This article originally appeared on VICE En Español.
It was only four years ago when the world first heard “Soy Peor,” one of the first singles by the then-unknown Bad Bunny, a Puerto Rican artist who used to self-release songs on Soundcloud. Fast-forward to December 2020, and the entire planet seems to be mesmerized by Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, one of the most interesting and commercially successful artists in pop music today. His latest album, EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO, debuted last week as the first-ever all-Spanish album to hit No.1 on Billboard. "Dákiti," the first single from that album, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Ocasio has officially debunked the notion that in order to achieve so-called crossover success in the U.S., Spanish-speaking artists had to sing in English.
2020 was a big one for Bad Bunny. He's the year's most-streamed artist, according to Spotify, though he is more concerned with his work—and with stepping outside his comfort zone—than with numbers or sales. In addition to releasing three albums—YHLQMDLG, LAS QUE NO IBAN A SALIR, EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO—he performed a virtual concert for more than 10 million viewers, who tuned in to see him standing on a moving truck around New York City.
We talked to Bad Bunny about his latest album, his career, legacy, and more.
VICE: You managed to be No. 1 in almost every imaginable scenario, and you are at the peak of your career—something that most artists probably only dream of. But no one tells you what to do once you reach the top. Where do you aim artistically at this point?
Bad Bunny: I still have a lot to do. I still have too many goals to achieve and too many things to accomplish. I'm about to turn 27 in 2021, so I still have a lot to do. Every day new ideas arise, new opportunities appear. So I plan to continue after that, with the same motivation and dreams just like the first day.
I'm not in a rush to do my next project. I have now time to think and create new ideas, so when the next project comes up, I can do something different as I always have.
At what point would you say your life changed, with all this success?
I don't think I ever realized that moment. It just came and kind of hit me. But if I had to choose a moment, I think it would be just before I released my first album, X100PRE. That's when I realized that my life had changed and reflected on all that. And that was also part of my inspiration while releasing the album because it was something that I wanted to get right. I did not realize when it happened, but that's when I confirmed it, accepted it, and when I knew that everything I was experiencing was what I was supposed to be.
Nowadays, when young people think of Puerto Rico, they think “Bad Bunny” or “reggaetón."
That makes me very proud, makes me feel very, very proud, because since I started my career, wherever I go, I let people know that I come from the Caribbean, from Puerto Rico, and that is something I will always be proud of. Sometimes you don't think about it, but hearing it from you sounds important and makes me very proud.
Does the success of your albums and singles make you feel pressure when making new music?
Not really. Maybe that pressure is necessary. I always try to go beyond what I have done. I do not try to compete with other artists or other trends, but I try to go beyond, but not with the pressure that I should do it, but by really enjoying it and as something that I am passionate about and like to do. I trust a lot in new ideas, and we always bet on what is different.
Your latest album, EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO, is different from what’s out there. For me, many songs and records by other reggaetón artists sound the same now. Do you think reggaetón is no longer innovative?
You could say that many young people are innovating within the reggaetón genre but there is also a large sector that perhaps no longer feels passionate about doing new things or reinventing themselves artistically, I don't know. But yes, there are times when it feels like there is nothing new in terms of production or something. But at the same time, in every genre, there are people like me who want to evolve, innovate, and leave their mark. Within reggaetón, there are many, especially of the new generation, who are bringing new things and innovating.
Your lyrics from X100PRE to EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO have powerful punchlines. Many could be tweets—probably why people tweet them so much. Do you think that writing your lyrics on your phone has to do with this?
It could be. Sometimes an idea for a song, or a punchline, starts with a tweet. Like, I am going to tweet something that I have in mind, and when I am typing, I think: "Wait! This’s good for a song, not for a tweet," so I delete it and sometimes I can get something from there; it has happened many times.
Not so long ago, the rule within the music industry was to release records every four or five years. You, meanwhile, have released five albums in almost two years, and there has not been a notable drop quality-wise. Are you worried that the quality of your records could drop due to so many releases?
Times have changed. We are in a digital era where there is a lot of content—every day, new music comes out from different parts of the world, from new talents, from veterans, from all over the world. The way the planet runs today through social networks, and platforms, results in us living accelerated. Today, a year is equivalent to five or three months within social networks or in the music industry. But I do not see this as pressure. It has come naturally to me [releasing so many albums]. It's not like: “I have to put out music now," but it happens naturally.
In terms of sound and quality, I always worry about giving the best to people, I do not settle for anything, I am very demanding with what I do, and it takes time to make it ready. When I finish a song, I analyze what can be improved, what does not sound good enough, or what could sound better. The same happens with production, I'm always trying new things, new ideas, so it is something that I am passionate about, it is what I like, it is what I have always dreamed of. I have been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now that I have it, I take advantage of it and enjoy doing all those things. When you do things with that passion and love, it shows.
Do you sometimes get tired of hearing so many compliments on your work?
Haha! I swear this month it happened. This month I did think: “Give me a break! It's just too much!" Like, every day, something new comes out: “Bad Bunny did this. Bad Bunny achieved this. No. 1 here, No. 1 there. Bad Bunny broke a record!” And it feels good, it feels amazing, but it's like: “Fuck, enough is enough, dude!"
That has never been the intention of my work. When I'm in the studio or creating music, I don't think that I'm making a song to be No. 1. It's not my goal to be called "Number 1," or to break a record. I make music because I feel passionate about it and because I want to bring joy to people and give them something else, as always. But when these things happen, I clearly get excited.
This year has been huge for you. But I want to talk about this week specifically: your album was the first all-Spanish No. 1 album in the United States. This has never happened before. "Dákiti" is the No. 1 song on the planet for Billboard. Is there something you have yet to achieve?
If you ask me today, I’d probably say nothing. But maybe tomorrow, I'll wake up with a new goal or with a new idea for a video that I want to make. So I think that's what it's all about. I do not lean on success or on what I have achieved. I work and dream every day as if it were the first day, as if I did not have this success yet, as if I was still a rookie who is looking for the opportunity of his life. And that is part of what keeps me always creative and active.
Have you allowed yourself to take a break and rethink your work?
Yes, I have managed to make time for that. There was a time when I did not make time for that, and it was a bit shocking. But yeah, now I take my time. It has become something important. Like, before, I did not give importance to it, but now, I make time for me, to enjoy and relax, but also to reflect on everything that I have done. Otherwise, it would not make any sense.
Do you feel like you’ve ever failed? Perhaps there’s something you think that would have worked better?
Not really. There have been songs that I thought were going to be more liked, for example. That could have happened, but I never see it as a failure. And maybe some things have not turned out the way I wanted, but I never keep that hovering in my mind. I always look forward, and if something doesn't work out, I try something else. The truth is I always learn something when things do not work out. For example, maybe there is a video that I wanted one way, and it did not go as planned, but when that happens, I see what went wrong and try to improve for the next one. It is about learning from mistakes. I couldn't tell you about a specific failure because I don't count them.