How reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny became a voice of resistance in Puerto Rico : Code Switch Bad Bunny, the genre- and gender norm-defying Puerto Rican rapper, is one of the biggest music stars on the planet. He has also provided a global megaphone for Puerto Rican discontent. In this episode, we take a look at how Bad Bunny became the unlikely voice of resistance in Puerto Rico.

Bad Bunny, Reggaeton, and Resistance

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GENE DEMBY, HOST:

Just a heads up, y'all - this episode contains some salty language, which means there's going to be some cussing.

What's good, y'all? This is CODE SWITCH, the show about race and identity from NPR. I'm Gene Demby. And this week, how did Bad Bunny - Bad Bunny - a gender-bending, trap-banger-producing musical superstar become the unlikely leader-slash-icon-slash-symbol of political resistance in Puerto Rico?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

DEMBY: All right. So last summer, Bad Bunny put on a really, really big concert in Puerto Rico. It was so big that it kind of took place across the whole island all at once. And my colleague Adrian Florido, who covers race and identity for NPR, he was in Puerto Rico and found himself kind of swept up in the tsunami of Bad Bunny. What's good with you, Adrian?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hey, Gene. How's it going? It's been a long time.

DEMBY: Man, I can't call it. I can't call it. OK. You were there. Set the scene for us, man.

FLORIDO: Well, this concert was in San Juan, at El Choli, which is, you know, Puerto Rico's main venue for concerts. And people had been camping out for days to get tickets - I mean, to the point where even being part of, like, the queue outside the arena became an event in and of itself. It had this, like, great energy. People were so psyched. Bad Bunny is one of the biggest stars on Earth, and he's always repping Puerto Rico everywhere he goes. So this concert, for his people on his island, was going to be a huge deal, and everyone wanted to be a part of it, so much so that Bad Bunny actually set these giant screens up in communities all across the island so that even people who weren't able to get tickets were going to be able to watch it live wherever they were. And, you know, I like Bad Bunny, but I'm not, like, a superfan.

DEMBY: OK.

FLORIDO: But when all of society is going to do a thing, well, I mean, I, like - I've got to be there, too, right? So I went out to La Placita de Santurce, this plaza in San Juan where one of these screens had been set up, you know, to watch the concert for a couple of hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: So did you have fun?

FLORIDO: Oh, it was awesome. Everyone was, you know, singing, screaming, dancing perreo.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Did you dance perreo?

FLORIDO: This story is not about me, Gene.

DEMBY: Fair enough. Fair enough.

FLORIDO: But it was a lot of fun. And after a couple of hours...

DEMBY: ...Of shaking your ass.

FLORIDO: ...I was walking away to leave, and when I was about half a block away, I just hear this massive roar. So I turned around, and I started running back. And I asked this young kid, once I got to the edge of the crowd, like, what had happened. And he told me what Bad Bunny had said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BAD BUNNY: (Speaking Spanish).

DEMBY: All right, Adrian, so what was he saying there? Because my Spanish is trash.

FLORIDO: Well, he was kind of going after, like, the entire political class in Puerto Rico, including calling out the governor. But the thing he said that really drew that massive roar that I heard was (speaking Spanish) - LUMA can go to hell.

DEMBY: Huh. OK. Who is LUMA?

FLORIDO: Well, LUMA runs Puerto Rico's power grid. It's the island's electric company. And a lot of Puerto Ricans hate it.

DEMBY: But I mean, Adrian, who likes the companies that take our money for basic services? You know what I mean?

FLORIDO: Yeah. But, I mean, like, people in Puerto Rico really, really hate LUMA.

DEMBY: OK. How come, though?

FLORIDO: Well, LUMA is a private company that Puerto Rico's government chose in 2021 to take over the grid. The power grid had been a public utility run by the government - really, I should say, run into the ground by the government over, like, decades of neglect and mismanagement, to the point where it had so deteriorated by the time Hurricane Maria came around in 2017 that, as everyone remembers, the storm's winds just totally flattened it, causing an islandwide blackout. And so this was obviously a huge tragedy, but Puerto Rico's governor at the time also saw it as an opportunity, the perfect opportunity, really, to, like, achieve this long-held goal of privatizing the electric utility. The thinking was that a private company could come in and improve the grid. So what the government did was it chose these two companies, one from Texas and one from Canada.

