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Wellisch ’26: How Bad Bunny is paving the way for authenticity in pop culture

“Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana.” I do whatever I want. 

Beyond being the title of one of his albums, these words define Puerto Rican reggaeton star Bad Bunny. His subversive ethos defines his success — he does whatever he wants and has emerged as a global cultural icon as a result. From his gender-bending fashion to his refusal to sing in English to his commentary on Puerto Rican politics, Bad Bunny has made mainstream culture cater to him instead of the reverse. His unprecedented fame teaches us the power of cultural pride and steadfast authenticity, revealing how the landscape of modern popular culture has become fertile ground for originality.   

Part of Bad Bunny’s success stems from him making a name for himself under today’s social conditions. He’s emerging as a leading musical artist on the heels of a steady increase in the U.S. Latino population, not to mention the growing influence of Hispanic culture nationwide. Perhaps even more importantly,  Generation Z is more drawn to authenticity and transparency, meaning that modern celebrities like Bad Bunny can focus on expressing their individuality rather than being broadly palatable, a significant constraint for Latin artists of the past..

Historically, many Latin musical artists have altered their music to fit into the American market. Latin singers prioritized the attention of English-speaking American consumers and were willing to adjust their musical styles to appeal to them. Translating lyrics to English and collaborating with U.S. pop artists became common tactics for Latin artists to attain international success.

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These “crossover” strategies date back to 1950s singer Dámaso Pérez Prado, whose mambo music only rose to U.S. fame after American jazz band leader Sonny Burke released his own version of one of Pérez Prado’s songs. A similar crossover strategy powered the Latin Explosion of the ’90s, with iconic Latin artists Ricky Martin, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony launching into the international market with album debuts that were primarily in English. Even more recently, we’ve seen a pressure to assimilate to American tastes with Luis Fonsi’s global hit, “Despacito,” which only reached the top of the charts after Justin Bieber's English feature. Ultimately, it’s no surprise that Latin artists may see it as imperative to conform to American mainstream preferences. After all, this is the route that many of their predecessors took to reach international stardom.   

Bad Bunny’s success is in charting a new path and showing the world that international fame and cultural authenticity are no longer mutually exclusive. He refuses to change the language that he sings in to assimilate to industry norms, yet he is also Spotify’s most-streamed artist in the world for the third consecutive year. His most recent album “Un Verano Sin Ti” made Grammy history as the first all-Spanish-language album to be nominated for Album of the Year. From becoming the first Latino to headline Coachella to breaking tour revenue records — Bad Bunny is making history within the music industry, all while staying faithful to his native language and Puerto Rican roots.  

Even beyond his language and culture, Bad Bunny’s popularity is evidence that radical individuality can be accepted and even admired in the mainstream. Bad Bunny’s gender-norm-defying wardrobe and public image are revolutionary. Within a genre that has historically been dominated by hypermasculine, sexist and homophobic machismo attitudes, Bad Bunny champions a new brand of masculinity. From painting his nails to dressing in drag to kissing a male backup dancer on stage, Bad Bunny’s gender fluidity sends his audience a powerful message about liberating themselves from society’s toxic binaries. Challenging aspects of his background — and risking alienating many of his fans — takes an immense amount of courage, but Bad Bunny has made it look effortless and trendy. Through his radical style, Bad Bunny rewrites the script for how a leading male artist should look and behave under the spotlight. 

Bad Bunny is a bold and courageous cultural icon that is showing the music industry what it looks like to be unapologetically yourself. His musical genius is undeniable, but Bad Bunny’s willingness to put his unfiltered self on stage is perhaps his most notable contribution to the industry. His messages about inclusivity, vulnerability and gender fluidity are what allow him to facilitate a deep connection with his countless fans. Bad Bunny is proof that the world is ready to celebrate public figures who don’t conform to a cookie-cutter definition of success. As a new and more diverse set of celebrities finally garner fame, we have an opportunity to honor and celebrate their authentic identities.

Yael Wellisch ’26 can be reached at yael_wellisch@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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