Bad Bunny Misses out on Grammys Album of the Year Award
Bad Bunny Breaks the Grammys but Misses Out on Album of the Year Award
This past Sunday, the Grammys tapped Bad Bunny to kick off the show. And kick things off he did. "El Conejo Malo" brought the "verdadera fiesta" con una batucada — a Puerto Rican folkloric tradition that includes pleneros, bailadores, cabezudos, and more. And in doing so, he showed us why he deserved to be the first Spanish-language artist nominated for album of the year.
But for fans like myself, the night would be bittersweet, with Bad nabbing the Grammy for best musica urbana but not the top prize. And if the biggest album of the year was somehow not good enough to win the honors of best album of the year, it raises a bigger question: will rappers, reggaetoneros, and the myriad of other urban artists that use music to carve a path towards success ever be able to break out of the box the industry seems so willing to keep them in?
Now, I'm in no way trying to knock Harry Styles. While I haven't listened to it personally, I am told "Harry's House" is a phenomenal project. And the few songs I have heard are all great. But for urban artists, many of whom are Black and Latinx, it seems like the odds are incredibly stacked. This is evidenced by the fact that in the 35 years since rap has been recognized as a genre by the Recording Academy, only two rap albums have ever won Album of the Year: "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" by Ms. Lauryn Hill in 1999, and "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" by Outkast 2004. These aren't just two great rap albums. These are arguably two of the greatest rap albums of all time. Period. But since then we've had nothing.
Both Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce, two artists no one would argue aren't among the best in their genres, have been nominated for Album of the Year four times, with both also being bested by Styles this past Sunday. Again, that's not to say that Mr. Styles didn't deserve to win but instead to point out how incredibly difficult it is for rap or urban genre artists to get the kind of recognition their peers do. But with that being said, how good was Bad Bunny's "Un Verano Sin Ti?" Or, better said, how good did it have to be?
Well, there's no doubt it was the biggest album of last year. In its first week "Un Verano Sin Ti" moved the equivalent of 273,000 units in streams and downloads alone, forgoing the physical releases that would later help bolster sales for both Beyonce and Taylor Swift. In total, the album spent 13 weeks in Billboard's number one spot and was streamed 4.6 billion times in just the U.S. It also had not one but two singles break one billion streams: "Tití Me Preguntó" with 1.4 billion and "Me Porto Bonito" with 1.5.
But quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality. "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" is a triumphant work of emotional storytelling through song and verse while "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" pushed the boundaries and musicality of rap as a whole. In contrast, it's easy to dismiss "Un Verano Sin Ti" superficially as just a party album. After all, reggaeton was birthed in the underground dance halls, where emcees would step on stage and compete to see who could best entertain the crowd over the pumping "dembow" rhythm.
But Bad's latest is so much more than a party album. It's an evolution of who he is as an artist, one that expands his musical horizons into different genres as it navigates the soundscapes of Caribbean youth—creating a truly unique listening experience.
But Bad's latest is so much more than a party album. It's an evolution of who he is as an artist, one that expands his musical horizons into different genres as it navigates the soundscapes of Caribbean youth—creating a truly unique listening experience. No two tracks sound alike. No two tracks deal with quite the same subject matter. And it says something that everytime I listen to the album I find a new "favorite" song (right now it's "aguacero").
So, again, how good did "Un Verano Sin Ti," have to be? Biggest album of the year? Check. Arguably the best Bad Bunny's ever been? Check. First Spanish-language album to top the Billboard 200? Check. And so, on a night to cap an extraordinary year, one that saw him break records and long standing traditions, it's tempting to say that the Recording Academy got it wrong. That they continue to get it wrong when it comes to Black and Latinx artists. But that would cheapen the impact of what San Benito has done this past year and the truly groundbreaking performance he gave us on Sunday.
Bad has always been about his roots and his people—an artist from humble beginnings that stays humble. He showcased that on Sunday by turning the Grammy stage, a place of immense prestige, into tití's Saturday night house party. And that's important. The Grammys is often called the biggest night in music. It's a spectacle. But we don't listen to music for spectacle. We listen to it because of how it makes us feel inside.
Bad's performance wasn't just a reminder of the kind of artist he is but of who his music is for. Rather than center the artist, it centered the people and the culture that birthed him—the music that has taken him to the top. And in doing so, it harkened back to what the Grammy's is really about—celebrating the artists and music that makes us move. From that perspective, it really doesn't matter whether he won AOTY or not. Did he deserve to? Sure, and but for a few votes he would have. Or maybe it would have been Kendrick. Or maybe Bey.
Looking to the Grammys for vindication is a mistake. Bad is just another name on a long list of artists whose best will always have to be better, whose music "ain't like what music used to be."
And that's the thing. Looking to the Grammys for vindication is a mistake. Bad is just another name on a long list of artists whose best will always have to be better, whose music "ain't like what music used to be." We know this. What matters is that, even if the industry seemed content to keep him a box for one night (two if we count the Latin Grammys), he's already grown beyond it.
Bad Bunny is the biggest artist in the world. And he continues to kick down every gate the gatekeepers erect in style and in "non-english." He does it utilizing a genre that was pioneered by Afro-Boricuas on a tiny West Indian island and can now be heard on radios in places like Norway, Canada, and Japan.
He does it "easy… humble…with love and passion."