Bad Bunny performs in Mexico City in 2020.
Bad Bunny performs in Mexico City in 2020. Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Bad Bunny Reclaims His Crown as the World’s Biggest Pop Star

Bad Bunny ended 2020 just as he started it: the biggest pop star in the world.

The 26-year-old Puerto Rican rapper released three different albums last year, a stretch of productivity that made him the most listened-to act in the world on both Spotify and YouTube, the two biggest music services.

Bad Bunny’s reign might surprise those who view the U.S. and U.K. (and English-speaking artists) as the center of the music world. Taylor Swift, the best-selling artist of the last decade, released not one but two albums last year. Dua Lipa, named best new artist at the Grammys last January, released a dazzling sophomore record at the start of the lockdown. Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, Juice WRLD and Roddy Ricch established themselves as the new kings of hip-hop.

And yet no one came close to the reach of Bad Bunny, born Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio. His first album, “YHLQMDLG,” ruled the charts for the better part of two months after its release Feb. 28, and was the most popular album on Spotify for the year.

Bad Bunny was the most popular act on Spotify in 2020 on a list finalized before he released his third album of the year,  “El Ultimo Tour Del Mundo.” In the month of December, people streamed Bad Bunny’s songs more than 600 million times on Spotify, and another 500 million times on YouTube.

“Bad Bunny is the golden child of the digital era,” says AJ Ramos, an artist relations manager at YouTube. He released three albums and a livestream on YouTube, all without overexposing himself in public with too many interviews or appearances. (Bad Bunny declined to comment for this piece.) “He manages to remain mysterious and it feels like he’s 15 steps ahead,” Ramos said.

The success of Bad Bunny underscores the rise of Latin music as a cultural force, Ramos said. Long marginalized as a niche, Latin music has benefited from global streaming services that allow acts from Puerto Rico and Colombia to reach fans all across the region. There are more native speakers of Spanish—north of 400 million—than any language but Mandarin, and the Chinese music market is largely sealed off from the rest of the world.

On YouTube, the majority of the most popular songs in any given week are in Spanish. Spotify’s user base in Latin America has doubled over the last three years, and totals more than 70 million people. And Spain is now emerging as a place where Latin music breaks first.

“I don’t like to classify Latin America as an emerging market,” said Mia Nygren, head of Latin America for Spotify. “There’s always been high quality music production in this part of the world because of the extremely rich heritage.”  Spotify accounted for 47% of all recorded music revenue in the region last year, and one-quarter of the 20 most popular artists in the world on Spotify were from Latin America.

While each country has its own favorites, the biggest acts in Latin America tend to be popular all across the region, Nygren said. Bad Bunny’s three biggest cities on YouTube are Mexico City, Lima and Santiago.

These streaming services also make it easier for acts from Latin America to reach the U.S., which is home to more than 60 million people of Hispanic origin, as well as a growing number of kids who don’t care where music is from or what language it’s in. BTS and Blackpink, the kings and queens of Korean pop, ascended to new heights in 2020, driven in large part by their popularity in the U.S.

Bad Bunny isn’t just benefiting from a growing movement. He is the one driving it. “YHLQMDLG” was the first all-Spanish album ever to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard U.S. album charts. He then broke that record in December when “El Ultimo Tour Del Mundo” became the first all-Spanish album to debut at No. 1.

After one of the most productive years in modern music history, Bad Bunny has told his business partners he is about to do something that eluded him in 2020: go on vacation.