DEMBY: So notably, not Puerto Rican companies.

FLORIDO: Right. Not Puerto Rican companies. These two companies partnered to form this consortium called LUMA, which took over the grid. And a lot of Puerto Ricans think that LUMA has done a terrible job.

DEMBY: Why do they think it's done such a terrible job, though?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, the island's had constant blackouts for years, and under LUMA, those have not improved. There's even some data that indicates they might have at least initially gotten worse after LUMA took over. Electricity has also gotten more expensive because, you know, fuel costs have gone up around the world. And so people feel like they're paying these high rates for really, really unreliable service. And also, you know, I think a big part of this disdain that people feel for LUMA is just that, you know, people take great offense at the idea of this U.S. and Canadian company coming in to take over one of Puerto Rico's most important public assets.

I think it's important to say, though, Gene, that, you know, not everybody feels this way. There are people who think, look; you know, LUMA inherited a power grid that was in shambles, and it's going to take more than a year and a half to fix what a corrupt public agency spent decades neglecting. Some people think LUMA just needs some time, and that's actually the argument that LUMA makes itself. But even so, I mean, LUMA has come to embody so much of what Puerto Ricans are fed up with right now - you know, the breakdown of essential services, the high cost of living and, you know, the suffocating relationship that Puerto Rico has with the United States.

DEMBY: And so then when Bad Bunny gets up onstage and curses LUMA...

FLORIDO: Yeah, I mean, he was giving voice to all of that anger.

DEMBY: Right.

FLORIDO: And at that concert in July, he performed one of his biggest hits, "El Apagon," which means the blackout.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL APAGON")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

DEMBY: OK. Adrian, this is a conversation about Bad Bunny. But first, we do have to, like, set up some more of this context because it's not just LUMA and the blackouts that people are so vexed about.

FLORIDO: Right. I mean, you can't separate the drama around LUMA from Puerto Rico's, you know, broader history over the last decade and a half or so, which is when Puerto Rico's debt crisis really started to balloon, you know, leading the island eventually to file for bankruptcy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Puerto Rico has giant debt troubles totaling $70 billion.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES")

CHRIS HAYES: Its government has laid off tens of thousands of public employees, raised sales tax. Schools have been shut down, social services slashed.

FLORIDO: To try to deal with all of Puerto Rico's debt, the federal government, back in 2015, 2016, created a board to take control of Puerto Rico's finances. And this board put in place all kinds of austerity measures. It slashed the budgets of local agencies. It slashed the budget of the University of Puerto Rico. And at the same time, the island's legislature, you know, was also courting rich investors and corporations with tax breaks. And the government has just sort of focused a lot of its economic development strategy to try to get out of this crisis on catering to tourists and foreigners, not on providing basic services that Puerto Ricans need.

DEMBY: And so you have all these people coming in, throwing their money around, throwing their weight around. And those people are not Puerto Rican themselves.

FLORIDO: Right. And this adds to a lot of the anger and resentment that people feel toward the U.S., you know, because of this unbalanced power dynamic, which has a very long history there.

DEMBY: And, you know, we hear this often when we talk about Puerto Rico's political status, right? It's a territory of the United States. It's under the administration of the U.S. federal government. But calling it a territory sort of papers over the fact that so much of this relationship with the U.S. is really a colonial arrangement.

FLORIDO: Right. I mean, I think, you know, it's important to understand that, you know, when you're living on the island for a certain amount of time, if you're paying attention, you really, like, feel how colonialism warps and constrains everything. I mean, it really undergirds how even the smallest things work on Puerto Rico. And how much and, like, to what extent that power dynamic hurts Puerto Ricans became really clear to a lot of people after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island in 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: It has been more than a week since Hurricane Maria made landfall, but some people are only just receiving assistance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Despite the magnitude, federal aid has been slow to trickle in.

FLORIDO: Government agencies, like, whose budgets were being decimated didn't have the money or capacity to respond to the immediate emergency after the storm. You know, the federal government, FEMA, bungled things, too, because FEMA wasn't equipped to deal with the way that things operate in Puerto Rico as opposed to the way that things work in the States. So people, after Maria, really had to rely on themselves and on each other to put their lives back together and to really get the island up and running again.

