As of 2010, New York City was 27% Hispanic and if you live here long enough, and you keep your ears open, Latin pop permeates the air. It is the heartbeat of this melting pot, and if you are a music lover and you don’t listen you are missing what is really happening here. Last night at the United Palace on West 175th Street, 3300 local Trap En Espanol lovers, mostly in their twenties, all Latin-Americans with astonishingly zero black or white people in the room, boomed to the beat of modern [p[ reaches for the trinket cymbal beat. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Latin pop had always done well in the city but after Tito and Celia passed and the 1990s reggaeton failed to cross over, the sound of Salsa, Merengue, Reggaeton, Baccata, all Latin pop, became regionalized again. With the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda, using rap as a major tool for his Broadway musical, and Luis Fonsi on the US Charts with Justin Bieber, it sure seemed like 2017 was a breakthrough year for Latin Pop -the return to former glory. And it did break alright, hotter than ever, but not for an English speaking world order.
Latin Trap became huge in its specific marketplace, and in its specific marketplace there was no one act bigger than Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny. At United Palace last night, the youthful audience sang along to every single word as they treated him like a visiting deity. The stage was somewhat barren, a handful of dancers, a coupla back up singers, a DJ and Bad Bunny, the entire evening performed to back up tapes and LCD screens, and nobody could care less. Bad Bunny has yet to release his debut album, every thing he has done has been for the singles market, and from 2016, when he dropped out of College in Puerto Rico and made made a living bagging groceries and working on his beats, to last night, he has just hit the sweet spot, and hit the Latin charts, time after time after time, fifteen times to be precise.
In smart kickers and shades, Bad Bunny couldn’t dance and wasn’t a great rapper, but he could sing, and on smash hits like Becky G’s “Mayore” and the J. Balvin featured “Sensualidad” he brought his 808 and his hi hat to trap Latin, constructing one hook after another and changing the face of pop in his own image. In August 2017, he joined superstars Arcángel and De La Ghetto on stage at MSG’s Mega Summer gig and brought the house down. Last night, DJ Casanova,also from Mega, kept the audience at a fever pitch for over two hours. Way too long of course, and to be fair some Spanish languagecomedian performed for twenty minutes, though what he said I can’t share with you because I don’t speak Spanish.
The 23 year old superstar, who seemed worn out in an interview with Billboard in January, processing one of the biggest years any singer has ever had, getting used to being mobbed wherever he goes, came out to an insane level of audience energy. Man, they screamed and sang their lungs out. And while Latin Trap can be dark on record, on stage it was a case of louder loudest, though without the booming bass that can derail hip hop concerts. Bad Bunny isn’t ready for such a central role on stage, his moves are generic and not very interesting, his lyric context less rap bravado and more bachata sentimentality, but Bad Bunny performs them as though they weren’t. He has swagger but doesn’t know how to use it.
This all becomes crystal clear when J. Balvin joined Bad Bunny for two songs then performed two songs alone. J. Balvin is the man most likely reggaeton star, along with Luis Fonsi ,he is a tier above even late 00s, early 10s reggaeton stars like Wisin and Yandel (though not Daddy Yankee). The other trap stars are circling him, Archangel is a major player who helped Bad Bunny big big time, but even he can’t reach the waiting in the wings J. Balvin. Everybody, including me, was baffled that “Mi Gigante” didn’t break huge on the US Charts, even if it wasn’t great Beyonce’s presence should have done the job, and it was absolutely great. J. Balvin joined Bad Bunny last night as the “Mi Gante” lick played and the room upped its energy level to a whole other level. I haven’t heard an audience that loud since One Direction at MetLife the summer of 2015, and I saw Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and Ed Sheeran, last Autumn alone. Bigger still was the response to “Sensualidad,” the singing so loud it was like another voice in unison, together… truly astounding. Bad Bunny upped his own level completely and the evening clicked into place.
It was the first night of Bad Bunny’s “La Nuevo Religion” tour, already headlining and not even an album out yet. Perhaps the jitters got to him a little, more likely he can’t quite read his audience yet. Whatever the cause, Bad Bunny is performing again tonight and tomorrow night. Get there by nine o’clock and represent that place where Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and New York City become one.
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