The Week In Pop

It’s A Good Time To Be Bad Bunny

The name Ocasio derives from the Spanish “ocasión,” which means what you think it means: an occasion, a time. According to Ancestry.com, most people named Ocasio are Puerto Rican, in heritage if not in residence, and the word’s “meaning as a surname” is unclear.

What is clear is Puerto Ricans named Ocasio are living up to their names by having a moment in 2018 — or at least two of them are. There is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Democratic socialist who upended the incumbent in the New York primary this past spring and appears to be a lock to win a Congressional seat next week. When you Google “Ocasio,” the results are all about her. But another Ocasio is taking the world by storm this year, maybe even more so than the presumptive Congresswoman from New York’s 14th. His name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, but the world knows him as Bad Bunny.

Many English speakers had their proper introduction to Bad Bunny this past spring, when he featured alongside Cardi B and J Balvin on “I Like It,” a song from Cardi’s Invasion Of Privacy that flipped Pete Rodriguez’s Nuyorican boogaloo classic “I Like It Like That” into an unstoppable hip-hop club crusher. “I Like It” went to #1 on the Hot 100 and was deemed by many (including the readers of this website) the song of the summer. It also, in the wake of hits like “Despacito” and “Mi Gente,” continued to firm up a lane for Spanish language in the American pop mainstream, with both Bad Bunny and Balvin, from Colombia, delivering their verses in their native tongues as usual.

Since then Bad Bunny has popped up on a brisk reggaeton-house banger called “Está Rico” alongside Marc Anthony and Will Smith and released “Mia,” a Drake duet on which Drake performs entirely in Spanish. Now, Drake is a champion wave-rider who will seemingly hop on a song with any rising star he thinks will score him some cool points. I’m sure he’s accomplishing some serious brand expansion with his turn on “Mia.” Although I must admit he sounds quite fluent, hearing him rap and sing in Spanish on a Latin trap star’s song gives me the same awkward feeling of watching white American tourists attempt to show off by speaking the local language in a foreign country. On the other hand, imagine the triumph for Bad Bunny: The biggest star in music is guesting on your song, and he’s the one caught in your gravitational pull.

Bad Bunny, 24, grew up skateboarding and watching pro wrestling in Almirante Sur, Puerto Rico, the son of a truck driver and a retired schoolteacher. He famously started posting songs to SoundCloud a few years ago while working as a grocery store bagger and studying communications at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. His single “Diles” (“Tell Them”) got him signed in early 2016, and by the end of the year he had a breakout hit with “Soy Peor” (“I’m Worse”). In the ensuing two years, he’s piled up hits and become one of the biggest names in the Spanish-speaking music world. Although he has yet to release an album — his official debut The New Religion is supposedly well underway — the Bad Bunny Essentials playlist on Apple Music is 50 songs long, spanning three hours and 35 minutes.

As one of the defining figures in Latin trap, Bad Bunny operates within a young tradition, combining reggaeton (and its Dominican cousin, dembow) with the Atlanta trap sounds that now rule American hip-hop. In various proportions, hip-swinging Caribbean club beats are paired with moody keyboard patches and heavily Auto-Tuned sing-rapping. The sound is as rampant within the Spanish-speaking diaspora as Migos ripoffs in the English-speaking rap world, and Bad Bunny has mastered it. He deploys his deep baritone with a rapper’s rhythmic mastery and a singer’s ear for melody — repeatedly hammering on one or two notes, suddenly spiking upward in dynamic flourishes, his voice subtly fraying at the edges when he dips into the bottom of his range.

Bad Bunny’s music helped to codify the sound of Latin trap, but he’s also a bit of a wild card within that framework. He’s definitely a live wire on the mic, known for unfiltered emotional outpourings and explicit sexual narratives. Both impulses were on display in his first two big hits: “Diles” errs toward the lascivious, with Bunny instructing his lover to let the people know how effective he is in bed, while “Soy Peor” finds him lashing out against an ex in language that — oblivious English speaker beware — is not so different from Juice WRLD’s toxic emo rap. But what really stands out is his idiosyncratic personal style. If his fluid low-register vocals and tendency toward dark rumination put him in parallel with Future’s digital codeine blues, his colorful visual presence marks him as Latin trap’s answer to Young Thug, Atlanta’s eccentric-in-chief.