And then, to add insult to injury, as Puerto Ricans are leaving the island by the tens of thousands, there were people coming from the United States, from foreign countries, you know, buying up property that had plummeted in value after the storm. And now, years later, I mean, housing costs are skyrocketing. So you'll have a lot of Puerto Ricans who can't even afford to live there.

DEMBY: So you got all these foreigners coming in and all these Puerto Ricans leaving. It kind of sounds like a massive displacement.

FLORIDO: Yeah. And so all of these crises, you know, are the backdrop for the emergence of this young guy from the north side of the island who worked as a grocery store bagger and who was also moonlighting as a reggaeton artist, Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTAMOS BIEN")

BAD BUNNY: Yeah.

DEMBY: That's Bad Bunny?

FLORIDO: That is Bad Bunny.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTAMOS BIEN")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

VANESSA DIAZ: And this song comes out, you know, the year after Hurricane Maria.

DEMBY: That non-Bad Bunny voice you're hearing belongs to Vanessa Diaz. She's Puerto Rican. She's a cultural anthropologist.

FLORIDO: Yeah. And that song she was talking about, Gene, is called "Estamos Bien." It means we're OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTAMOS BIEN")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

FLORIDO: I was living in Puerto Rico full-time in 2018, covering the aftermath of the hurricane for NPR. And in a lot of ways, that song became the island's unofficial anthem that year.

DIAZ: The island has been suffering, is continuing to suffer. And this song comes out like, no, we're good. Now, obviously, this song is not just about post-hurricane Puerto Rico. But the fact that it comes out in this moment and really echoes this kind of expectation of Puerto Rican resilience under colonialism, which is that, like, you know, this hurricane happens, and what are the slogans that come out? Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico, get up. Puerto Rico, stand up. Puerto Rico, do it yourself, right? Like, that's what the people were doing. Nobody was coming to help them.

FLORIDO: You know, it gives me chills, Gene, thinking back to that moment when the song came out, that this local reggaeton artist really had his finger on, like, the pulse of what his fellow Puerto Ricans were feeling amidst so much tragedy, this mix of of vulnerability, but also, like, really great pride. And now, just a few years later, look at him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TITI ME PREGUNTO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: Yeah, man. And Bad Bunny is global. Like, in 2020, he was ASCAP's composer of the year. He just set the record for most money grossed on a musical tour in a calendar year, which is, like, a bananas thing that it wasn't the Beatles. It wasn't Beyonce. It was Bad Bunny.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UN VERANO SIN TI")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: His album, "Un Verano Sin Ti" - it was on all kinds of best-of lists for 2022. And he's nominated for album of the year at the Grammys this year, like, all top everything else, which, by the way, is the first time a Spanish-language album has ever been so honored - just crazy all around.

FLORIDO: And all the while, all the while, he's been a consistent critic of the conditions on the island and a voice for young Puerto Ricans.

DEMBY: Yeah. In fact, he looms so large in the culture and contemporary politics of Puerto Rico that Vanessa Diaz, who we just heard from, is actually teaching a college course about him.

DIAZ: I think it's important to understand Bad Bunny to understand not just the history of Puerto Rico, but also the fact that that pride in being Puerto Rican and that desire to assert, I think, Puerto Rican-ness and the desire for Puerto Rico to have something more, to have something better.

DEMBY: Coming up. Stay with us, y'all.

Gene. Just Gene. CODE SWITCH. And we've been talking about Bad Bunny - (imitating accent) Bad Bunny - the reggaeton megastar, and then how his rise to fame ran parallel to and was shaped by all of the political and social tumult in Puerto Rico, which is his home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BAD BUNNY: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOLO DE MI")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: That was the man himself, Benito. He spoke to NPR in 2019, and he says that from a really young age. He didn't like following norms. He didn't like looking like everybody else. Vanessa Diaz, who we heard from earlier in the show, says that's part of why she likes him so much.

DIAZ: I would describe Bad Bunny as an unapologetically Puerto Rican artist who mostly plays reggaeton and trap.

