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Music

The Big Topic: Who is Bad Bunny, and how did he become the world's most-streamed musician?

@josephtaysom

If you asked a random person on the street to name who they believed to be the biggest contemporary artist on the planet, you’d likely be met with responses of Adele, Ed Sheeran, Drake or Beyonce. All of the aforementioned names, however, are incorrect answers. The reality is that the Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny is dominating the streaming world — but could you name one song by him?

For two years running, Bad Bunny, born Benito Ocasio, has been named the most-streamed artist on Spotify. In 2020, the rapper clocked up over 8.3 billion streams on the platform, which was more than any other act by some margin. Despite not releasing an album in 2021, Ocasio held onto his crown and clocked up a staggering 9.1 billion plays, which placed him ahead of Taylor Swift, BTS, Drake, and Justin Bieber, who made up the rest of the top five.

Furthermore, his new album, Un Verano Sin Ti, has broken more streaming records this month as Bad Bunny became Spotify’s all-time most-streamed artist globally in a day with 183 million streams. For context, that’s more plays in a day than ‘Live Forever’ by Oasis has had since the platform began.

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In the United States, the LP became Bad Bunny’s second album to top the Billboard 200 and shifted 274,000 equivalent album units within the first week of sales which is the best single-week performance of the calendar year so far.

His achievements are even more impressive when you discover that Bad Bunny raps in his native Spanish tongue, and Ocasio hasn’t sold out on his Latin roots in what is a common creative decision when entering the international mainstream. While it’s common for artists to release versions of their work in multiple languages, such as Christine & The Queens, that’s not the route Ocasio has taken.

Bad Bunny first gained attention organically having released music through SoundCloud before Cardi B successfully tapped into the Latin market by featuring him and J. Balvin on her 2018 international hit, ‘I Like It’. His debut album, X 100pre, soon followed, and since then, Ocasio’s fame has continued to spiral thanks to the pair of albums he released in 2020.  

However, success didn’t follow in the United Kingdom. Despite being the most popular artist globally and selling-out sports stadiums all across the Americas, including the United States, Un Verano Sin Ti only charted at number 62 in the UK Official Albums Chart — one place lower than Nirvana’s Nevermind despite the latter being released in 1991.

However, what does the rise of Bad Bunny tell us about our listening patterns? Streaming and social media have helped make music more global unlike anything ever seen before, but clearly, tastes still differentiate significantly between specific locations.

Bad Bunny’s struggles in the UK could perhaps point to the lack of authentic Latin music that has penetrated British culture. No doubt the average person in the UK likely thinks of Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin La Vida Loca’ or ‘Despacito’ by Justin Bieber when they think of the genre. While it remains a somewhat comical take, the geographical nature of condensed streaming opens up a larger debate as to how an artist can top the global market.

As much as streaming has allowed consumers to discover artists we’d have never previously heard if it wasn’t for Spotify, it doesn’t take you outside your comfort zone. We each have our own ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist, which plays into our listening habits because the algorithm exclusively serves music based on your favourite artists. Therefore, most Britains will be blissfully aware of Bad Bunny unless they already listen to Spanish language songs. 

During the 1980s, there wasn’t a blade of grass where Michael Jackson could walk without being harassed, yet Bad Bunny could feasibly walk through London and not get asked for a single selfie. On the one hand, Ocasio’s meteoric rise to becoming the world’s biggest artist highlights the power of streaming but also how it’s made us more insulated than ever before.

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