This is a man with a personal aesthetic. He refused a stylist for his Fader cover story, dressing himself instead and looking better than most people in a glossy magazine feature. He recently showed up on the American Music Awards red carpet with a third eye painted on his forehead and kept it there during his performance. Like Thugger, he often subverts gender norms in fashion via elaborately painted nails or pink hair. His collection of tiny glasses probably makes Kanye jealous. I can’t wait to see what he looks like at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade three weeks from now.

Watching this iconoclastic Puerto Rican superstar waltz into one America’s most sanitized holiday traditions — at a time when the president and his affiliates are working hard to dehumanize and erase Hispanics in this country — will be a trip. It also might generate whiplash when compared with the current predicament of Puerto Rico, which remains in a state of prolonged recovery following last year’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, partially thanks to that same president’s denial and neglect of the catastrophic damage.

It’s a cruel twist of fate that Bad Bunny’s rise has coincided with a period of deep struggle for his homeland. According to the Fader feature, as of last summer his parents’ home was still without electricity, and he personally showed up back in Almirante Sur to distribute food, water, and generators in the aftermath of the storms. In his celebratory summer hit “Estamos Bien” — which translates loosely to “We Good” — he acknowledges his fortunate circumstances in context. Translated from Spanish to English, the chorus reads, “Don’t worry, we’re fine/ With or without one hundred bills/ But having them is not bad.”

He seems on track to keep piling those dollars up. Continued domination of the Latin trap scene is close to inevitable. Furthermore, “Mia” just debuted at #5 on the Hot 100, a wildly impressive feat for a song performed entirely in Spanish. With a foothold from that song and “I Like It” he may be primed to start landing singles in the American rap mainstream without assists from bulletproof hit-makers like Drake or Cardi. It will be very interesting to see how far Bad Bunny and his Latin trap peers can burrow into pop culture. Lord knows trunk-rattlers like “Chambea” and trap ballads like “Dime Si Te Acuerdas” hold their own against the latest from Tyga or Post Malone. There’s rarely been a better opportunity for a full-fledged crossover, and Bad Bunny is rising to the occasion.

CHART WATCH

For the third week in a row, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born soundtrack is the #1 album in America. Per Billboard, it’s the first soundtrack to spend its first three weeks at #1 in 11 years, since High School Musical 2 in 2007. For theatrical movies, you have to go back to Bad Boys II in 2003.

A Star Is Born is now Lady Gaga’s longest-standing #1 album as well, surpassing Born This Way’s two-week run in 2011. The soundtrack can thank strong sales for its continued dominance: Of its 109,000 equivalent album units this week, 61,000 are from people actually buying a copy of the record. By contrast, Future and Juice WRLD’s collaborative album WRLD On Drugs, which enters at #2 with 98,000 units, only did 8,000 in actual sales. It’s Future’s 10th top 10 album and Juice WRLD’s second following this year

Debuting at #3 with 87,000 units/80,000 sales is Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, the debut full-length by Led Zeppelin enthusiasts Greta Van Fleet. It’s followed at #4 by the debut of Disturbed’s Evolution with 71,000 units/65,000 sales. After Lil Wayne, Lil Baby and Gunna, and Drake comes the #8 debut of Khalid’s Suncity EP with 50,000 units/9,000 sales. Travis Scott and Post Malone round out the top 10.

Over on the Hot 100, Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You” somewhat surprisingly holds on to #1 for a sixth straight week. Here’s a weird stat via Billboard: It’s now the longest-running #1 hit by a group (defined as three or more people) since MAGIC!’s “Rude” lasted six weeks back in summer ’14.