DEMBY: Now, Vanessa will tell you straight-up that she's a Bad Bunny stan. And this insistence on his individuality was the theme of the first Bad Bunny song that she ever really rocked with. It was called "Caro."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: That song is really about him being unapologetically Bad Bunny.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: Caro is just, like, expensive - right? - like, that he's worthy, that he has value as a person, as an artist. And it doesn't matter if people don't like him. It doesn't matter what people say about him.

DEMBY: But Vanessa also says, like, OK, leave aside all the bops, all the style, you know, like, it's worth taking him seriously as a cultural and political force and as a way into conversations about race and power and colonialism in Puerto Rico. So she built a whole course around that idea at Loyola Marymount University, where she's a professor.

DIAZ: All right, everyone, let's recenter. Let's recenter. Let's come back together. Welcome to Bad Bunny and Resistance in Puerto Rico. This is a dream class for me to teach. I hope it's a dream class for you to take.

DEMBY: So before her first lecture, we sat down to talk about how this class came to be.

DIAZ: So I was a red-carpet reporter for People magazine...

DEMBY: OK.

DIAZ: ...For many years. And I study celebrity culture and media. So I'm always examining this process of manufacturing of fame and celebrities. And there's so much about Bad Bunny that to me doesn't adhere to that sort of typical rise to fame. So let's start with this - his language politics - right? - his sort of refusal to engage with the - I think would be a publicly perceived need that he should speak English - right? - that so many people before him, in order to, quote-unquote, "cross over," have spoken English to make that happen. And he doesn't feel like he needs to do that, and he's not doing that. And he's doing great. His gender and sexuality politics - he's not trying to put himself in a box. If he wants to wear a dress, he's going to wear a dress. If he wants to kiss a man on TV, he's going to kiss a man on TV. He doesn't really feel like he needs to answer to people or conform or check a particular box. He's breaking records for a reason. And I think that we need to take him really seriously as a cultural figure.

And so that's really what I'm trying to do with my class is center him as a critical cultural figure and use his work, his lyrics, his celebrity power to talk about bigger issues in Puerto Rico and beyond. This is history happening in real time. Like, my Ph.D. is in cultural anthropology, and cultural anthropologists are really trained to tell the stories of the contemporary that are going to become our history. And so that's really what my class is about, is saying we actually have a major cultural figure who's making transformative, artistic and political choices, and that's worthy of study. It's important that we study it.

DEMBY: So you're anchoring different sessions of your course around individual songs from the Bad Bunny catalogue. But what are some of the songs that you want to focus on and, like, pull apart?

DIAZ: So the song "Apagon" means blackout, right? That's really what it's about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL APAGON")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

DIAZ: Puerto Rico has these continual issues with blackouts, sometimes because of a hurricane, but always because of the terrible state of the electrical grid there, despite privatization - right? - of this electrical grid, which was supposed to change things. So the topic of the song in and of itself is political and important. It's a key issue on the island.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAD BUNNY SONG, "EL APAGON")

DIAZ: And then he uses Bomba and Puerto Rican folk music beats and then turns it into an EDM song. So he has this super political, you know, song. And the song's about blackouts, but then it's mixed in with just, like, party vibes. How do you do all of this in one song? It gets people talking about these issues because the people who understand Spanish, they understand the themes. And then the ones who don't want to know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL APAGON")

GABRIELA BERLINGERI: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: And then, you know, the end of the song, his girlfriend, Gabriela, closes it with a sort of softly sung verse...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL APAGON")

BERLINGERI: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: ...About white Americans that I think many would call neocolonizers of the island, for lack of a better term - the folks who are flocking to Puerto Rico, seeking tax breaks on the island and then displacing Puerto Ricans as a result, creating housing crises that we see in the documentary he released with the song "Aqui Vive Gente," right? And so this song, I think it becomes the embodiment of the duality of Puerto Rican life, right? It's hard. That song is hard. And then it's soft, and it's beautiful, and it's painful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL APAGON")

BERLINGERI: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: I imagine when people are listening to that song, like, everybody's turning up. Everybody's, like, getting their lives (ph). And also like, we might not - we don't know if, like, the song is going to play all the way through because we might lose electricity.

