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Bad Bunny wants you to stop ignoring Puerto Rico

Bad Bunny performs in Philadelphia on Sept. 4. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Roc Nation)

When Bad Bunny made his television debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in September 2018, he opened with a reminder that his native Puerto Rico was still reeling from Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 storm that led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, caused widespread destruction across the island and left its already fragile power grid damaged to an unprecedented extent. “After one year … there are still people without electricity in their homes,” the artist (born Benito Martinez Ocasio) said, adding that President Donald Trump was in denial about the lives lost in the months following the hurricane. “But you know what,” Bad Bunny said, launching into his debut studio album’s first single, an anthem of resilience: “Estamos bien” (“We’re good”).

The performance, which the Latin trap-reggaeton phenom gave in front of a collage of beautiful scenes from the island that raised him, marked a powerful and poignant message to the world: Puerto Rico was battered but not broken. Come what may, estamos bien. Four years and three additional albums later, Bad Bunny has gone from breakout to global superstar, but Puerto Rico — like confident, independent women and hip-hop braggadocio — remains a recurring and prominent theme in his work.

On Friday, less than 48 hours before Fiona, another catastrophic hurricane, made landfall in Puerto Rico — knocking out power across the island — Bad Bunny released a stunning 22-minute documentary/music video for “El Apagón” (“The Blackout”), a pointed track from his latest album, “Un Verano Sin Ti” (“A Summer Without You”), which has been atop the Billboard 200 chart for 11 weeks. Over the song’s jubilant, club-ready beat, Bad Bunny raps about his love for the island, ticking off a list of hometown treasures, including J.J. Barea, one of only a handful of Puerto Ricans to play for the NBA (“a champion before LeBron,” BB boasts), and reggaeton pioneer Tego Calderón. Maldita sea, otro apagón,” Bad Bunny says, briefly interrupting his joyful ode: “Damn, another blackout.”

In the video, verses of “El Apagón” are interspersed with reporting by Bianca Graulau, an independent journalist who has been documenting inequities in the U.S. territory, whose residents lack representation in Congress and are unable to vote on a federal level. Five years after Maria, persistent blackouts continue to plague the more than 3 million U.S. citizens who call the island home. As Graulau explains in the video, the documentary portion of which is titled “Aquí Vive Gente” (“People Live Here”), Puerto Rico’s billion-dollar effort to privatize the electrical grid — through a controversial contract with Luma Energy — has done little to quell the problem. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, whose administration hired Luma, publicly criticized the energy consortium for the first time last month after a report by Puerto Rico’s Energy Bureau showed that outages have actually increased in duration this year.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico 5 years ago. Recovery in many ways had just begun.

Bad Bunny, meanwhile, has frequently spoken out against Luma since embarking on successive world tours earlier this year. “Luma can go to hell,” he said in July while performing in San Juan at the largest indoor arena in Puerto Rico, where “El Apagón” rings even more poignant. He expressed similar wishes for Pierluisi and other politicians before telling the crowd: “The country belongs to us. We are the ones who have the control.”

“The beaches belong to us, too,” Bad Bunny added, in a nod to the increasing development across the island, which — in addition to pushing out longtime residents — has restricted locals from their own beaches.

“El Apagón (Aqui Vive Gente)” also highlights the growing number of Puerto Ricans facing displacement because of increasing gentrification, spurred largely by investors who, lured by significant tax breaks, replace longtime residential buildings with luxury hotels and Airbnb rentals that cater to wealthy nonnatives. Graulau, who broke the story last year of the displacement of residents in the coastal town of Quebradillas, appears in the video, talking with residents who were pushed out of homes they lived in for decades.

“El Apagón” references displacement in a bridge sung by Bad Bunny’s girlfriend, Gabriela Berlingeri. “I don’t want to leave here / I don’t want to leave here,” she sings in Spanish, while urging that the developers and crypto bros do. “This is my beach, this is my sun. This is my land, this is me.”

For Graulau, the impact of Bad Bunny’s song is both professional and personal. “It’s a music video that turns into a news documentary,” the reporter told her followers on TikTok, where she regularly posts videos breaking down issues in Puerto Rico that have historically gone unnoticed on the mainland. “I am so honored that you guys think of me when you think of these issues. I’m honored Bad Bunny thought of me and that he had the crazy idea to give us this platform.”

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