Bad Bunny: Un Verano Sin Ti review – this is why he is the world’s biggest pop star | Bad Bunny
If you Google Bad Bunny – AKA 28-year-old Puerto Rican Benito Ocasio – one of the suggestions the search engine throws up is the question: “Why is Bad Bunny so big?” It’s a pertinent query, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, where he remains a marginal figure with a solitary hit single, 2018’s Drake-assisted Mia. Yet he could call himself the biggest pop star in the world: he was the most streamed artist on Spotify in both 2020 and 2021, racking up 17.4bn streams in two years. In the US, he is huge on a historic scale: the first artist to top the Billboard charts with an entirely Spanish-language album, El Último Tour Del Mundo. It was recently announced he would play the lead role in a forthcoming Marvel film, about a wrestler called El Muerto whose mask gives him superhuman powers; before that, he will star opposite Brad Pitt in an action movie called Bullet Train.
It’s the kind of success that lends itself to big statements. El Último Tour Del Mundo was the third album he released in 2020 (the first, YHLQMDLG was the highest charting all-Spanish language album in US history until he beat his own record). Un Verano Sin Ti contains 23 tracks and goes on for the best part of an hour and a half. According to its author, it’s intended to work like a mixtape, to be played in the background while people enjoy themselves on the beach or by a pool (its title translates as A Summer Without You).
As on El Último Tour Del Mundo, production is kept in-house – no credit for the kind of hit-making celebrity producers whose names turn up on every big pop album as a matter of course – and its guest stars are entirely drawn from the Latin American music world, including Colombian “psychedelic cumbia” duo Bomba Estéreo and LA-based indie band the Marías as well as a host of Puerto Rican rappers and singers. Why would you need the star power of a Cardi B or Dua Lipa to help you crossover when you’ve already done so on a grand scale?
From psychedelic cumbia to indie-pop, the striking thing about Un Verano Sin Ti beyond its sheer length is what a scenic route it takes in order to maintain a position of world domination. There are certainly moments when the album sounds boilerplate. Moscow Mule is a nice song with a pleasingly sunlit mood – not for the last time on the album, the attempts to conjure a beachside atmosphere extend to using the sound of seagulls – but its combination of reggaeton beats and AutoTuned vocals feels very familiar, regardless of the language it’s sung in; likewise Dos Mil 16, a ballad over a trap beat. But these moments occur less often than you’d expect – and are usually followed by a lurch into markedly different territory.
Moscow Mule is succeeded by After the Beach, a warped take on mambo featuring what sounds like a live vocal. The backing on Another Sunset sounds like Vampire Weekend playing underwater. The album’s chief producer, Marco “MAG” Borrero, seems to have a thing for sounds that feel as if they’re unsteady on their feet, warping and sliding in and out of tune; the best of the reggaeton tracks here might be Andrea, which tempers the beats with umpteen layers of woozy synth. Tití Me Preguntó, meanwhile, takes a detour into dembow, a frantic musical subgenre prominent in the Dominican Republic.
Some tracks appear to exist in their own peculiar musical universe. A third of El Apagón is devoted to muffled sampled voices, chanted vocals and clattering percussion before, unexpectedly, the appearance of a buzzing synth turns it into a peak-of-the-night house track. Then the atmosphere shifts again: a female voice takes over, the electronics soften and a small-hours mood takes over. It crams all this into three minutes. At its conclusion, the listener is deposited in a completely different place to where they started.
Not everything here is as great as that – like most 23-track albums, Un Verano Sin Ti could have used a nip and a tuck. But when it hits its heights, it leaves you puzzled at Britain’s lack of interest in bad bunny. Why wouldn’t you want pop music to be as creative and surprising as this? The depressing conclusion is that it’s something to do with the traditional snobbery that relegates almost anything not sung in English to novelty territory; in the US, 41m people speak Spanish and it’s a language that’s part of the ether of everyday life, which it patently isn’t in the UK. Perhaps Un Verano Sin Ti will change people’s minds – though if it doesn’t, you doubt Bad Bunny will be losing much sleep.