DIAZ: Yeah. And he said that. At some point, he said, I hope everyone can watch this and get through this song without a blackout happening. And that's really real. And, yeah, the power of that song - I mean, earlier today, I was, like, listening to the music. I was, like, you know, pumping my fist and feeling all hyped but then also being very pensive about everything going on.

So I think, you know, I think that's really the kind of complicated reality - you know, what it means for him to be a Puerto Rican. And in his case, it's really allowed him to lyrically, artistically articulate those highs and lows of what it means to live on this incredible island, in this incredible rich nation full of culture and pride and amazing history - and at the same time, what it means for that nation to be under direct colonial rule that never puts the people first. And it all comes together in his work.

DEMBY: Is that the job of a popular artist like Bad Bunny? Like, is the job of an artist like Bad Bunny just to sort of be - mainly, I should say, to be a megaphone for that, like, anger and sentiment? Or are they supposed to have any responsibility to add contexts or deepen?

DIAZ: Yeah, absolutely. You know, of course, there's these issues that are specific to Puerto Rico - the blackouts, the debt crisis, kind of post-Hurricane Maria life on the island. And I think that's an important question around those Puerto Rican topics - right? - these topics specific to the island. And I think it's also an important question to extend to the kind of broader issues where people have looked to him for perhaps not direction, but action. So he definitely got a lot of critique in 2020 around the Black Lives Matter protests and the fact that he hadn't been speaking out directly about it. People were very much fans of Bad Bunny at the time, and I think other folks who just kind of follow him culturally and realize the ways in which he has been an activist of sorts through his artistry were like, why hasn't he spoken out about it, right? And I think that there are a lot of valid critiques of any artist, including Bad Bunny, and this is what it means to have the level of celebrity he has. Do I think that there is more he can do around issues particular to Puerto Rico, around addressing race and racism? Certainly. What does he owe people?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMPOSITOR DEL ANO")

LITTLE RICHARD: (Vocalizing).

DIAZ: I'm not sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMPOSITOR DEL ANO")

LITTLE RICHARD: (Vocalizing).

DIAZ: This all brings me to the song "Compositor Del Ano."

DEMBY: So the fourth week of your course is about this song, is about policing, race and pop culture. I really want to sit in on the class for a bunch of reasons, but I really, really want to listen in on that session. Could you tell us about that session and why that song is going to be the sort of node for this discussion?

DIAZ: So "Compositor Del Ano" came out August 30, 2020. And in this song, he samples Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUTTI FRUTTI")

LITTLE RICHARD: (Vocalizing). Tutti frutti, oh rooty (ph). Tutti frutti, oh rooty...

DIAZ: And this song is very much an homage to Black American music. It's a track that is explicitly about racism and the harm of anti-Black racism and the problem of police brutality.

DEMBY: Little Richard famously has claimed to be the inventor of rock 'n' roll. How much of that do you think was on purpose that they, like, used this sample to be, like, the originators of this genre that is not really associated with Black people that much (inaudible)?

DIAZ: I actually think that it was incredibly intentional. There's a lyric in this song where he says, Little Richard was always better than Elvis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMPOSITOR DEL ANO")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

DEMBY: Wow.

DIAZ: Right? He talks in the song about how if a Black person has a gun, they're criminal, but if a white person has a gun, it's a hobby.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMPOSITOR DEL ANO")

BAD BUNNY: Black Lives Matter. (Rapping in Spanish).

DIAZ: He explicitly says Black Lives Matter in the song. He underscores the severity of racism in the era of COVID. He references the George Floyd murder - (speaking Spanish). He's talking about not being able to breathe. He's talking about George Floyd. He says, (speaking Spanish). So having a badge gives you license to kill, but being white is what makes you lethal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMPOSITOR DEL ANO")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

DIAZ: So this is a very explicit racial text. And so I want to take his work and say, well, what did he say? Right? What did he say? And what is he trying to do with that?

DEMBY: What has he said about being a light-skinned Latino man in this genre that has been so racialized and how that's shaped his success?

