The 2010s were the decade where it felt like time sped up. As we reach a major mile marker during one of the most confounding periods in cultural and political history, we’re looking back at the artists, albums, and trends that best marked the changes over the past 10 years. Picking one singular artist of the decade proved difficult, because so many genres shifted, careers launched, and sounds grew—and frankly, there were a whole handful of musicians you could make the case for. So we decided to talk about all of them. Click here to see all of Noisey's Artists of the Decade, and here to read up on all of our end-of-decade ruminations.
Of the many cultural myths incinerated like a B-movie vampire in harsh daylight of the 2010s, few felt quite so gratifying to see burn than the notion of Latin crossover. A holdover term from the Latin Explosion narrative that more or less kicked off the prior decade, it set a ludicrous standard for Spanish-language artists who wanted to make inroads in the U.S., with the presumption that they would need to sing or rap in English in order to make it big here. In the subsequent ten year frame, the idea of reggaetoneros and traperos compromising or capitulating to become more palatable to an American listening audience just couldn't pass the smell test.
Much of that debunking has to do with domestic growth in Hispanic demographics, the type long feared by arch-conservatives and bigots. In this climate, with the right-wing rhetoric no less sickening, the numbers themselves have been emboldening to Spanish speakers and their U.S.-raised descendants. The exponentially unfolding generational and economic growth for this grouping can be perceived in many forms, but none so prevalent as in music. Latin artists like J Balvin and Karol G out of Colombia or Daddy Yankee and Ozuna from Puerto Rico, as well as mainland-born ones like Becky G and Romeo Santos, made their voices heard in such volume that the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 had little choice but to yield to their tremendous hits.
Still, if any artist from this sprawling Latin music industry deserves credit for irrevocably changing the status quo stateside, it's Bad Bunny. Having featured on Farruko’s 2017 “Krippy Kush” remix, the first Latin trap song to reach the Hot 100, the Puerto Rican rapper known to his devotees as El Conejo Malo went on to top that chart mere months later with Cardi B and Balvin on the boogaloo sampling smash "I Like It." Again and again since then, he's proven an inescapable and exciting presence in the American listening experience, on reggaeton bangers like “Te Boté” and “Callaíta.” And he done so, save for a couple bars, without resorting to English. That latter point bears repeating: Bad Bunny ends the 2010s—in the Trump era no less—as one of the biggest stars in the U.S. and worldwide without giving up on his native tongue.
Bad Bunny’s meteoric rise from supermarket bagboy to Latin music superstar admittedly makes for a tidy and digestible story. But the journey itself seems little more than window dressing, a chintzy narrative that almost undermines his innate talents and rightful mass appeal. Demonstrably dismissive of gender norms and the tyranny of machismo, whether it be his professed love for getting his nails done or his vocal (if complicated) support for the LGBTQ community , he’s presented as a different kind of music star than what the U.S. previously got served from Latin America like Tego Calderón and Don Omar. In the #MeToo era, that’s been one of his assets, to be sure, presented powerfully in music videos like the one for "Solo De Mi." But it also serves as an unsubtle rejection of musica urbana’s hypermasculine and sexist past, something that endears him to a youthful base far more woke than those who came before. (His activism in Puerto Rico certainly hasn’t hurt either.)
Bad Bunny makes few concessions towards the mainstream without playing into the bad boy folly that so many rappers have trouble escaping. His vocal style may not be the broadest, ranging from medium-paced and slang-laced spitting to a somewhat nasal croon. Plenty of hip-hop artists with as little or less (looking at you, Tyga!) cross over into pop or rock or dance or even into musica urbana, all with varying degrees of success. Yet his ability to go hard with Eladio Carrion on "Kemba Walker" or keep it vibey with Drake on “MIA” or flip his skillset into regional Mexican space with Natanael Cano for the banda-bred urbano hybrid “Soy El Diablo” remix sets him apart from the one-note dabblers and toe dippers.
As a lead or featured artist, Bad Bunny's singles often surprise and rarely disappoint, the volume and frequency of the material showing no signs of diminished quality or fatigue. Similarly, his longer projects showcase cohesion amid diversity. Largely produced with thoughtful reggaeton veteran Tainy, last Christmas’ X100PRE album played with pop-punk, emo rap balladry, and thumping Dominican dembow along with the rhythmic styles Bad Bunny had previously become known for. On this summer's surprise-dropped Oasis joint mini-LP with J Balvin, he broadened further on the afrobeats collab “Como Un Bebé” with Mr. Eazi.
Bad Bunny doesn’t exist in a bubble, of course. His enormous success comes amid major mainstream wins for Latinx artists all over. One look at the Hot 100 this week shows trapero Anuel AA enjoying a fifteenth consecutive charting week with "China." Still, the way in which people respond to his music suggests we're witnessing something more than a new pop star or viral sensation. His artistry seems barely confined by the genre touchpoints that got him here, or by his contemporary reaches beyond those bounds. His allure is that of a David Bowie, a Prince, a Solange, barely at the start of what promises to be a long career. Doing a track with Drake didn't and won't ever define Bad Bunny's career, something that can't be said for many others who've been blessed or cursed by that co-sign. (Whatever happened to Majid Jordan?) Instead, "MIA" just seemed to posit that cross-cultural pairings could be about more than cash grabs or trend hopping but in game recognizing game, real recognizing real.
How can we even talk about Latin crossover in the "La Vida Loca" mode of Ricky Martin—who incidentally appears uncredited on X100PRE standout "Caro"—when Bad Bunny is almost single-handedly redefining what it means to cross over? Streaming has opened music up to a worldwide audience of listeners, and one glance at his YouTube numbers makes clear that access has meant a great deal to his rise. Not speaking his language or understanding the thematic material lacks relevance when music is consumed and appreciated on a global scale without borders, with algorithms feeding our ears. The 2010s marked a new dawn for urban Latin and Spanish-language pop music, one that will not simply go away next year or the year after that. Bad Bunny’s glorious example all but ensures that the 2020s will belong to a global talent pool, one that by all rights he deserves to lead.