Hopping from #7 to #2 thanks to the release of its music video is Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” which becomes Scott’s highest charting song as a lead artist — this after he went to #2 as a guest on Kodak Black’s “Zeze” last week. “Sicko Mode” also features Drake, who for some reason is not credited as a featured artist on the album but is credited in the video. Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” remains at #3, followed by Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier” at a new #4 peak. It’s Marshmello’s biggest US hit to date and ties Bastille’s peak position with 2014’s “Pompeii.” It’s also the first song that has charted on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart to reach the Hot 100 top five this year.

Post Malone’s “Better Now,” Kodak Black/Travis Scott/Offset’s “Zeze,” 5 Seconds Of Summer’s “Youngblood,” and Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard” are #5 through #8. Another Post Malone song, the Swae Lee duet “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse)” debuts at #9. It’s Post’s fifth top 10 hit and Swae’s second following the French Montana collab “Unforgettable.” Khalid and Normani’s “Love Lies” rounds out the top 10.

POP FIVE

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Party For One”
“Run Away With Me” this is not, but it’s good! Good enough that I’m not panicking about the long-awaited follow-up to E*MO*TION. It sounds like CRJ might be angling for radio play, like she did with “I Really Like You” ahead of the last album, before settling into her well-established role as a critically acclaimed underdog-juggernaut. Then again, will radio play a song about “making love to myself” at this point in history? I can’t tell anymore.

Mariah Carey – “A No No”
All these new Mariah Carey singles have been fantastic. This one effortlessly infuses its late ’90s R&B core with jittery trap programming and brisk diva house without ever coming close to sounding like “trap house.” It slaps.

Imagine Dragons – “Machine”
Coming from arguably the most consistent pop hit-makers in rock, “I’m not a part of your machine, I am the machine” is some kind of twisted spin on Jay-Z’s immortal “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” As a longtime Imagine Dragons antagonist, I gotta admit, these guys are finding stranger and more inventive ways to be infectiously obnoxious. In this case it’s kinda like “We Will Rock You” crossed with Mr. Big’s “Be With You,” but with an ambiguous message about being your own person, or something.

Mumford & Sons – “If I Say”
I feel like Mumford & Sons are getting better at being Coldplay — or, like, Damien Rice fronting Coldplay. Whether I could withstand a whole album of this much melodrama remains to be seen, but this song really goes for it with the orchestration and it pays off.

Kiiara – “L*** Is A Bad Word”
Kiiara was a bad word for a while there during her ill-advised post-Iggy rap phase, but this pop move is doing it for me big time. It sounds like they threw everything at the wall, it all stuck, and then they meticulously carved it from there. It sounds like wearing three or four clashing patterns that somehow cohere into a surprisingly pleasing aesthetic. I think the understated vocal amidst so much noise is what seals it.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • That viral photo of “Justin Bieber” eating a burrito sideways was a prank. [Newsweek]
  • Here’s Ariana Grande singing “The Wizard And I” from NBC’s A Very Wicked Halloween. [YouTube]
  • And here’s Ariana Grande singing “God Is A Woman” backed by an orchestra and choir for her BBC Music special. [YouTube]
  • Iggy Azalea tweeted than she wants to leave Island (“I feel I would be better off if I could make my own timeline etc choices and I have the funds to do it”) but then she deleted it. [SOHH]
  • Panic! At The Disco covered Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” for Spotify. [Spotify]
  • Shawn Mendes remade Lost In Translation in the video for his Zedd collab “Lost In Japan.” [YouTube]
  • Alessia Cara revealed the cover and tracklist of new album The Pains Of Growing, out 11/30 via Def Jam. [Twitter]
  • 5 Seconds Of Summer released a cover of “Killer Queen.” [YouTube]
  • Little Mix and Nicki Minaj released a video for “Woman Like Me.” [YouTube
  • Halsey released a video for “Without Me.” [YouTube]
  • 2 Chainz launched his own weed brand, Gas Cannabis Co. [High Snobriety]
  • Clean Bandit’s “Baby,” featuring Luis Fonsi & Marina, is out tonight. [Instagram]
  • So is Katy Perry’s cover of “Waving Through A Window” from Dear Evan Hansen. [Billboard]
  • Diana Ross, John Legend, Bad Bunny, Kane Brown, Sugarland, and Ella Mai will be part of this month’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. [Business Insider]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME