If Pusha T is cocaine rap’s Dr. Seuss, then let’s call Bad Bunny reggaeton’s Doctor Who. The Puerto Rican superstar arrived as if from another world, immediately bringing a sense of magic and outré artistry to a sound that had begun to get too comfortable and conservative for its own good. Though he grew up absorbing this music like most people his age on the island, his perceived eccentricity and often left-of-center public presentation runs radically counter to the genre’s persistent and rampant machismo. Even now, as reggaeton represents Latin music’s dominant pop form, scarcely few women are granted access to the upper echelons of the scene, while even the most mediocre male singers can make minor hits by cynically celebrating single ladies. Bad Bunny stays the exception. Compared with his peers in reggaeton and trap en español, he operates like some Bowie-esque alien in the sound he now quantifiably owns, his unparalleled playfulness manifesting itself via flamboyant sartorial choices, moving flatbed-truck concerts, and repeat memorable appearances in WWE productions.
Still, there’s a method to his mischief. Even his Cheetos-branded collaboration and corresponding Adidas capsule came under the cover of social justice, having secured a half-million-dollar donation from PepsiCo-owned Frito-Lay North America for his Good Bunny Foundation benefiting Puerto Rican youth. He’s devoted songs and music videos to raising awareness around domestic violence and femicide, namely his Billboard “Hot 100”–charting single “Solo de Mí” from 2018 and, on his brand-new album, Un Verano Sin Ti, with the real-life eulogy “Andrea.” This comes in stark contrast to the allegations and incidents surrounding traperos and reggaetoneros from veterans Arcángel and Don Omar to relative newcomers such as Ovi.
While some might roll their eyes or cross their arms at his moves, Bad Bunny’s impact on the Zeitgeist remains overwhelmingly positive as he’s become the most recognizable Latin star of his generation. After dropping three successful albums in a single year, including RIAA multi-platino efforts YHLQMDLG and El Último Tour del Mundo, he made some relatively conventional career choices like transitioning into an acting career with his big-screen debut — Bullet Train, opposite Brad Pitt, due out this summer — and appearing in style at this year’s celeb-studded Met Gala. That commercial viability recently landed him a starring role in his own Marvel Comics movie (albeit in Sony’s vestigial Spider-Verse rather than the big-budget MCU).
Such mainstream representation from a 28-year-old Puerto Rican artist no doubt resonates strongly with American fans of Latin heritage, who packed sports arenas across the country for his recent national tour and will attend his shorter stadium-concert run later this year. But a huge part of Bad Bunny’s appeal with other Latin(os/as/xs/es) has less to do with pop culture than la cultura. As is often the case within the Latin music industry at large, his musical identity seems inextricable from his Latin identity — a perspective he reflects in full on Un Verano Sin Ti.
At this stage in his career, with language barriers more fluid than ever, Bad Bunny could call up just about any other top-tier artist and confidently secure a collab. Bringing the once feuding artists Rauw Alejandro and Jhay Cortez onto the project speaks volumes of his singular pull. On the perreo-primed “La Corriente,” he brings back Tony Dize, a Puerto Rican reggaetonero whose popularity peaked around the mid to late aughts. Similarly, Chencho Corleone of Plan B fame gets co-headliner status on “Me Porto Bonito,” its mid-song throwback rhythm as exciting as those showcased on “Safaera.” Later, on the riotous, anthemic “El Apagón,” keen ears will recognize a salacious sample — “Me gusta la chocha de Puerto Rico!” — from an old DJ Joe Fatal Fantassy mixtape. Coupled with the continuous presence and perhaps overstayed welcome of hitmaker Tainy as one of the album’s go-to producers, these homegrown choices mirror some of those made during Bunny’s 2020 album run, when he paired up with generations of Caribbean predecessors including Jowell & Randy, Yandel, Yaviah, and Zion & Lennox.
That unbridled devotion to reggaeton past and present leaves little room on Un Verano Sin Ti for the Latin-trap sound Bad Bunny originally emerged from. He flirts with it here and there, to be sure — a brief distraction from the house-music thump of “Neverita,” a coy intro to the Dominican-dembow-driven standout “Tití Me Preguntó,” lurking under the bassy folds of the rocksteady “Me Fui de Vacaciones.” After the alt-trap fusions of El Último Tour del Mundo, credited largely to producer MAG, the only place we get that old-school Benito now is on the intentionally nostalgic “Dos Mil 16,” which directly and indirectly references his come-up in those days before Cardi B and Drake had his number. Arriving well into the album’s back half, the song’s presence feels almost like an apology of sorts.
