Bad Bunny and the Globalization of Hip-Hop

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Bad,Bunny (via Shutterstock)

by Dan Runcie

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Bad Bunny and the globalization of hip-hop

Bad Bunny is the greatest success story from the streaming era and it’s not even close.

In 2016, he was bagging groceries in Puerto Rico and uploading tracks to SoundCloud. By 2022, he was Spotify’s biggest artist, had performed on the biggest stages, and has an upcoming sold-out stadium tour that could easily gross over $200 million.

His origin story starts off like former NFL MVP Kurt Warner, but imagine if The Greatest Show on Turf quarterback had the career of Peyton Manning? That’s Bad Bunny. I bet there’s a Hollywood showrunner who is already working up a 10-episode script to tell the 28-year-old’s life story in a Hulu series.

The Latin star’s new album, Un verano sin ti is on track to be one of the U.S.’s best-selling albums in 2022, and the U.S. isn’t even his primary market! His success shows how the streaming era has removed many barriers for Latin artists. From Billboard:

“But perhaps most importantly, Bad Bunny wasn’t subjected to the barriers of entry that Latin artists have had to crash into for years. In the United States, Latin acts never had the same distribution, the same radio airplay, the same media coverage or presence, the same award show nominations or the same opportunities for award show live appearances as mainstream acts — even when their global music sales merited it.”

The most impressive part is that he did it without performing any songs in English. He didn’t switch his style up. The masses are coming to him, and now he’s reaping the rewards.

From overlooked to omnipresent

Latin music has had a trajectory similar to many genres that were once overlooked:

Step 1 – Artists were forced to assimilate to the “safer” or “proven” genres.

Step 2 – Artists proved that they no longer need to assimilate.

Step 3 – Artists set new trends that others assimilate (or try to copy).

American hip-hop artists followed that same path. In the 90s, rappers needed those Mariah Carey collaborations to “crossover” to the mainstream. They were all great songs, but we understood the dynamic.

Remember, hip-hop didn’t truly have an all-rap, multi-act arena concert tour until 1999’s Hard Knock Life Tour. But soon enough, hip-hop became the most popular genre of music. More mainstream pop artists started adopting and taking more from hip-hop culture. Now, your favorite pop star and favorite rappers get their beats from the same producers.

Latin music is not too far behind. Stars from past generations, like Selena, Ricky Martin, and Shakira, always released English songs out of necessity. But Bad Bunny is unapologetic about not needing to release songs in English, and rightfully so. From SPIN:

“For me, Spanish is fucking cool, more than English,” Bad Bunny says with a laugh. “I’m pleased that we are in a time where I don’t need to change anything about myself — not my musical style, not my language, not my culture — to go far. That doesn’t mean I’ll never sing in English. I already sang in Japanese, so maybe one day I’ll sing in English. It feels great to do things my way.”

He sang in Japanese before English! If that doesn’t say “you need me, I don’t need you,” I don’t know what does.

Now everyone wants Bad Bunny’s co-sign

In 2019, I wrote about the globalization of hip-hop and how monetization is a challenge for many hip-hop artists outside of the U.S. and Western Europe. Many of them rely on brand deals and other partnerships with companies that want access to their fanbase and influence. Their fans are less likely to have disposable income to pay for streaming, vinyls, digital downloads, or other higher-end products.

This is still true for most artists in these regions, but Bad Bunny disproves it. His concert tickets were so expensive they inspired a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He’s a star in WWE, Corona commercials, and soon enough, he’ll star in the biggest movies in the world.

In January 2024 he will star in El Muerto, a standalone Marvel superhero movie from Sony Pictures. Plus, El Muerto is a wrestler! It’s a perfect match for the part-time Wrestlemania entertainer himself.

It’s a page out of the Fast & Furious franchises. Those movies perform well at the Latin American box office with relatable actors and artists like Michelle Rodriguez, Don Omar, Cardi B, Ozuna, Tego Calderon, and Bad Bunny himself in F9. If Bad Bunny’s Marvel superhero movie does well, it could launch a whole new franchise.

Everyone now wants a Bad Bunny co-sign, and they are willing to adapt to his style for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel’s El Muerto is filmed in Spanish with English subtitles. That’s where this is heading. We’re witnessing a Latin superstar—who’s a product of the streaming era— reach greater heights than most American artists currently can.

Maybe streaming didn’t end monoculture after all. Maybe it’s just different.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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