DIAZ: Sure. So in his statement that he issued in 2020, sort of shortly after the kind of calls for him to say something came out, he mentioned that he was someone who was talked about as having pelo malo, which, in Latin America and the Caribbean, is talked about in terms of textured hair. So I feel like he was trying to bring up the complexity of race and understandings about race and identity. But again, he's not an expert on race and racism. I think that that statement showed that this is kind of what happens when you want somebody to say something that perhaps they're not equipped to say or ready to, maybe, right? Like, I think the song was better than the statement. And I think the statement was kind of, like, a thing that came out to be - to react to people calling for it. And I think the song was something that came about on his own more organically.

DEMBY: He also does - we're talking about identity and his skin color. That's, like, one part of the sort of package of Bad Bunny. But another part of the package of Bad Bunny is sort of his fluidity around his gender presentation, like his short shorts. He wears makeup. He wears dresses. Like, all that's been seen as sort of a commentary or maybe, like, a critique or trolling of, you know, the idea of machismo. But, you know, a lot of his lyrics are misogynist in the sort of way that pop and reggaeton is, like, you know, misogynist, like having sex with lots of women, getting all these chicks, you know what I'm saying? So there are critics who say that his playing with, like, femme presentation sometimes is queerbaiting. There's a lot of tension in his presentation around gender.

DIAZ: OK. I'm going to start with the queerbaiting question. There have been critiques, of course, around the fact that he's also been viewed as someone who is advocating for LGBTQ rights, particularly around issues of trans rights, right? He went on Jimmy Fallon with a shirt that said, Mataron a Alexa, who was a trans woman who was killed in Puerto Rico but was talked about really disrespectfully in the media and was talked about as a man in a skirt. Ultimately, he brought attention to Alexa. He could have just worn a Nike shirt. And then people wouldn't have been talking about Alexa in the same way.

DEMBY: But the critiques around his queerbaiting stem from kissing a man at VMAs and...

DIAZ: Yes.

DEMBY: ...Him dressing up in a dress...

DIAZ: Yes.

DEMBY: ...But also being, you know, like, I guess some people would say, like, a little vague and elusive on questions about his sexuality, although he has said, like, I date women, I am dating women, but that doesn't mean I won't date a man in the future. Who's to say? But a lot of it has been like, oh, the kiss on the VMAs was, like, a shock value, like, just an attempt to sort of pretend that he was queer, and maybe he wasn't.

DIAZ: To me, it feels all connected representationally, right?

DEMBY: Yeah.

DIAZ: Like, what does it mean for a man who's not trans to be wearing that shirt? What does it mean for a man who's not asserting his queer identity or gay identity - because perhaps they don't identify as such - what does it mean for that person to kiss a man and then, just after that, kiss a woman onstage, right? What does that mean? It's not necessarily about if Bad Bunny stands up and says, I'm queer. It's about Bad Bunny creating the space for it to be a possibility and for him to not have to check the box.

And so for me, this is part of this larger thing with Bad Bunny, which is that I think that he is powerful in many ways because he is an artist of resistance and refusal, refusal to accommodate, refusal to speak English, refusal to say anything really explicitly about his sexuality beyond who he's dating in the moment - this kind of refusal to accommodate - right? - what it means to be a Puerto Rican who has been subject to all kinds of direct colonialism is that it has fostered this spirit of refusal and resistance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: We see that in the song "Caro." The song "Caro" kind of plays with this question of sexuality and gender. In the video, he's played by a woman and then eventually comes back to being himself and then is interacting with all of these different individuals throughout the video, showing kind of people who are marginalized in many ways, people who have disabilities, people who are trans, people who are, you know, visibly queer, people who are older, have different body shapes. Like, he's - it's this kind of like, inclusive practice, this refusal to accommodate. And that's what the song says. What does it matter to you? I am how I am. (Speaking Spanish) - what does it matter to you how I am? (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: Why can't I be like this? How am I hurting you? (Speaking Spanish). They look at me weird, but I'm not going to stop that. Like, it's all of these points of just being like, I don't care, right? I mean, he has an album, "Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana" - I do what I want. Like, that's the stance. I'm not going to accommodate. We're all going through changes all the time about our individual identities. That's just life.

And I feel like he kind of embodies the realization that perhaps more and more people are coming to - right? - that things can change. Things are fluid. Nothing's permanent. As a queer person, I don't feel like he's queerbaiting, you know? I understand and teach about queerbaiting in my classes. But I also think it's important to engage with things like sexuality where I think we have to give people room to breathe.

DEMBY: Do you think it would land differently, it would hit differently, if he were an out queer person and from Puerto Rico? Like, do you think that that would have different implications in the way people think about both his celebrity and people receive him and maybe the way people think about queerness more broadly?

DIAZ: Absolutely. At this moment, because of his level of fame, I don't know what it would mean if he said, yes, I identify as queer, or, yes, I identify as bi, or, yes, I identify as gay. His level of celebrity is at this point now and his fan base is such that I'm not sure what it would do. Would he have gotten to where he is now if he were an out queer, bi or gay person? It's the same thing to me where I don't know if he appeared different physically - meaning if he were a Black Puerto Rican - would he have the same level of fame? I don't know. I think that many of the ways that he has been able to navigate things and that he has climbed to fame have to do with who he is. And who he is, is someone who does not identify as queer and does not identify as Black. Those are two very clear things about him.

DEMBY: All right. So imagine teaching your class. You're having the last seminar before finals. You rocked this class this whole semester. You want to go out on a Bad Bunny song. You want to drop the mic and go out on a Bad Bunny song. What song is that?

DIAZ: OK. This is really hard. I'm going to say we end on "Me Fui De Vacaciones."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME FUI DE VACACIONES")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: (Laughter) We'll be getting ready to start summer break. So hopefully, people will be going on vacaciones, but also because there's a sort of, like, I think, love and romance about that song. Like, people talked about the whole album as a love letter to Puerto Rico. But for me, "Me Fui De Vacaciones" is the most love letter. That song makes me cry when I listen to it because I feel like I can remember driving around the islands when I was a kid, and it makes me feel really nostalgic. I think that's what it's supposed to do. And that him driving around the island, visiting his favorite places, that that gives him all the joy he needs - (speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME FUI DE VACACIONES")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ: I'm literally choking up. I feel so silly. It makes me cry because I think that that's really - that's the level of love that Puerto Ricans have for their island. And he has that love. And so I hope students end the term feeling their appreciation of, critique of Bad Bunny but also feeling that appreciation for Puerto Rico, for Puerto Rican people, for the struggles of Puerto Rico, the continued struggles for independence, liberation. And I just feel like that song is so beautiful and such an homage to the beauty of the island. And again, you know, we're talking about really hard stuff the whole term. We're talking about the beauty and the pain of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican history. And I think you got to go out with this positive, love-filled message since that's all that matters at the end of the day. And to me, that's the most beautiful love story for Puerto Rico that he ever wrote.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME FUI DE VACACIONES")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

DEMBY: Vanessa Diaz is a professor of Chicano and Latino studies at Loyola Marymount University. Her course is called Bad Bunny and Resistance in Puerto Rico. Vanessa, thank you for taking time to talk to us, seriously. This was really dope.

DIAZ: Thank you so much for having me. It's really been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: All right, y'all, that's our show. You can follow us on IG @nprcodeswitch - all one word. If email's more your jam, ours is codeswitch@npr.org. And subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts. To our CS+ listeners, we just want to give you a quick shout out. We appreciate you and thank you for being a subscriber. Subscribing to CODE SWITCH+ means getting to listen to all of our episodes without any sponsored breaks. That's really dope. And it also helps support our show. That's really, really important. So if you love our work, if you rock with us, please consider signing up at plus.npr.org/codeswitch.

This episode was produced by Christina Cala and Alyssa Jeong Perry. It was edited by Dalia Mortada. A special shout out to Adrian Florido, our old CODE SWITCH colleague, and Anamaria Sayre of the Alt.Latino team for her guidance. A big, big shout out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - Kumari Devarajan, Karen Grigsby Bates, Diba Mohtasham, Jess Kung, Courtney Stein, Veralyn Williams, Steve Drummond, B.A. Parker and Lori Lizarraga. Our art director is LA Johnson. Our new intern is Olivia Chilkoti. What's good, Olivia? Welcome to the team. As for me, I'm Gene Demby. Be easy, y'all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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