How Bad Bunny both dominates and transcends reggaeton

BARRIO (Michigan Daily) – Bad Bunny is back. But he never left. 

On Friday, Oct. 13, Bad Bunny released his fifth studio album, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana. The highly anticipated release confirms what listeners of Spanish music everywhere have known for years: Nobody does reggaeton like Bad Bunny. 

The debate is almost nonexistent. Ever since Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” was overplayed to the point of being unbearable, Bad Bunny has utterly dominated the reggaeton scene. No, that doesn’t give him enough credit. Recommending Bad Bunny to a young Spanish speaker is like recommending The Beatles to a white dad. Hoy en día, Bad Bunny is reggaeton. 

But last week’s release, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana, is far from a strictly reggaeton album — it’s miles ahead. If we have learned anything from the album, it’s that Bad Bunny both dominates reggaeton and transcends it.  

Aside from the pre-released singles, the standout hit on Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana is the album’s second track, “MONACO.” Save for Bad Bunny’s vocals, it’s not really a reggaeton song at all. “MONACO” smartly samples the “Frank Sinatra of France” with Charles Aznavour’s “Hier Encore,” looping the piercing strings under a hi-hat heavy, elevated trap beat. If Travis Scott produced a Bad Bunny song and agreed to not autotune the vocals, it would sound like “MONACO.” 

On Monday, Oct. 23, the track hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Global 200 chart. 

If “MONACO” sounds Scott-inspired, then “WHERE SHE GOES” — the album’s first single, which has racked up more than half a billion Spotify streams since its March release — sounds like it was plucked from a pop-techno Flume record. 

No two tracks sound the same. 

In the weeds of the record, you’ll find “NO ME QUIERO CASAR,” in which Bad Bunny spits over a strong, soprano sax synth and another trap-inspired hi-hat woven beat. On “BATICANO,” Bad Bunny’s witty, English-inflected lyrics are almost exclusively supported by a stray, deep synth bass. And it works. The Puerto Rican rapper sounds as natural and fluent on the beat of “WHERE SHE GOES” as he does riding the baseline of “BATICANO.”   

If your head doesn’t bop along to the beat, then either your head is empty or you don’t have one.

That is not to say Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana is short on instant reggaeton classics. Many of the album’s early hits fall quite squarely within the genre. Production on “PERRO NEGRO” leads with the canonical 3/8 3/8 2/8 dembow beat, backed by unassuming, computerized instrumentals. “UN PREVIEW” — originally released as a single on Sept. 25 — is more instrumentally inventive, but even the staggered synth loop gets reggaeton-ified by a hard-hitting dembow and Bad Bunny’s signature spirited vocals. And that’s not a bad thing: “UN PREVIEW” is a certified banger.

Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana is not the first time listeners have heard Bad Bunny’s reggaeton transcendence. Last year, Bad Bunny released Un Verano Sin Ti, a banner album that ranged everywhere from the reggaeton club-rager “Tití Me Preguntó” to the vibey rock ballad “Otro Atardecer,” featuring cool-people-acclaimed American indie-pop group The Marías. You would be hard-pressed to find a more genre-bending, genre-inspiring and altogether virtuosic album. Time magazine named Un Verano Sin Ti the best album of 2022. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Complex all ranked it in their top five. The record also won a Grammy for “Best Urban Music Album.” I think we can expect something similar for Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana.  

Leading an industry undoubtedly comes with pressures we mere mortals cannot imagine, but the dominance Bad Bunny asserts over the reggaeton world also comes with a creative freedom even his genre compatriots cannot divine. 

Bad Bunny must know that millions of people will listen to every minute of whatever he releases. But instead of feeding mana to the masses, he pushes our limits, always giving us a taste of something new. And whether we listen in the club or the shower, we are all better for it.

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