How Bad Bunny’s Gender Fluidity Changes a Genre



At this point, Bad Bunny’s gender fluidity is pretty much common knowledge. The rapper has made a career out of shattering rigid gender constructs and transcending generational prejudices about what it means to be a man. So when he was announced as the VMAs Artist of the Year to a small crowd at my local bar, even the casual non-Latinx had an idea of ​​what the 28-year-old Puerto Rican entertainer has become.

But rather than stepping onto the stage to accept its award in the Spanglish that has become something of a trademark, Bad Bunny made us look forward. The camera moved to Yankee Stadium, where thousands of fans eagerly awaited the artist. When Bad Bunny finally took the stage, it was through the open doors of a chapel, with an unknown bride in his arms. As the opening chords of his hit song “Tití Me Preguntó” played, he dropped his fiancée and took the mic, as if to acknowledge and subtly acknowledge the heteronormative note on which the song’s video ended (for those who haven’t watched her, Bad marries a light-skinned Latinx cis woman who descends from the sky). By the end of the song, he had kissed with two of his backup dancers – one a woman and the other a man. And I, along with most of the other bar patrons, couldn’t help but smile. Because Bad just seems to do what he wants when he wants and get the rest of the world to howl along with him.

No wonder his second album is called “Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana”. Benito Martinez Ocasio, better known to the world as Bad Bunny, first caught my attention in 2016. A lifelong fan of Arcángel, I was intrigued by the tall, light-skinned boy with bass vocals in the center of the “Tu No Vive Asi” video. It’s a far cry from Bad’s more traditional hits, depicting a side of Puerto Rico rarely seen by outsiders. But even as he raps bravado about “putting holes in people’s faces” while ATVs burnout the streets of the project, the intangible tune that would help Bad grow from mere reggaetonero to phenom world is already present. It’s in the often awkward movements he doesn’t care to hide and the effortless flow and voice that nestles subtle vulnerabilities between sure rhymes. In a world of over-the-top bluster, hard lines and guns, Bad refuses to take himself too seriously. And when he challenges gender norms and generational biases, it’s an approach that has served him well.

Raised primarily by a single mother, I often found myself straddling the lines between masculine and feminine that Bad so carelessly ignores. As often as my mother painted her nails, she painted mine with clear nail polish. She let me wear her jewelry (large cuff bracelets and bangles) and handed me some of her blazers and dress shirts (after removing the shoulder pads). But the older I got, the less acceptable these things became. Once in college and then in high school, I quickly realized that masculinity was commonplace.

This is the reality that Latinx boys grow up in. While patriarchal ideologies can be found in nearly every culture and ethnicity, ours is rooted in a normalized machismo that rigidly enforces gender roles and glorifies dominance or “alpha” behavior. Deviation from socially acceptable norms is discouraged by teasing, ostracism, and sometimes violence.

And yet here we have Bad – wearing dresses, kissing men and honoring the Allure cover with domino-style acrylics and a cascade of rhinestone tears under her eye. And he does it in a genre that has historically propagated unhealthy attitudes about masculinity, pride, and honor. But how? Journalist and political activist Dr. Rosa Clemente think it’s a sign of the times. “This generation (millennials and Gen Z) are fed up with the old ways,” she told POPSUGAR. “They question everything. [Saying] I don’t want to be a “she”. I don’t want to be a “he”. I want to be “they”. I want to be “them”. »

For Dr. Clemente, Bad is representative of the ideals and values ​​of his generation. And it makes sense. Artists have always tapped into the zeitgeist, from the revolutionary, anti-war songs of ’60s rock to the socially responsible bars of ’90s hip-hop. Today represent a generation that has come of age in a globalized world where different perspectives are just a few clicks away. There is no data. Gender, sexuality, everything can be challenged. But there’s another critical factor when it comes to Bad’s appeal, one that Dr. Clemente says is probably the most important.

“He’s genuine,” she said. Dr. Clemente cites one of his most recent videos as proof of this. “If you watch the video for ‘Titi Me Pregunto’, in four minutes it gives you the story of his life – our story, from the block in New York to the bodegas, to the [Dominican presence]. It’s his life. “It’s his life. The one that shares aspects with what so many Latinx kids have experienced growing up. It’s the bodegas; the bossy, nosy parents; the neighborhood homies; the island. same, is as crucial to its appeal as it is performative, with intention.

Today, the term “performative” has become shorthand for inauthentic. So it might seem contradictory to praise Bad Bunny for its authenticity and then call its actions performative moments later. But when Bad performs in a skirt or switches gender completely like he does in the “Yo Perreo Sola” video, he understands the full reach of his platform and the power of his words and actions. In short, he knows the power of performance. He knew it when he rallied Puerto Ricans all over the island to help oust our corrupt governor in 2019. He knew it when he wore a shirt saying “they killed Alexa” to raise awareness murder of Alexa Negron Luciano. And he knows it every time he performs the song “Andrea”, a tribute to domestic violence victim Andrea Ruiz. Bad Bunny knows the world is watching. And with each performance, he uses his stage time to push boundaries and deconstruct the long-held idea of ​​what it means to be a man.

“I’ve seen with my own eyes how powerful ‘art’ can be. And while it can be criticized, what it does matters. I mean, it’s not just the most America’s biggest star. He’s the biggest star in the world.”

No, he’s not perfect. During our conversation, Clemente is quick to point out that Bad’s version of reggaeton still embraces some aspects of misogyny, particularly in regards to the sexualization of women in some of his videos. But she also sees the bigger picture. “I’ve seen with my own eyes how powerful ‘art’ can be,” she says. “And while that may be criticized, what he does matters. I mean, he’s not just the biggest star in the United States. He’s the biggest star in the world.”

When I first heard Bad in 2016, I had no idea he would become the “biggest star in the world.” I just thought he made really good music. He always makes great music. And when we talk about its limitations and its overcoming of gender constructs, we have to remember that no one would care if the discography that supported the message was missing in any way. Bad is a real artist. He can take early 2000s perreo, mix it with 70s salsa, and complement it with today’s trap to create a sound that crosses generations in its appeal. He uses this talent to move his genre in a more inclusive direction while remaining true to himself.

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