peak, with lots of kids making art.” A snapshot of the cultural landscape can be seen at Pública Espacio Cultural, a large gallery space in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood dedicated to contemporary — and often politically charged — works as well as fashion pop-ups by Puerto Rican artists; or heard on the local internet radio station RadioRed, a self-described platform for artistic exchange; or tasted at Lote 23, a food truck park where young chefs like Mario Juan Pagán are serving contemporary takes on traditional Puerto Rican cuisine out of retrofitted Airstreams and kiosks.
As if on cue, a waiter interrupts us to give Jan Oliveras, one of the crew who wears his hair buzzed, bleached, and stenciled with hearts, a drawing that a patron sketched of him and sent over to the table. “¡Eso está cabrón! Eres como la musa de Picasso,” says Bad Bunny. The table erupts into laughter. (Cabrón, which literally means “male goat” in Spanish, is slang for badass.)
Yes, the drawing is cabrón. It’s all cabrón. Oliveras’s wonderfully weird hairstyle, the teenage Bad Bunny clones you see decked out in his trademark itty-bitty glasses and campy florals, and the simple fact that, thanks to Bad Bunny’s influence, my 11-year-old lacrosse-playing son unironically paints his nails with glitter.
Does Bad Bunny feel responsible for the fearless creative spirit that has taken over men’s style; for tapping the well of emotions around culture’s rigid expectations of sexuality and gender expression?
“It’s difficult to fathom,” he says. “Because people before me have done what I do, breaking rules and pushing boundaries. But maybe I got here at the right time, with the right force, and everything aligned.”
Among the viral hits on YHLQMDLG is “Yo Perreo Sola,” an anthem for girls who like to twerk in peace. For the music video, Bad Bunny performed the song in full drag: red latex, swooping lashes, prosthetic breasts. It’s not the first time his gender-bending tendencies have made headlines. In 2018, the singer popped into a nail salon in Oviedo, Spain, where he was on tour, for a fresh manicure and was allegedly denied service because he was a man. A month later he released the hit “Como Soy” (“How I Am”) with Daddy Yankee and Pacho; in the music video, Bad Bunny defiantly files his nails as he bops around a basketball court rapping about drugs, thugs, and respect.
“My wrestling fight — I’ve watched it a hundred times. For a week, I would go to bed watching it.”
“My look wasn’t part of any specific plan,” he says. “When I was starting to make my music, my style came as part of the process of liberating my mind and liberating spirit. Since I was young, I had it in me — I just had to liberate it.”
Bad Bunny describes a childhood spent playing with roosters, riding horses, and swimming in the river. “Going to the mall was a special occasion,” he says. But it was on those trips to el metro that he began to absorb the endless possibilities of fashion and the injustice of gender stereotypes.
“Going shopping with my mom was one of my favorite things because I would get lost in the women’s department, seeing the combinations, the colors, the cuts, the designs. And then it was my turn to buy clothes and it was boring as hell. The same jeans and T-shirts, jeans and T-shirts in different sizes. The women had it all!” Don’t even get Bad Bunny started on the iniquity of purses. “For women there are so many different types, colors, shapes, designs…. And what do men get? A beat-up old wallet to stuff in your pocket.”
There is no doubt that Bad Bunny’s unconventionality has helped make fashion and beauty more fun for men. If something makes him happy, he wears it, he paints it on his nails, he posts it on Instagram. That happiness has brought a more eccentric and colorful reality to the closets and psyches of an entire generation, not to mention the impact that Bad Bunny and his fellow reggaetoneros, J Balvin and Maluma, have had on designer runways.
Fendi jacket, shirt, and pants. Prada shoes. Chanel necklaces.
This year, what brought Bad Bunny joy was training to become a pro wrestler on WWE, the hypermasculine and deeply flamboyant spectacle watched by millions. Joining WWE was a childhood dream realized. The flashiness and showmanship of how the wrestlers grab the ropes, their facial expressions, the choreography — it was all absorbed by a young Benito in Vega Baja. “I had the lucha libre [action figures], but I also had my own character for when my brother and I wrestled on our parents’ bed,” he recalls. “I had my entrance music and outfit — a jacket that I took from my dad and underwear that we painted and decorated. We’d play that for hours.” When Bad Bunny talks about The Undertaker, Triple H, and Booker T, his pitch rises, his speech accelerates, and I realize that joining WWE is much more than a childhood dream realized. “Truly, wrestling has influenced me a lot, and I’ve applied that to my career,” he says. “The style, the importance of having a trademark move or phrase or look, and always remembering the element of surprise. In wrestling, the fans love getting caught off guard. I like to create that same emotion with my music.”
For three months Bad Bunny stopped working on his music and moved to Kissimmee, Florida, where he did two-a-days with a trainer and went to the WWE gym to learn the moves. This was all leading up to his big fight. “It was like I died and went to heaven,” he says. “I’ve never sat to watch a recording of one of my concerts. Never. But my wrestling fight — I’ve watched it a hundred times. For like a week, I would go to bed watching it.”
Other performing projects include a guest appearance on the Netflix original series Narcos: Mexico and the David Leitch film Bullet Train, with Brad Pitt, slated for a 2022 release. “Now that guy looks good,” says Bad Bunny of the 57-year-old Oscar-winner. “When I turn 30 I’m going to start taking care of my skin and my face. Maybe I’ll start doing some small aesthetic things or plant some more hair on my head,” he muses. The truth is Bad Bunny will do whatever he damn well pleases. Maybe the best lesson to learn from him is not that gender norms exist to be shattered or that the kids truly are alright; the most important thing is to hacer lo que te da la gana — do whatever you want.
That night, as my uncle and I walk home from dinner in Miramar, a neighborhood in San Juan that is both hipster-y and steeped in history, we hear Bad Bunny’s “Si Veo a Tu Mama” (“If I See Your Mom”) coming from the second-floor terrace of a centuries-old home. When I look up, it’s not a raucous house party blazing up this Saturday night. It’s an abuelita in her rocker, tapping her foot to the reggaetón beat.
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Photographed by: Camila Falquez
Fashion stylist: Herin Choi
Hair: Ybelka Hurtado
Makeup: Frankie Boyd
Manicure: Chary Reyes and Carla M Negrón
Production: Worldjunkies Inc.
Photographed at: Casa Cubuy, Puerto Rico
Top Image: Louis Vuitton coat. Rick Owens from MATCHESFASHION top. The Pack pants. Mordekai brooch. Shoes, stylist’s own. Jewelry, Bad Bunny’s own.
This story originally appeared in Allure’s November 2021 issue. Learn how to subscribe here.