With MAG’s considerable help, Bad Bunny more than makes up for the trap recession. After the futurism of their prior team-up, Un Verano Sin Ti contains several surprising and beguiling moments that upend listener expectations. The Los Angeles–based indie act the Marías join in for the wistfully romantic ballad “Otro Atardecer,” while the starry-eyed “Agosto” takes its polyrhythmic groove further from familiar shores. Similar to the stunt he played roughly a year ago at the start of Tommy Torres’s El Playlist de Anoche, an underrated album Bad Bunny executive produced himself, the beat on “Despues de Playa” switches toward the unexpected. The track’s swirling intro by MAG lasts a full minute, building up to a reggaeton beat that never actually arrives. Instead, it veers into frenetic merengue, another first for him. That localized inspiration continues on the aforementioned “Tití Me Preguntó,” whose cheeky wit adds to the album’s wider theme of feeling happier in life after a relationship ends.
Were Un Verano Sin Ti purely an exploration of personal longing, it would certainly feel on brand and in line with current movements within Latin music more broadly. Emergent artists such as Junior H, Ivan Cornejo, and Yaritza y Su Esencia are forging a new downer sound within música Mexicana, an evergreen genre grouping that previously saw youthful renewal at the turn of the decade through an infusion of trap themes into the corridos style. Sometimes referred to as “sad sierreño,” this newest wave runs parallel to, and often overlaps with, its immediate and more aggressive antecedents, making for a Zoomer-optimized depressive drip.
Yet while his ostensible peers Anuel AA and Ozuna dabbled, middlingly so, in the format on their closer from last year’s joint effort Los Dioses, Bad Bunny may very well have godfathered today’s viral Mexican American teen bummer playlist fodder via his own earlier blends and fan favorites “Amorfoda” and x 100pre’s “Si Estuviésemos Juntos.” He notably lent his imprimatur, replete with bonus verse, to then-18-year-old Natanael Cano’s breakout single “Soy el Diablo” in 2019. Though this co-sign went largely unnoticed outside of Latin music circles, that kind of crucial nod aligns with the culturally inclusive ethos — though not the specific musical approach — prevalent throughout Un Verano Sin Ti.
Even amid Bad Bunny’s statement- and merrymaking, there’s a visible ring of sadness present, a dim halo that’s always been there. The magnificent “Moscow Mule,” produced by MAG with assistance from El Último Tour del Mundo players Mick Coogan and Scott Dittrich, couches its lyrical hedonism with a desire for something deeper, more meaningful, and longer lasting. For all the talk on his end of this being his “happiest album” yet, the self-deprecating “Un Ratito” leans into the likely impermanence of romantic love. “Yo No Soy Celoso” finds him preoccupied with an ex’s behavior, its title betrayed almost instantly by the actual lyrics. Even the hypnotic ménage à trois implications of the Rauw Alejandro collab “Party” come across disquietingly, the detached near-robotic repetition of its titular hook adding a perhaps unintentional darkness.
Though in real life he remains in a committed relationship with Gabriela Berlingeri, there’s something inherently true and fundamentally human in these songs’ self-doubts that many will relate to. Even with his slang so unmistakably modern, the timeless nature of his topics erodes the typical boundaries of the season that inspired Un Verano Sin Ti. This is Bad Bunny’s bummer summer, one that drags on emotionally but never musically, its seeming endlessness dotted by meaningless yet fun flings and quieter moments alone on the beach dwelling upon what came before.
It all comes out near the album’s close on the beatless title track, its synthy stabs recalling Depeche Mode or INXS at their mopiest. He sings of heartbreak in retrospect, invoking the legendary balladeer Alejandro Sanz while trying to balance hookah and therapy during a summer defined by contradiction and contrast. He’s most succinct on this during the chorus: “La estoy pasando bien, no te voy a mentir / Pero a veces tu nombre no me deja dormir” (“I’m doing well, I won’t lie to you / But sometimes your name doesn’t let me sleep”). Is this the same Bad Bunny who’s so sure of himself out in public yet now so vulnerably unloading his personal baggage? Apart from the freedoms granted by artistic license, it has to be. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.