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‘Bullet Train’ Is the Next Step in the Bad Bunny World Domination Plan

With a leading role in ‘El Muerto’ on the way, the Puerto Rican musician’s spot in this weekend’s box office no. 1 is just a sign of what’s to come

Getty Images/Sony Pictures/Ringer illustration

Supporting roles in action-comedies usually serve at least one of three purposes: punch lines, convenient plot progressions, and deaths. Bad Bunny’s brief appearance in David Leitch’s Bullet Train isn’t any different. He plays a Mexican assassin known in the criminal underworld as the Wolf. Sporting a black-and-white suit soaked in wine and blood, he’s out for revenge—and it just so happens to be on the Nippon Speed Line. As the train approaches, the Wolf, with determined stoicism and his target set, removes his Ray-Bans. What follows is a confrontation with Brad Pitt’s enlightened hitman Ladybug (who may or may not be involved in the Wolf’s vendetta). Broken bottles, briefcase blows to the head, and ultimately, a ricocheting knife stab to the heart quickly lead to his demise—though not before he’s left an indelible impression.

While brief, it’s a memorable appearance—the kind that could help put an upstart on a path toward stardom. Except in this case, the actor is already one of the biggest stars in the world. It’s just that for many theatergoers, it may have been their first glimpse of him. Though given the trajectory of Bad Bunny’s career, it likely won’t be their last.

Just a few years ago, Bad Bunny—the Puerto Rican musician born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio—was bagging groceries and posting tracks on SoundCloud. But that changed in 2016, starting with his breakout single, “Soy Peor.” Since then, Bad Bunny has gone on to release four solo albums (and a collaborative album with J Balvin), fly from the top rope at WrestleMania, appear as a drug trafficker in Narcos: Mexico, and make a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the Fast & Furious franchise. He’s been Spotify’s most-streamed artist since 2020. His El Último Tour Del Mundo became the highest-grossing tour ever by a Latinx artist—and just this past weekend, he kicked off another run of stadium shows in America that will add to his eye-popping ticket-sales figures. On top of all that, El Último Tour and this year’s Un Verano Sin Ti are the first all-Spanish-language albums to crack no. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Bullet Train may be the general American audience’s first exposure to him, but make no mistake: Bad Bunny is already a worldwide phenomenon.

He’s gotten there by becoming a genre-bending chameleon who breaks the mold of what reggaeton is supposed to sound like. Bad Bunny’s music draws on his affinity for hard rock, merengue, and trap, morphing all of it into his own unique sound—one that you can’t help but find yourself dancing to. But beyond his stylistic flourishes, Bad Bunny’s success goes against everything that entertainment executives have long boxed Latinx artists into doing: that in order to succeed in the United States, you must shed a part of your identity, your culture, to fit the sensibilities of non-Spanish-speaking American audiences. His songs are sung exclusively in Spanish. (That includes his parts in collaborations with Drake and Cardi B.) Even in Bullet Train, Bad Bunny still speaks in his native tongue, with a sprinkle of lines in English. It’s a deliberate decision on his part.

“We have to break away from the idea that gringos are gods,” he said last year, speaking with El País. “It makes me really proud to get to this level by speaking in Spanish, and not only in Spanish, in the Spanish we speak in Puerto Rico, without changing my accent.”

In the past, it’s often been necessary for Latinx artists to produce songs in English in order to break ground within the U.S. market. That explains Shakira’s transition from exclusively singing in Spanish to producing English-language hits such as “Hips Don’t Lie” or “Whenever, Wherever.” The same applies to Enrique Iglesias and tracks such as “I Like It” and “Hero.”

Even artists like Selena or Kali Uchis, both American-born singers who made a concerted effort to embrace both cultures in their music, found it difficult. “I remember when I would perform at festivals and start doing a cover in Spanish, people would start leaving, or laughing,” Uchis said to Mic in 2020. “They just wouldn’t appreciate it.”

Reggaeton star Daddy Yankee—one of Bad Bunny’s biggest influences—stands out as perhaps the most notable Latinx artist in recent history to break through in the U.S. without having to make songs in English, but success for Latinx artists has historically been confined within the parameters of their American appeal. It’s an issue that’s vexed Bad Bunny for a while.

“I remember one time—I don’t know who the hell that was, if it was Billboard, or if it was Rolling Stone—came out with a list of the best singers in history. Like, cabrón, specify that it’s of the history of the United States,” said Bad Bunny, in a recent interview with GQ. “Because, on that list, I didn’t see Juan Gabriel, I didn’t see Vicente Fernández, I didn’t see Tito Rodríguez. Don’t refer to those artists like the greatest when we have legends in our Latin American music. And that’s the pure truth. Why are they called a legend and I can’t compare them to this one? Because they’re American? Because they sing in English?”

This new wave of Latinx artists, from J Balvin and Karol G to Bad Bunny, have succeeded without being beholden to the same industry pressures for market viability as their predecessors. Their careers can stand on their own as Spanish-first artists.

