Note * since originally writing this I have since been watching Bad Bunny’s antics in WWE, so I now know who he is. Not that any of that helps with the music…
Greetings, Glancers! What the balls is this? Well, this is my first official post in my new series which sees me listening to 25 of the most highly rated albums of 2020. At the time of writing, I’m a 37 year old white bloke with a wife, three children, and a cat (the cat is unmarried and unburdened with kittens). I’m no longer a target demographic for the Top 40 crowd and I’m happy with that. I’ve had issues with the charts for as long as I can remember, and some of my earliest childhood arguments were fought and lost due to my frustration with all of the other 10 year old boys and girls who couldn’t fathom that there was other music out there in the world. I still watched The Chart Show, TOTP, and tuned in to MTV if I was at a friend’s who was rich enough to afford Sky TV. So while I bitched about the crap, I was also excited for the good. That’s the life of a jaded music fan. Not that it lends me any further credibility, but it’s worth mentioning that I’ve messed about in bands and have been a DJ around Northern Ireland – I like music.
As outlined in my original post – I’m doing this because I’m curious. I’ve done little experiments like this before where I’ve slogged through the biggest singles in a given year, but this is the first time I’ve strived to commit to the artists and give them more than a cursory half-assed listen. I don’t have a lot of hope that I’ll actually enjoy much of this. No, I do have hope. I want to enjoy this. I’m just not confident that I will. But we’re all chasing that new high, that new favourite. I have no interest in bringing up these albums or artists in daily conversation, I’m not trying to stay modern, I don’t care about following a trend – I am simply curious about what passes for good music these days and I hope to find some new stuff to obsess over, maybe outside of my current preferences. If there’s one rule I try to live by, it’s to experience as much as possible (even if that is limited to what you enjoy – movies, music, art, travelling) and to bend those limitations which you or a wider institution have placed upon you so you can look beyond your comfort levels in an attempt to experience something new; Devout Metal fans should listen to EDM. Rappers should listen to Country. Movie fans should watch foreign movies and films from decades before they were born. The Left should try to understand the Right. Vice verse for one and all.
Which leads me finally to today’s album and artist. The album name is presumably an acronym – I’m going to guess it’s either for something naughty or something wordy and supposedly meaningful but which would have looked ridiculous if typed in full. Bad Bunny – I don’t know if this is a person, a band, a bot, though there’s something familiar about it as if I’ve heard a friend talk about it once upon a time. In truth, when I heard the term Bad Bunny, it made me think of the Vincent Gallo movie Brown Bunny, but that’s not something I particularly want to think about. So yes, I am writing this intro before having heard a single second of music from this album, looked at the tracklist, the artwork, or anything else. Thanks to the magical time travelling abilities of blogging, by the time I begin the next paragraph I’ll have listened to the whole thing multiple times (for my sins). Don’t worry, not all of my intros will be this long (LIES).
After a quick search on Youtube to find the album, I saw it staring back at me with a future-retro cover hinting at 80s antics, Amblin kids on bikes getting into fun adventures, scuffed knees, alien side-kicks, and nostalgic fantasies. It’s a cool album cover which had me thinking maybe there’s some interesting stuff inside. There is interesting stuff inside – but it’s not what I was expecting from the cover, and it’s not the kind of music I think I’ll ever be able to enjoy.
On the positive side, I was worried the vocals would all be in the vein of Shaggy, which is not something I’m sure I could have tolerated for an entire album. Thankfully we don’t sink so low, but we do scrape several of the modern pop landscape’s barrels – autotuning, monotone vocals, guest vocalists, and that’s before we get to the album’s more notable quirks and annoyances. Auto-tuning isn’t going to go away at this point, and while I accept it has its place in certain types of music and that it was over-used in the past to cover up cracks in vocal talent and save time in the studio, it is now being used as the go-to and as a badge of honour. I don’t like it merely because it’s a cheat, or because it doesn’t sound human, or because it personally grates on me – but mainly because it cuts out the the genuine emotion of a human touch and removes the grime and tangible effort you can feel when hearing someone sing or speak. There’s no breath or heft or roughness. It also has a habit of making singers who may actually have wildly different vocals sound the same. If I’m listening to an artist or a band, I want to hear and feel the individuals. I’m choosing to listen to them over someone else, so I want to feel and hear YOU, not someone else. This tells me either you’re too afraid to stand apart or be unique, or it tells me that you genuinely are not unique. Perhaps it tells me that your voice is garbage and you have to hide the fact, which pisses me off because there are hundreds of thousands of genuinely great singers out there scraping a living or hoping for a chance.