Bad Bunny’s refusal to change who he is goes beyond his language choice: He’s also brandishing the hip-hop sounds and the sexualized flourishes of reggaeton in a manner that’s completely his own. Whether it’s in the sensitive issues he’s tackling or his comfort with painting his nails or wearing dresses, Bad Bunny is flipping the script for a genre that’s long been perceived as being machismo in nature.

Bad Bunny infuses his songs with progressivism, addressing racism, transphobia, and domestic violence in a genre that’s long been synonymous with oversexualizing and objectifying women. In the music video for “Solo de Mí,” off of his debut album, X 100pre, Benito addresses the issue of domestic violence. A woman stands alone onstage after walking away from an abusive relationship. Gradually, blood and bruises begin to appear on her face as she recounts her partner’s behavior. By the end, she smiles and says, “Yo no soy tuyo ni de nadie, yo soy solo de mí,” meaning, “I am not yours or anyone’s, I’m only for myself.”

The video for “Yo Perreo Sola,” a track off of 2020’s YHLQMDLG, is another example of how Bad Bunny inserts his personal views into music: It’s an anthem centered on a woman who wants nothing more than to twerk at the club without any perverts ruining her night. Benito raps as he’s throwing it back donned in an all-red leather fit (knee-high stilettos included).

Dressed in drag, Bad Bunny doesn’t stray from the message. Moments after he’s nearly exposed his bare chest, the video cuts to a line reading, “Si no quiere bailar contigo, respeta, ella perrea sola,” which translates to, “If she doesn’t want to dance with you, respect her, she twerks alone.”

But Bad Bunny’s deviation from reggaeton in tackling heavy themes doesn’t mean that he’s above letting the listening public in on his lustful side. Frankly, it wouldn’t be reggaeton without it. Peruse his lyrics and you’ll see notable lines such as:

Be careful with those jeans, I’ll destroy that booty.

You’re always wet and I’m thirsty.”

Baby, if I was a Christian you’d leave baptized.

Not much is left to the imagination. To weave through social messaging and sensual lyrics amid blaring trap beats and guitar riffs may seem like a contradiction. But it’s become part of the allure of Bad Bunny. The depravity within our consciousness.

It’s that realness, that authenticity that explains how Bad Bunny has garnered a worldwide fan base. “I’m not making up a character, or becoming more of an artist, or changing the way I speak or anything,” Bad Bunny told GQ. “I’m the way I am, and I’m proud of how I am, and I feel fine with who I am.”

2022 has seen releases from some of music’s heavyweights: Beyoncé, the Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Harry Styles. None of which have been able to overcome the serving of Moscow mules and tarot cards that Bad Bunny has dealt this year. Un Verano Sin Ti has sat in the no. 1 spot of the Billboard 200 chart for seven weeks since its release on May 6. Since then, the hefty double album of Kendrick’s Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, Drake’s house record Honestly, Nevermind, and the pop-rock of Harry’s House have all briefly spent time in the top spot, only to be dethroned by Bad Bunny’s latest. (Beyoncé’s Renaissance is no. 1 on this week’s albums chart. The question will be whether it can fend off Un Verano Sin Ti after that.)

As summer winds down, Benito is only getting started. Along with his Bullet Train appearance, Bad Bunny’s “World’s Hottest Tour” kicked off on August 5 in Orlando. Before starting his tour, Bad Bunny went back to his people in Puerto Rico to perform for three days. At the José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum, known as El Choli, Bad Bunny broke the attendance record previously held by Metallica, with 18,749 people in the building. It’s likely a precursor of what’s to come during his tour, given that he’s sold out venues such as Wells Fargo Center, the Forum, and the Barclays Center.

It may be too early to prognosticate about Bad Bunny’s future in film after Bullet Train. But for a relative acting novice, he possesses alluring skills: It’s impressive how the ferocity in his eyes never wavers, even as blood oozes off of his nose and a briefcase is jammed to his throat. Plus his interest in acting, along with his worldwide appeal, makes him a ripe candidate to become a leading man in Hollywood. Already, film executives are buying into that idea. Bad Bunny was recently cast as the lead in Sony’s El Muerto and Bunny is poised to become the first Latinx actor to lead a live-action Marvel film property. The character is a wrestler vested with powers after being handed down a generational mask. It’s apparent how Bad Bunny’s admiration for the squared circle drew him to the project. It’s also another example of Bad Bunny’s career being driven by his genuine passion. Fittingly, Brad Pitt, Bad Bunny’s costar in Bullet Train, and who understands as well as anyone the pressure that comes with stardom, advised him to “just [follow] what interests you,” during a recent Good Morning America interview.

As Benito verges into multiple mediums—professional wrestling, television, film, music, fashion, political activism—the Puerto Rican artist’s exposure to American audiences seems poised to only grow from here on out. But for an artist that’s as secure with himself and his work as Bad Bunny is, does it even matter?