The album is littered with samples ranging from the amusing and well-placed to the hackneyed and overplayed. How many times must we be subjected to the already overrated, overplayed, and over-sampled Get Your Freak On? Those instances where the samples are used more creatively, to create interludes and transitions and shifts in rhythm, such as in Hablamos Manana, raise my interaction with the album to more than a base level. It’s a shame those moments tend to come later in the album – by that point I’ve already become jaded and worn out by the repetition and sameness of the opening ten tracks. As we’re in the Spotify and Playlist generation now, albums are no longer made to be heard in a linear fashion with the running order the artist decided – it’s all about shuffling and picking your favourites so possibly that is a moot point for many. I prefer the old school approach.
While the whole product does revel in the repetition and monotony now expected in chart music, there is enough creativity and flashes of light for me to assume that behind it all there’s an interesting creative voice. Most of the album keeps to solid 4/4 time and it’s a fairly slow affair, but the songs progressively grow more loose with their timing and become roughly experimental in their adoption of multiple pauses if not outright signature shifts – Puesto Pa’ Guerrial, and P FKN R are more playful and interesting than many of the more traditional songs on the album, featuring breathless or hypnotic staccato rapping.
While the album is firmly rooted in Dance and Pop tropes, it’s not ‘my kind of Dance music’. Not that I ever cared about Dance music in the slightest (or dancing, because I’m not a child), but when I was at a club in my younger days and forced onto the dancefloor, I wanted something with a fat beat to lose myself in. Something euphoric. Not to say the beats here are complex but they seem to lend themselves to a more subtle and seductive way of dance and movement. Yo Perreo Solo is infectious – catchy to the extent that I could have seen 17 year old me giving it large if it were blasting in Ibiza, while Bichiyal reminded me of Radiohead’s The Gloaming with it’s zooming, morphing synths.
The rhythm of the vocals doesn’t differ from song to song – maybe that’s the language, maybe it’s the beat, but I found myself wandering about the house making up my own gibberish following the same rhythm, and it wasn’t difficult to invent a vocal near enough identical to the real thing. While it isn’t necessarily reasonable to expect variation in rhythm from track to track, it’s nice to have, you know, some. On top of making up my own gibberish and only identifying the odd shout of ‘Puerto Rico’, I was left to my own interpretational devices. This means I came up with own alternative lyrics which became my personal names for songs. There was ‘No Cranky‘. There’s ‘Dirty Water’. There’s ‘The Grudge‘ and there’s ‘Random Bloke Starts Yelling Like A Big Naughty Boy At End Of Song For Reasons Unknown‘. Coupled with the sheer amount of songs, it was a slog to get through in my early listens and I found it a struggle to grab hold of anything that I could look forward to on the next listen. Songs come and go with little variety, blending into one another like a party you didn’t ask for and which just won’t end.
It’s difficult to distinguish between a multitude of songs in a short period at the best of times. While I can appreciate the platitudes given to so called genre-hopping, this is still very much a dance-pop album with limited melodic ideas, and the variety only goes so far. Little respect is given to crafting emotional peaks or stand-outs. That was never the intention – this is a party album designed to help party people dance and have a good time. It succeeds in that respect, but as someone who looks for a deeper connection to my music and reasons to keep coming back to an album, that depth is lacking. It’s this year’s plastic pollutant pop album, which will be replaced by next year’s. That’s a half criticism, a personal criticism – but why not take the time and put in the effort to ensure your music achieves the next level? There’s nothing standing in the way of a pop or dance album also becoming a piece of timeless art beyond hard work, will, and creativity.
Beyond the tunes I’ve already mentioned, La Dificil has some melodic highlights which are almost buried by other annoyances like the ever recurring ‘oy’ or ‘ay’ shouts between lines. Elsewhere on the album, where there is a notable melody it tends to be saturated to the point of pointlessness due to repetition. I imagine I would have seen the the vocals in a more positive light if it weren’t for the myriad annoying giggles, laughter, barking, twee little fake crying gulps, and other skin-crawling vocal tics. And they’re on every. Single. Track.
Safaera is probably the most interesting song – lots of pauses and samples and different vocals and it plays to the strengths of the individual artists while downplaying the aforementioned annoyances. ❤ is a suitably chilled ending, though the freestyle breathless nature of the rapping doesn’t let up. On the whole I can’t see me ever returning to the album and within a week of my last listen I’ll have completely forgotten any of the melodies – as I already stated, this is a completely disposable collection of songs for someone like me; it doesn’t connect with me on a musical, emotional, intellectual, or cultural level, and it didn’t entertain me. The key point is that it was never meant for someone like me. If it’s your sort of thing – you’re welcome to it.
Am I seriously going to do this? I’ll try it with one album, and maybe it won’t work. I’m not a fan of scoring stuff, but if I’m going to do it I may as well assign a thorough system to the attempt. With scoring, you’re never going to fully step outside your own preference and bias, but you should use a system which limits those biases, forces you to apply certainties, and at least factor in things you wouldn’t consider in a biased review. For a full overview of my system click here, but in essence you divide a product into an equally rated set of the parts which make up that product, then add up the total. No section is weighted as more or less important than any other. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s as good as you’re going to get.
Sales: 5. Streaming and all that gubbins has effed up this category beyond repair, but we have to remain contemporary and view the album in the context of the time of its release. We don’t talk about physical sales anymore – instead it’s album equivalent units – which has led to artists consciously packing more songs into an album (more songs basically equates to higher potential streams and ‘sales’). It’s a nonsensical system created as a panic knee-jerk reaction to ensure rich people can have more yachts and coke. This is one of the biggest selling Spanish speaking albums ever, certainly of recent years. It was Spotify’s most streamed album of 2020. Seriously?
Chart: 5. It peaked at 2 on the US Billboard, and lingered in the Top 10 for ages. Interestingly, all 20 songs were released as singles in the ‘Hot Latin Songs’ chart, whatever that is, so it was clearly designed to be a populist commercial affair. No matter how you slice it, this was a Sales and Charts monster.
Critical: 4. I’m reviewing this album (and the others in this series) precisely because they were critical and commercial successes. Whether critical consensus changes over time remains to be seen, but as of 2020 it was highly rated. It is under the Universally Acclaimed branch of Metacritic, but user reviews are much more divisive (which you would expect). Due to the fact that there are so many bad User Reviews and because of the newness, I can’t give it the full 5 – I respect if you do score 5 here, but anything less than 4 would be ridiculous.
Originality: 3. This will be a tricky one because this is a type of music I have little experience with or affinity for. In my most closed-minded moments I could say that it just sounds the same as everything else. On the surface, there is certainly that feeling of sameness. It uses a lot of samples. It follows the same modern production trends, sounds, and beats as much of what I heave heard over the last several years. However, critical reviews do speak to the sprawling creativity and twists on genre tropes so I bow to their greater knowledge. I therefore go for an average score, siding on the positive.
Influence: 2. It’s too early to say. We could point to its success possibly leading to advances in the genre, based on what this album achieves artistically. Given the average Originality score and the fact that it doesn’t really sound too different from what came before, it’s doubtful that its influence will go far beyond producing a raft of imitators.
Musical Ability: 3. Not a lot of ‘real instruments’ employed on this one – much of the musical content is sampling and studio trickery. Even with that taken into consideration, the ability on display is not of a high nature. There is talent, but that talent is limited to a series of similar tricks with the overall purpose being to dance or nod your head to – something which takes little to no effort.
Lyrics: 2. It’s all in Spanish, so I’m at a loss already. The English parts are your usual Gangsta crap or samples. Critical reviews don’t focus so much on the lyrics but the user reviews are highly critical of the content – those not critical of the content are critical of the fact that it’s simply more of the same well worn tropes.
Melody: 2. Very few noticeable hooks stretched over the 20 songs and over an hour’s worth of music, which is unforgivable for a Pop record. There are a few moments, limited to 2-3 songs. Elsewhere, several of the obvious hooks are incredibly grating.
Emotion: 1. If there is any emotional content to be found within, I couldn’t identify it. If there is, it’s at a surface level.
Lastibility: 3. Another one that is difficult to gauge until at least a full year after release. Given its sales and success I can only assume that people are still listening to this and will continue to. At least until the next thing comes along, at which point I imagine this will die a death.
Vocals: 2. When the most positive thing you can say about a vocalist (or indeed an album) is that the singer doesn’t sound like Shaggy, you probably don’t have a good album on your hands. There are many guest vocalists here – few of them make any real impact and few seem to have a truly distinct voice. The central vocals are auto-tuned to sound like a million other hitmakers. There could be something good here – we aren’t given the change to find out, or care.
Coherence: 4. It’s certainly a very coherent album – beats, tone, approach are all consistent. Based on what I’ve read of the thematic and lyrical content, there is a coherent flow from start to finish.
Mood: 3. I assume the album sets out to make you dance and chill and have a fun old time. That probably works for some people, but as someone adverse to having fun old times which involve dancing, it didn’t achieve its purpose. The mood veers between middling minor peaks and middling quieter moments – there isn’t much variety, which you can take as either a positive or a negative in this category. It didn’t make me feel much of anything or affect my mood.
Production: 3. It’s over produced within an inch of its life, but there’s clearly a lot of skill involved. I don’t like the techniques used or the overall effect they produce, but I can appreciate the skill involved. It doesn’t do anything new.
Effort: 3. Without looking into interviews and behind the scenes pieces on how easy or difficult the writing and recording of this was, it’s again difficult to give anything other than an average score. It’s certainly a large album – 20 songs, so that’s 20 individual pieces of writing, adding the music and ideas and production and guests, I’m sure there was a significant amount of effort involved. But that’s just like any other album.
Relationship: 2. I feel like I’ll be saying this a lot throughout the 2020 series, but this is not music made for me. I’m not the target audience. It’s not my genre, or ever something I would seek beyond this experiment. While I can appreciate the artistry and see what they’re doing and see who it is for, it means nothing to me. From what I have read and heard, it’s not too dissimilar to any of the dude’s previous stuff – again this can be a positive and a negative.
Genre Relation: 4. How does this relate to Reggaeton – I have no clue as I didn’t know that term existed before hearing this album. But I have heard a lot of music with identical beats and rhythm to this. In the wider parent genres of Pop and Dance, it ticks most of the boxes (repetitive, simple, makes you want to dance). For me, it lacks the melody and emotion I look for in those (in any) genres to elevate the thing to a higher status, but knowing that melody and emotion isn’t exactly en vogue in chart music these days – this relates nicely to everything else.
Authenticity: 3. It’s not ‘authentic’ when we consider music in a wider sense, or art in a higher sense, but in the closest context of modern commercial pop and it’s specific sub-genre, it is authentic. It can’t get higher than a 3 from me because of the cynical nature of stuffing the album and releasing every song – smacking instead of trying to monopolise rather than be authentic.
Personal: 2. It’s not something I would normally listen to, and there’s nothing here I’d ever choose to listen to again. I recognise some of the talent involved, I recognise it’s for kids and for those less picky about what they consume. It did nothing for me on a personal level – it didn’t make me want to sing along, dance, investigate other songs by those involved. It’s not unlistenable, and if I were to hear one of the songs again and didn’t have the ability to skip it or tune out, I could tolerate it. An obvious 2.
Miscellaneous: 2. I like the album artwork. An average 2, nothing else surrounding the album that I’m aware of to make me care any more.
There you go – surely things can only go up from here? I’m in for a torrid time if this is the best album of the 25 I’ll be listening to. I doubt that will be the case because I’ve deliberately selected from different genres and there will be types of music I’m more familiar with. Feel free to let me know in the comments how wrong I am, and feel free to share what it is you love about the album!